On Monday, April 15, the Jordan Center hosted a movie night featuring the documentary “Russian New York: The New Review,” as part of the celebration of Russian-American History Month in New York. The documentary was made for the 70th anniversary of the famous intellectual journal The New Review, to which some of the most influential figures of the Russian emigre, including Ivan Bunin, Joseph Brodsky, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn contributed on regular basis. Director Alexandra Sviridova’s movie is both personal and informative, and manages to show the important role The New Review has played and still plays in the intellectual lives of Russians abroad.
Founded in 1942 by Mark Aldanov and Mikhail Zetlin, The New Review offers an interesting account of Russian emigres urge to keep Russian literature alive outside the borders of the Soviet Union. Both founders strongly believed that without a literary review, there would be no literature. Under the slogan “Russia. Freedom. Emigration,” the journal encouraged creative production among both older and newer generations of Russian emigres, and hosted salons where cultural and political issues were discussed. Perhaps needless to say, The New Review was forbidden in the Soviet Union, yet often smuggled across the border. The magazine’s seventy years of active participation in the development of Russian diaspora in New York is therefore also a story of Russian history as such. Sviridova’s movie captures this in a wonderful manner, as the documentary sheds light on the development of the magazine itself, sided with scenes from post-war Russia. At the same time, the documentary places the situation of Russian emigres in a larger perspective. The movie for instance tells the inspiring story of Alexandra Tolstoya, the youngest daughter of Lev Tolstoy, who in 1939 founded the “Tolstoy Foundation.” Tolstaya was strongly engaged in improving the situation for Russian emigres in the United States, and also assisted dissidents such as Vladimir Nabokov and Sergei Rachmaninoff to escape the Soviet powers and to settle in the U.S.
While the movie focuses on the history of the journal, it also shows how the Russian Diaspora is a part of New York City itself. The documentary features interviews and city walks with some of the magazine’s former contributors, as well as of today’s editor, Marina Adomovich. The documentary is therefore a colorful retrospective of 70 years of literary production, but also shows how The New Review is still very much alive.