Chto Delat?: The New Deadline #17 Summer School of Orientation in Zapatism
Tyneside Cinema, 10 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6QG
30 September - 29 October 2017
Review by Chloe Hodge
On 1st January 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a radical left-wing group based in Chiapas, Southern Mexico, declared war on the Mexican Government, demanding “work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice and peace” - or so Durito the beetle tells us. Dressed in military khaki and, in the thick Russian of his puppeteer, admiring the “miracles of everyday revolutions in everyday life”, Durito is not the last marionette to offer his politics in Russian artist collective Chto Delat?’s new film, ‘The New Deadline #17 Summer School of Orientation in Zapatism’. Later, a militant wasp will attack a slightly more bookish moose for his slow and steady approach, a singing mole will fret about a life lived without passion, and a flower will spout poetry describing its escape from greenhouse imprisonment.
This is DI, or dumb improvisation, enacted by 17 young people living and working together for two weeks at ‘17 New Dead-End Street’: a temporary commune in contemporary Russia. Grounded in research by Chto Delat?, the foundation of this two week workshop was a 2005 manifesto by the Zapatista, which urged followers to take part in the ‘Zapatista Embassy’: to travel across Mexico and further afield, delivering the Zapatista message worldwide.
Split across three screens are puppet shows accompanied by footage documenting life in the commune, its impoverished village and interviews with the young people and what becomes clear in this 67-minute film is that the Zapatista message is not readily applicable. Struggling and straining with what it is to be revolutionary, the commune return to the very beginnings of the Zapatista: ten years spent in the forests of Southern Mexico, academic city-dwellers and indigenous peoples living and working together. Still, with just two weeks to synthesise a collective voice and co-perspective, these young Russians realise that a more intensive strategy is required.
What ensues is a comedic, yet serious, highly emotional and intimate, series of physical experiments as the group attempts to become one politicised body: seeing, moving and even becoming sick together. Soon, physicality becomes key in developing the empathy and mutual understanding necessary to generate a cohesive and productive movement – one which lives up to the Zapatista, whom they come to somewhat idolise.
Screened side by side with slapstick puppetry, interviews with the 17 participants are compelling, and highly charged with the frustration of a young generation growing up in Putin’s Russia. The group wrestle with vast questions of what it is to revolt, whether to look forward or backward, how to maintain a noble, non-egoist movement - and the hunger for change is tangible. Finally, sitting just a metre from the camera and discernibly straining to look outside, beyond the closed boundaries of Russia, the claustrophobia of oppression peaks with one young woman, who asks “Who are you? You aren’t here yet. Who am I?”