Boris Shumyatsky

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Boris Shumyatsky in 1924

Boris Zakharovich Shumyatsky (Russian: Борис Захарович Шумяцкий) (November 16, 1886 – July 29, 1938) was the de facto executive producer for the Soviet film monopoly from 1930 to 1937. He was executed as a traitor in 1938, following a "purge" of the Soviet film industry, and much information about him was expunged from the public record as a consequence.

Life and career[edit]

Shumyatsky was born in Verkhneudinsk (now Ulan-Ude) in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in Russian Siberia. He appears to have been active in communist circles by 1903. Following the Russian Revolution he was a party functionary in Soviet Siberia, including a stint as premier of the Far Eastern Republic from November 1920 to April 1921. From 1923 to 1925, he represented Soviet interests in Iran, and after that was in charge of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, and then a member of the Central Asian Bureau of the Party Central Committee back in Siberia.

In none of these capacities did he evidently have anything to do with film-making. Nonetheless, following a reorganization of the Soviet film industry he was selected by Stalin to become the head of Soyuzkino in December 1930. When Soyuzkino was dissolved and replaced by GUKF on February 11, 1933, he remained in charge and even with expanded powers over all matters of production, import/export, distribution and exhibition.

He is considered by many[who?] to have especially targeted Sergei Eisenstein for mistreatment within the industry. However, as the chief of the Soviet industry, and his job description thus requiring him to enforce Stalinist thinking therein, he had no real choice but to crack down on filmmakers who were seen as practicing formalism, by then considered an ideological evil, and Eisenstein, with his predilection for montage theory and experimental film making—not to mention his five-year absence in the West—was viewed with great suspicion within the industry and the government. It was Shumyatsky who had to ultimately give approval for Eisenstein to make Bezhin Meadow, the failure of which was a major factor in Shumyatsky's downfall.

Another factor that was turned against Shumyatsky by his opponents: following a visit to the United States, he returned to Moscow with a vision of moving the hub of the film industry to a spot near Odessa, where the climate and geography were similar to those of Hollywood and thus more amenable to year-round film-making. This vision extended to the building of an entire film community, to be called Kinograd—a highly expensive proposition.

Apart from the Bezhin Meadow debacle, Shumyatsky was unable to meet annual goals for film completions—something that did not escape the notice of his critics. In terms of size and resources, the Soviet film industry was far behind even the smaller countries of the capitalist West: in 1935, of a planned 130 feature films, only 45 were completed; in 1936, only 46 of 165; in 1937—his final year—only 24 of 62.

Shumyatsky was arrested on 8 January 1938, accused of collaborating with saboteurs within the film industry. On 28 June 1938 he was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad.

References[edit]

Richard Taylor, "Ideology as Mass Entertainment: Boris Shumyatsky and Soviet Cinema in the 1930s", in Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, (eds.), Inside the Film Factory, Routledge Ltd., 1991.