Sergei Filin steps away from the ‘minefield’

A feature article by The Sunday Times UK Moscow correspondent, Mark Franchetti, published on 29 August, was the first I knew about Bolshoi Babylon, a new documentary about the acid attack that partially blinded Sergei Filin, former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Franchetti, who is not only a journalist but also the producer/co-director with Nick Read of the documentary that will premiere next week at the Toronto International Film Festival, reported that Filin has revealed his regret “that he had accepted the top position at Russia’s most cherished cultural institution.

“Speaking before stepping down from the high-profile role, Sergei Filin described managing the world’s largest ballet company as like ‘being at war, like walking on a minefield..

“You’d like to jump over it but have no idea if the spot where you land is also mined. It’s plagued by all sorts of intrigue and provocations, envy and jealousy that makes you nervous all the time,” Filin reveals in a forthcoming documentary, Bolshoi Babylon.

“Even if the acid attack had not happened, I can say that I shouldn’t have accepted the job. I made a mistake.”

The Toronto festival’s website describes the production as one that had “remarkable access to the inner workings of Russia’s world-famous Bolshoi Ballet…

“If you’re looking to understand Russia, the Bolshoi Ballet is a good place to start. This visually stunning documentary from filmmakers Nick Read and Mark Franchetti takes us inside the Bolshoi’s world of great artistry and intense rivalry during one of the most dramatic periods since its founding in 1776.

“On January 17, 2013, Sergei Filin, Ballet Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, was cornered outside his home and attacked with acid. He suffered third degree burns and lost sight in one eye. Over the following year, as the company struggles to regain its footing, the filmmakers gain remarkable access to what occurs behind the scenes and on stage.

“While Filin recuperates, theatre manager Vladimir Urin takes over; and former principle [sic] dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko goes on trial as the mastermind behind the attack. In candid interviews with key members and observers of the company, we see how the crime reveals deep fissures in the institution…

“In Russia, ballet has long been intertwined with politics. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is interviewed in the film saying, “The Bolshoi is our secret weapon that we send now and then to the US, the UK, and other countries”.

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Sergei Filin in Washington, 2014, photo © Jesse Dittmar, Washington Post