The Rome Film Festival to award its first posthumous award to the Russian filmmaker, who died in February.

Aleksei Yuryevich German

The 8th Rome Film Festival (Nov 8-17) is to present its Lifetime Achievement Award to the family of Russian filmmaker Aleksei Yuryevich German, who died in February aged 74.

The director, who was based in Saint Petersburg, was informed of the award late last year, so as to accompany the release of his new film Hard To Be a God (Trudno byt’ bogom).

The award will be accepted by Svetlana Karmalita, the director’s widow, partner in all of his most personal projects and screenwriter for the filmmaker’s last two features, along with their son Aleksei A. German, who won the Silver Lion at the 2008 Venice Film Festival for Paper Soldier.

Following the ceremony, the world premiere of Hard To Be a God will be screened. Described as a “philosophical science-fiction epic”, the film was inspired by the 1964 cult novel of the same name, written by brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.

Controversial figure

The festival’s artistic director, Marco Mueller, said of the filmmaker: “He stood by every film in his highly personal opus, which he produced against everyone and everything, in the course of an artistic and philosophical progression that is absolutely mind-boggling, displaying a powerful auteurist imprint even in his first ‘real’ feature-length film, the heretic Trial on the Road (Proverka na Dorogakh, 1971-1985).

“A controversial figure for any regime, German soon began his battle against the censors and the bureaucracy of the Soviet filmmaking system, which continued throughout Brezhnev’s rule. Not only because his films broke the rules and wilfully neglected the practices of post-thaw Socialist realism, but above all, because had his filmmaking, as an auteur, become successful, it would have disrupted existing theoretical, ethical, and stylistic structures and themes. His explosive influence had to be stopped.

“In his 46-year career as a director, German was therefore allowed to make only five films and a half - the ‘half’ was a debut co-directorship.”

“His attention to the difference with respect to the demands of the present, his predilection for dissent rather than consent, alarmed non-Socialist Russia’s commercial system, which then invented new obstacles to the filmmaker’s tenacious creative impetus.

“But that did not stop him from developing ambitious projects, which led to the production of extreme films such as Khrustalyov, My Car! (Khrustalyov, mashinu! - in competition at Cannes in 1998) and Hard To Be a God.”

Forty years in the making

Hard To Be a God was a project that German had been thinking about since the mid-1960s. He tried to make it in 1964 as his debut but to respect the rules of Lenfilm, the production company for which the director always worked, he made Trial on the Road instead.

The project was later approved by Goskino, the State agency responsible for organizing filmmaking in the Soviet Union, but in 1968, after the uprising in Prague, the authorization was revoked for ideological reasons.

More than 30 years later the director returned to the project. The film was shot between the autumn of 2000 and August 2006, involving the construction of castles near Prague and on the sets at Lenfilm. The shoot took so long that some of the actors died of old age and post-production phase took more than five years.

After German died in February, the film was completed by his wife and closest collaborator, Svetlana Karmalita, and by their son Aleksei A. German.

The film centres on a group of scientists who are sent to the planet Arkanar to help the local population, which is going through a historical phase equivalent to the Medieval Age, in which a ban has been issued not only on intellectuals, but on anyone who simply knows how to read and write.

The protagonists, who work incognito, have been forbidden to influence political and historical events. But leading character Don Rumata attempts to save the local intellectuals from their punishment and cannot avoid taking a position: “What would you do in God’s place?”