Challenges and Pleasures of Journal Editing

by Birgit Beumers, Aberystwyth University, Editor of Kinokultura & Principal Editor of Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema

I have always loved challenges, which is probably a good quality for an editor. In 1997, a year after Russian film production had hit rock bottom, I was crazy enough to organise a conference on the Russian idea in contemporary cinema… what cinema? Accompanied by a week of film screenings, the event led to the publication of Russia on Reels, the first collection of texts to explore post-Soviet cinema. But very soon after the volume’s publication in 1999, more films appeared from the Russian film industry. Therefore, I set up a website in 2003 to provide some information on Russian cinema: KinoKultura (nickname: KiKu). I registered the quarterly online journal with an ISSN and, supported by a handful of people, supplied reviews of new cinematic releases.  After the release of Night Watch in 2004 and a few other blockbusters, the Russian film industry was catapulted back into business and film distribution in Russia reached sixth place globally. These changes, and the rapid growth of the film industry, could not go unnoticed and KiKu circle of contributors grew. In those early years the journal created the “image” that still characterizes it today: coverage of new films; reports on film festivals; and film scholarship. After a few years, in 2006, we were awarded a Diploma by the Guild of Russian Film Critics and Film Scholars for the running of KinoKultura.

It soon became clear that there was an ever growing constituency of people working on and writing about film, not just contemporary Russian cinema but also Soviet film history: it became feasible to “split” the publication into scholarly articles on film history and articles/reviews of contemporary cinema; and to launch a print edition. That’s why KinoKultura limited its publications to contemporary Russian cinema, while encompassing the cinemas of post-Soviet space via special issues. KinoKultura appears quarterly, presenting articles, film reviews and festival reports, the latter focusing on Russian and Central Asian films in festival programmes. We have added a rubric of rereviews where some important films are re-considered; and we carry a rubric of double-views that presents two reviews of one single film from different authors. We are particularly interested in articles that cross film and other visual cultures. We plan to include reviews of older films also. Our special, guest-edited issues focus on the cinemas of Central Europe and beyond, from Central Asia (2004) to Latvia (2012) and Bosnia (2012). I’m keen to add more countries; indeed we soon need to start updating existing issues, seeing that some issues are now already ten years old! A special issue on Macedonian cinema is forthcoming, and it is also very rewarding to know that two special issues have since been published in book form.

When I moved from the University of Bristol to Aberystwyth University in 2012, the journal “moved” also, but not with me: it is registered with the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol, whose head of programming, Mark Cosgrove, is our Honorary President. The journal also has an editorial assistant and an advisory board: The editorial team reviews articles and helps with the copy editing. The website has approximately 1,200 visitors a month, and reviews and articles are frequently cited in academic publications and used as a reference by film festival programmers and journalists, especially for contemporary Russian/Central Asian cinema.

KinoKultura is a non-commercial and independent journal. Of course, we could go down the route of advertising or sponsorship, but I have always felt that this has the potent to make the journal dependent on a producer, a studio, a distributor; independence comes at a cost: if it were not for the support of the editorial team, this “challenge” might have had a different result.

Once KinoKultura had learnt to walk, it was time to move into print. We considered turning KiKu into an online and print edition; but I felt firmly that a print version of KiKu would defeat the point of an online journal, which allowed links, clips and images, and which also made possible a quick and fresh cycle of reviews. However, there was no academic journal devoted to the study of Russian and Soviet cinema, so Masoud Yazdani, the founder and CEO of intellect, suggested we set up a different journal that would be called Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema (SRSC). SRSC was launched in 2007 to appear three times a year, with the first issue actually published in the autumn of 2006, in time to present it at the AAASS (now ASEEES) convention.

SRSC is a peer-reviewed journal for the publication of original research on pre-Revolutionary, Soviet and post-Soviet Russian cinema, its aesthetic development and its role between ideology and industry. The journal set out to promote research from established scholars, but also encourage young researchers. And, right from the beginning, SRSC established a special section for each issue: the first issue includes a film script; the second contains a section of documents in translation; and the third carries book reviews.

Over the last seven years, SRSC has published quite a few extraordinary scripts: from Sergei Bodrov’s (unfilmed) Cross-Eyed Sasha, we moved on to some more recent trends in scriptwriting such as Larisa Sadilova’s Nothing Personal, Bakur Bakuradze’s Shultes, and Petr Lutsik’s Wild Field. Then Naum Kleiman, director of Moscow’s Museum of Cinema and the world’s leading expert on Eisenstein, gave a talk at the International Congress of Slavic Studies (ICCEES) in Stockholm in 2010 on Eisenstein’s Fergana. He gave the journal permission to print the translated script and to access a whole archive of drawings and photographs made in preparation for the shooting that never happened. The script and the images had not been published in Russian at the time, and only recently appeared in Kinovedcheskie zapiski. After that “coup,” we landed another one: Tanks Know the Truth is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s only film script, which has never been realised; it had been published only once, in an edition of complete works, in Russian. With Mike Nicholson’s support, we obtained permission for the publication from the Solzhenitsyn estate, and the text appeared in SRSC 7.3. And then came another surprise: Eugénie Zvonkine, who had written her thesis (and now excellent book) on Kira Muratova, had been granted access to Muratova’s personal archive during a research visit in Odessa, when she found the script for a film that Muratova had never realised, but which held keys to her all of later works. Eugénie photographed the script – in the absence of a photocopier – and this is how Watch Your Dreams Attentively landed in the arms of SRSC 8.1. In the Document section we published documents from Eisenstein’s archive; a cluster on Margarita Barskaia; a set of documents from the TsGALI in St Petersburg on Fridrikh Ermler’s workshop KEM; and a cluster on Mezhrabpomfilm. Currently, we are completing the publication of Boris Shumiatskii’s records of the Kremlin Screenings: “On Stalin’s Watch” has been published in volumes 7.1 and 8.1. Special features have included forgotten and underrated films; Eurasia as filmic assemblage; screenings of kulturfilms of the 1920s and 1930s; and a special feature on Central Asian cinema after independence prepared for the Locarno Open Doors 2010.

At the end of 2013, intellect sold a portfolio of 15 titles to Routledge (Taylor & Francis) – among them SRSC. There was a generous welcome into the huge journals operation of Taylor & Francis, and starting with issue 8.1 we shall have a new cover and layout; and we hope to reach out wider through the extensive distribution network of the new publisher.

You can view the running of any journal as a chore, but it is a pleasure to see articles through revision and to hold that copy of the journal in your hands. In all this, what is most important is that we can raise the profile of Soviet film history and thereby set new standards for future generations. At least that’s what I’d like to think…

This is a selection from Professor Beumers' original article in the June 2014 NewsNet.