Desert of Forbidden Art (2011) – Documentary Review

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A Little Known Art Treasury in Uzbekistan

In remote Uzbekistan, documentary filmmakers Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev find an unknown museum in which a single collector, Igor Savitsky, managed to save 44,000 world class art works from sure destruction by the repressive Soviet regime that deemed them anti-Soviet and had banned them.

A Collector’s Legacy of Rescued Art

The story of Igor Savitsky, how he arrived in Uzbekistan and how he managed to convince local Soviet bureaucrats to build a museum to house art works that had been banned as anti-Soviet is completely fascinating. Through his successful efforts, Savitsky single handedly saved the magnificent and richly varied paintings of dozens of artists whose work of all styles and genres would otherwise have disappeared into the repressive Soviet ether. One man saved the cultural legacy of hundreds of artists.

Filmmakers Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev, in Uzbekistan to work on a documentary about another subject, discovered the Nukus Museum, and were not only intrigued by Savitsky’s story, but amazed by the quality and quantity of fine art displayed in this remote and relatively unknown treasury. They’ve used rare archival footage, interviews with kin of the artists whose work is represented in the museum, and those who’ve kept the collection safe and intact up to the present to profile both the collector and his collection, and convey the political and social milieu of the former Soviet Union.

Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Edward Azner add drama with their excellent voice over translations of the comments made by non-English speakers who are being interviewed on camera. Best of all, the richly varied and beautiful art work shown in the film represents an extraordinary record of brilliant individual perspectives on all of the cultures and lifestyles that existed throughout the former Soviet Union.

Your Opportunity to See The Art Work

The museum is so off the beaten path that the likelihood of your getting there to see it is slim. This is your best opportunity to see the collection, and you’d best take it. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. And, having become acquainted with the collection via this documentary, you might decide to become active in the movement to save it from, in particular, other repressive forces in the region.

If you love art and history and heroes, you will love The Desert of Forbidden Art.

Film Details:
Title: The Desert of Forbidden Art
Directors: Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Gerogiev
US Theatrical Release Date: March 11, 2011 (limited)
Running Time: 80 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Country: Russia, USA, Uzbekistan
Locations: Uzbekistan, Karakalpakstan, Nukus
Language: English
Distribution Company: PBS Independent Lens (Broadcast)

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