A Long Way back (2021)

” You can be free in prison and imprisoned while free”

Description: The protagonists of this film have spent their lives searching for freedom, while at the same time escaping loneliness. The choices they made each time led them to new trials, and life punished them again and again. They come into conflict with the law, their parents turn their backs on them, their partners abandon them, but they carry on with their lives without really knowing where to or what for. The stories of their lives are similar and at the same time the path of each was different. What does it mean to live properly, to be “like everyone else”, not to fall by the wayside, how to find the one and those who need you? The heroes of the film were at death’s door, they started from zero, fell to the bottom, spent many years behind bars… At some point they found out about a religious community whose ministers help people who are in a difficult life situation. And now the heroes of the film, in their opinion, are on their way to long-awaited freedom. This longed-for freedom has already taken a lot away – time, youth, health, friends.

This film is not about religion, or about the power of faith or communities of people united by a shared difficult history of falls and the once revealed hope that there still is a way out. It is a story about the fates of people who found each other and believed in a possible salvation, not only in a metaphysical world, but here and now. The film will tell the biographies of several parishioners and the pastor of the Pentecostal Church in the city of Tomsk (Russia).

The Youth Research Centre has a decades-long history of conducting qualitative sociological researches alongside the visualisation of current scientific material. This format may be called differently: sociological documentary film, research film, ethnographic film. The key points that distinguish this format from the classical documentary are the inadmissibility of distortion, the visualization of direct speech, the capture of events here and now, the authenticity of the material, the direct interviews with witnesses, the filming alongside or following the actual sociological research, usually involving the project participants. This time, we have changed the format of the work to a certain extent, making a conventional documentary (in terms of production technology, visual story structure and cinematographic solutions) that deals with a very sensitive issue of spiritual choices and the global search for a balance between spiritual and physical freedom. At the same time, in this project we have left the most important element of sociological cinema – the idea, the problematics, the characters, the plot, all of which have been the subject of qualitative sociological research.

For the third year now, CYS has been running a project entitled “In the shadow of the Gulag” . The project is a comparative study of the penitentiary systems of two major jurisdictions in the former Soviet Union (Russia and Kazakhstan), implemented through qualitative sociological analysis of the consumption of cultural representations of the penal system produced through media and prison tourism in Russia and Kazakhstan.

For the purposes of the project, we sought out and found various spaces and structures deformed (less often reformed) by the legacy of the Gulag and Russian penal system in general. To find people whose cultural, everyday, working life was and still is connected to the prison experience, the memory of the system of punishment and correction. In this small religious enclave, proactively created and supported by former prisoners, we were able to find traces and signs of this heritage.

The project is also unique in that there are few films around the world that focus on stories about religious communities, where the authors do not seek to promote any ideology, calling to join a particular cult or, on the contrary, advocating an atheist agenda. Our task is different. The Pentecostal Church is a guide in this story, and our source, as for all sociologists, is the person and his or her story.

 Watch film Project website
Directed by Dmitry Omelchenko (Centre for Youth Studies, HSE SPb)
(rus/eng subtitles)



    Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.

    Nicholas Mirzoeff

  • So it is my firm belief, that if you want nowadays, to have a clear and distinct communication of your concepts, you have to use synthetic images, no longer words.

    Vilém Flusser


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp


    For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in.

    Howard Becker

  • I believe that we face incredible obstacles in our attempts to see the world. Everything in our nature tries to deny the world around us; to refabricate it in our own image; to reinvent it for our own benefit. And so, it becomes something of a challenge, a task, to recover (or at least attempt to recover) the real world despite all the impediments to that end.

    Errol Morris


    One advantage of photography is that it’s visual and can transcend language.

    Lisa Kristine

  • Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.

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    Barbara Kopple


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    Zygmunt Bauman

  • Before I became a film major, I was very heavily into social science, I had done a lot of sociology, anthropology, and I was playing in what I call social psychology, which is sort of an offshoot of anthropology/sociology – looking at a culture as a living organism, why it does what it does.

    George Lucas

  • Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

    Henry Rollins


    The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.

    Pierre Bourdieu

  • Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way

    Howard Becker

  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

    Kirsten Johnson


    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog


    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

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  • If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you’re dumb and blind.

    Salman Rushdie


    Sometimes one picture is equal to 30 pages of discourse, just as there are things images are completely incapable of communicating.

    William S. Burroughs


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