Marina Goldovskaya, a professor emerita in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer whose work captured the decline of the Soviet Union, died March 20 in Jurmala, Latvia. She was 80.
Goldovskaya was a professor of film, television and digital media from 1994 to 2014 and often invited notable documentary filmmakers to her classes. She shared her passion for observing and capturing reality with her students and was a mentor to many of them, both during her time at UCLA and after her retirement.
A native of Russia, Goldovskaya was regarded as the first woman from that country to be the writer, director, cinematographer and producer of her own films, many of which captured the decline and fall of the Soviet regime.
She gained recognition during the glasnost and perestroika era with works documenting Soviet life and history, including “A Peasant from Archangelsky” (“Arkhangelsk Muzhik,” 1986) and “Solovky Power” (“Vlast Solovetskaya,” 1988), which former New York Times chief film critic Vincent Canby called “a remarkable documentary,” one “so good that it leaves the audience wanting to know more.” In that film, eight survivors of the first Soviet labor camp created by Lenin in 1923 were interviewed — writers, scholars and other members of the creative intelligentsia among them — shedding a light on the horrors that took place there. The film received numerous accolades including the 1989 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize.
Subsequent films such as “A Taste of Freedom” (“Vkus svobodi,” 1991), “The Shattered Mirror – A Diary of a Turbulent Time” (“Oskolki zerkala,” 1992), “Lucky to Be Born in Russia” (“Povezlo roditsia v Rossii,” 1994) and “The Prince Is Back” (1999) recorded the seismic changes brought about by the breakup of the USSR.
In documentaries such as “The House on Arbat Street” (“Dom s rizariam,” 1993) and “The Children of Ivan Kuzmich” (“Deti Ivana Kuzmicha,” 1997), Goldovskaya turned simple characters into political metaphors about 20th century Russia.
“Ms. Goldovskaya often says her field is human emotions, how politics affects the soul, and that her favorite subjects are people with obsessions,” wrote Nancy Ramsey in a 1998 New York Times article. In 2011, her film “A Bitter Taste of Freedom,” about murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, received a number of accolades. Her last project was “The Art of Observing Life” (2013) in which she interviewed fellow documentarians including Richard Leacock (1960’s “Primary”), Albert Maysles (1975’s “Grey Gardens”) and Jonas Mekas (1964’s “The Brig”) about their strategies and approaches to their work.
Goldovskaya was born July 15, 1941, in Moscow. Her father, Evsei Goldovsky, was a well-known film technology innovator, and one of the founders of VGIK (the State Institute of Cinematography), the Moscow film school started by Lev Kuleshov and where Sergei Eisenstein taught.
Goldovskaya studied at the VGIK between 1958 and 1964, one of a handful female students during the Krushchev Thaw, the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were relaxed, and millions of political prisoners were released from Gulag labor camps. She was one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s crew on his thesis film “The Steam Roller and the Violin” (1961), and after graduation, went on to spend 25 years with the State Committee of Television and Radio Broadcasting of the Soviet Union, commonly known as Gosteleradio, making documentaries there until 1988, employing techniques similar to direct cinema.
The English translation of her memoir, “Woman with a Movie Camera: My Life as a Russian Filmmaker” was published in 2006 with a foreword by Robert Rosen, former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
In 2011, Goldovskaya, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was interviewed for the academy’s visual history collection and shared memories of growing up in Moscow during the Soviet era in the 1940s and 1950s. She also discussed the workings of ideological censorship and the making of her landmark documentaries during glasnost.
Goldovskaya is survived by her son, Sergey Livnev, of Latvia. A Los Angeles memorial is being planned.