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)