Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Who controls the circus controls the mob? An insightful look into the dictatorship of the circus ring, The Dream of the Bear delves into the fading world of the Soviet circus. In their heyday, the 1920s, two million people a day visited one of the 73 state-run circuses. Lenin ranked the circus, with movies and sport, as the Soviet Union’s chief cultural pursuit. Travelling circuses earned $100 million abroad. A Ministry of Circus Affairs supervised the glorification of Soviet ideology in the circus ring, ensuring that spectacular shows were designed to applaud Soviet successes in industry and space travel. Circus performers were national heroes and stayed in the most luxurious hotels as they travelled the world. Though many of the performers resented the regime that repressed their artistic freedoms, they were nothing without it. The collapse of the Soviet Union sounded the death knell for their way of life.
Duyns’ film combines unique archive footage with the entertaining reminiscences of the nostalgic stars, evoking a once fervent culture of sawdust and tinsel. The acrobat Miloslav Zapashny recounts how Stalin watched him perform as a child. The world-famous clown Oleg Popov, like many of the best circus performers, abandoned his homeland and is now living in Germany with little to show for his superstar days.
Those who remained face a struggle to survive. The Kantemirov brothers, Ossetian horsemen who performed in more than 50 films, are seen tending to the horses they visibly love and respect. ‘Once you know people better, you’ll love horses even more,’ their father told them. A tender farewell performance by one of the brothers captures the ironic, elegiac tone of this fascinating rummage in history’s abandoned toy-box. — MM