‘Aelita’ Launches Soviet Science Fiction Film Series


On Tuesday, September 25, the Soviet Science Fiction Film Series, Comrades in the Cosmos, sponsored by the History Department, kicked off with the viewing of the film, Aelita, at 8:00 p.m. in Cole Cinema.

The event produced a good-sized turnout that included students and faculty, as well as St. Mary’s County residents. Prior to the showing, audience members had varied motivations for attending.

Junior Elizabeth Keesler, who was there because the movie fit in with her current studies in an International Relations course, said that she expected to see “communistic and imperialistic viewpoints in the film, and the perspective of the filmmaker and how it contradicts American viewpoints or capitalist, democratic viewpoints.”

A local resident said that he had a keen interest in the Soviet idea of science fiction, and emphasized his curiosity in the way films were made in this part of the world in the early twentieth century.

A Soviet science fiction silent film, Aelita, as mentioned in History Professor Dr. Thomas Barrett’s e-mail to all students concerning the film and in the Comrades in the Cosmos film schedule, depicts a Russian rocket engineer who dreams of a Communist revolution on Mars and envisions building a spaceship in order to take part in the uprising. Much of the film’s content, however, conveys the economic hardship in the Soviet Union during the 1920s.

As the night began, Professor Barrett opened with an introduction that provided an overview of the significance of this 1924 picture, directed by Iakov Protazanov. According to Barrett, Aelita came to the screen during the New Economic Policy period in history following the Russian Revolution, but before socialism established itself in the Soviet Union; though the Bolsheviks were in power at this time, capitalism and bourgeois culture remained in place.

“It’s a film about revolution,” said Barrett, “but it’s mostly set in the Moscow of the 1920s with its housing shortages and crowded trains and urban poverty.” Barrett added that Aelita is “really less about Martian revolution and more about the corruptions and misguided goals of the 1920s.”

Commenting on the relevance of Aelita today, Barrett pointed out that, without proper context, this film would be difficult for most contemporary audiences to relate to. This notwithstanding, general themes do come through the film, chiefly that it is essential to focus on the work to be done now to bring about socialism, rather than to dream about less important things, such as the Martian world portrayed in Aelita.

Barrett believes the next viewings in this film series “will be interesting for people because they’ll have a stronger basis of comparison with contemporary science fiction and allow a general audience to think about Soviet science fiction a little bit differently.” The next film dates for this series are October 11, October 23, and November 6 in Cole Cinema at 8:00 p.m.