Open Closed Vladivostok
Even for most Russians this city remains a mystery, a far away land, a myth…
Vladivostok is made out of controversies: it is both south and north, it is European and Asian at the same time. There is an overlap of elements – natural and cultural ones. It is located at the latitude of the seaside Sochi, sunny Naples, mountainous Grozny…. but it was Arsenyev and Nansen, those insightful and enchanted travelers, who noted that climate here is not unlike the one of the transpolar Lofoten Islands.
The harbor, where Vladivostok was created in 1860, had a Chinese name of Haishenwai and a British one of Port-May.
The proud name of Vladivostok means “owning the East”, but there is another interpretation – “being in harmony with the East”.
In its short – just two human lives! – history 160-year old Vladivostok has had many faces: a military post, a free-trade zone, the last outpost of the White Guard, the Red Empire naval base…
The 30-year old writer Anton Chekhov who visited Vladivostok when it was the same age as him, was astonished by its warm October, large oysters and a whale, cruising along the bay, ‘Vladivostok… lives an interesting, European-like life’.
The city appeared in works of such world-renowned literary titans as Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Somerset Maugham, James Joyce, Ian Fleming…
Modern times made this once closed port a cultural outpost, instead of just a military one. An impenetrable stronghold was turned into a ‘window into Asia’. Vladivostok was declared a ‘free port’. It got on a Russian 2000-ruble banknote and became the capital of the Far Eastern Federal District (whose territory from the Bering Straits to Baikal is equivalent to two Indias or one Australia).
Tiger is a totem animal of Vladivostok. Rhododendron is a sacred plant here. The manmade symbols of the city include forts, Tokarev Lighthouse, funicular, right-hand drive cars… Among distinguished people, associated with the place, are the military officer, scientist and writer Vladimir Arsenyev, the first female sea captain Anna Shchetinina, the musician Ilya Lagutenko.
Having a rather unique cinematic exterior, Vladivostok is yet to become a movie star. Now it is more of a supporting actor. But outstanding and very recognizable, nonetheless.
It is in Vladivostok that they shot the first film about the adventures of the legendary Soviet spy Stierlitz (NO PASSWORD NECESSARY by Boris Grigoryev) and one of the first Soviet disaster films ATTENTION, A TSUNAMI! by Yungvald-Khilkevich.
In Vitali Kanevsky’s DON’T MOVE, DIE AND RISE AGAIN! (1989), which won the Special award at the Cannes Film Festival, Vladivostok is depicted as a very dark place, just like in Nikolay Khomeriki’s TALE IN THE DARKNESS, made twenty years later. But it is the latter that was the first film where Vladivostok is more than just a background, it is a character in its own right.
In 1920 a family of Vladivostok businesspeople of Swiss origin welcomed a son, Yul Brynner, a future Academy Award winner for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. He became a symbol, an anchor, a magnet of the Pacific Meridian Festival, and a new step in opening Vladivostok up to the world. Thanks to the festival, the city started to appear in the films shot by its neighbors: Koreans (TYPHOON), Japanese (SEVENTH CODE, THE HOTEL VENUS)…
If Moscow sees Vladivostok as Russian Asia and a window to the Pacific, for Asia it is the closest piece of Europe. Located in the crossroads of civilizations and nature elements, the city holds a special appeal for cinema as well. And the latter is still the most important of all the arts for us, according to Lenin himself.
Author of RIGHT-HAND DRIVE and co-author of VLADIVOSTOK-3000