September 20, 2007

All About Macedonia

This comics panel is from the new graphic novel "Macedonia, What Does is Take to Stop a War?", written by Harvey Pekar (of American Splendor, both the comics and the reknowned film) and Heather Roberson (that's Heather in illustrated form to the left), and illustrated by Ed Piskor. I just found out about this book and am very excited to read it, and this leads me to the theme of my post today. It's All About Macedonia, and for some reason it's converging on us here in Chicago.

That's great news for people who want to learn more or teach about a small republic of the former Yugoslavia that is little known, gets little media attention (which is sometimes good if that means that there's nothing too bad happening to report about), and whose language is little studied outside of its borders - a LCTL, or a Less Commonly Taught Language, in Education's parlance.

But a lot seems to be happening here in Chicago, and at The University of Chicago.

This is one of the few institutions where a student can actually receive instruction in the Macedonian language, one of the south Slavic languages that are in fact all LCTLs, and many of which are taught here.

Next Friday, September 28, 2007, we have the opening of a photo exhibit called "Time and the Sacred". It's a collection of photographs by Pance Velkov, a Macedonian photographer and cultural preservationist, who has documented sacred spaces and frescoes that often date back to the 11th century, and in many cases have been used alternately by Muslims and Orthodox Christians throughout their histories. The exhibit has found an impressive and appropriate home at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the U of C campus, and will run from Sept. 28 until Dec. 24, 2007. On Sept. 28, the artist will join us for the opening, and will give a talk on "Photographing Heritage: Art or Documentation." The picture above is one of the 37 images on display. The opening is open to the public, as is the Rockefeller Chapel every day of the exhibit from 8am-4pm.

This past spring, CEERES convened a workshop "Rethinking Crossroads: Macedonia in Global Context", which offered a venue for the new research being conducted in and on the Republic of Macedonia. The idea behind the title is that, often, Macedonia is defined externally, by the notion that it is a crossroads of other cultures and peoples and their attitudes; rather, the conveners of the workshop sought to address how is Macedonia defining itself, situating itself in its own global context. Paper titles and presenters at the March 31, 2007 workshop can be found here.

In the past, we've sponsored a showing of Macedonian film-maker Milcho Manchevski's Oscar-nominated film "Before the Rain" at Doc Films. The buzz is that he has a forth-coming film "Senki", or "Shadows", and once it's out, I'll bet we'll try to get it shown on campus.

If you'd like find out more about the Republic of Macedonia for the sake of personal interest, or if you're looking for resources to supplement classroom instruction on the region and the language, I suggest you start with SEELRC's Webliographies, which are available for 24 of our region's languages and countries.

Be sure to keep checking back here for more news about Macedonian-related events and resources. First, I'm going to pick up "Macedonia" by the Heather Roberson and the legendary Pekar and give it a read...

September 14, 2007

Film Fest Friday

I'm learning that Chicago is a city of festivals. Especially in the summer, one finds dozens of large and small neighborhood street fairs, cultural heritage festivals, art fairs, and music festivals. Even when it gets cold here, one form of festival is a staple of the Chicago cultural landscape - films.

Given the city's ethnic heritage(s) and appetite for the arts, Chicago plays home to many fine film festivals and series dedicated in whole or part to films coming out of East Europe, Russia and the rest of the 28 former Communist states of our region. Even under repressive Communist regimes, the level of film production was very high in many of these states, especially in Russia, Czechoslovakia (as it was then), and Poland (some may even claim that often because of the repression, the quality of art was higher), and that tradition continues. Internationally acclaimed films are now coming out of many of these states, including Romania, Bulgaria, the republics of the former Yugoslavia, the Baltics, and Mongolia.

Here are some current and upcoming film events. [This is by no means a comprehensive list]

Cultural Film Festivals
Film Series
  • Lech Majewski’s Landscape of Dreams, Gene Siskel Film Center, September 8-October 4, 2007. One of the strengths of the state-of-the-art Siskel Film Center is film series of directors' ouvres, regional films, and thematic runs. They also are able to show rare and remastered prints of films you could not find anywhere else. Recent examples of eclectic series at the Siskel include the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski; and annual EU film series; and Russian SciFi films.
Film Festivals
  • The 43rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival, October 4-17, 2007. This competitive film festival hosted at multiple venues in Chicago is sure to feature the latest films coming out of such countries as Russia, Poland, Romania, and indeed out of all corners of the globe.
Lastly, I need to mention that Doc Films, the venerable and venerated student-run screen at The University of Chicago has just posted its upcoming calendar. At Doc, each day of the week is part of an ongoing series throughout the quarter, and on the weekends they tend to show the latest popular releases. I haven't seen a detailed description of the films for this quarter, but if there are films related to the CEERES countries, I'll try to include something about them in this space.

September 5, 2007

Gypsy Wednesday

Gypsy Caravan

What really got me thinking about getting this CEERES Blog up and running is the incredible cultural entertainments and events happening in Chicago.

Last night, the Associate Director of CEERES, Meredith Clason, and myself (Jeremy Pinkham, Outreach Coordinator) took a field trip to the historic Chicago theater the Music Box to see the documentary film Gypsy Caravan.

Gypsy Caravan at the Music Box Theater

The documentary follows the Gypsy Caravan, a 2002 concert tour in the U.S. made up of 5 Romani musical groups from Macedonia, Spain, India, and Romania. I'd like to comment on some of the more interesting, eye-opening elements of the film. For one, the music, and variety of musical traditions, coming out of Rom culture is extremely rich and varied. I, for one, was not aware that flamenco music and dance, so associated with Spain, actually has its roots in the Spanish gypsy population. Nor was I aware that an old population of Rom still lives in India (in Rajastan, the supposed ancestral homeland of Rom peoples), though on second thinking it makes perfect sense. The film received favorable comparisons to Bueno Vista Social Club, and I only wish that we were shown more music throughout the course of the film.

There is much talk among the musicians in Gypsy Caravan about the commonalities still shared by these geographically isolated yet culturally linked populations, and about the common soul and rhythm of the gypsies. Something even more interesting to me are the elements that we are shown in passing that give context to the lives of the Romani in the places they live. We get the idea that the success of some of these musicians in the west provides the only income for some of the families and villages back home. One fascinating scene has an interview with a gypsy war refugee from Kosovo, who has found acceptance and assistance from Romanis in Macedonia.

Of note: one of the featured performers in Gypsy Caravan, Esma Redžepova of Macedonia, provided the single Čaje Šukarije for Borat.

I'd recommend this film for a number of reasons: experience great music; find out about a group of people scattered by time, diplacement, and prejudice, but nourished by their community and traditions; visit the wonderful Music Box theater.

[By the way, without meaning any insensitivity, I use the term gypsy, which is often regarded as derogative, interspersed with the more acceptable ethnic terms Rom, Roma, and Romani, because the use of the various terms show how identities are constructed, reinforced, and questioned over time.]

A little more on Gypsies

Watching the film also reminded me that there are other media resources about Rom music that I've been meaning to share. Influences of Balkan, Slavic, Gypsy, punk, jazz, and rock are fusing in lots of different bands in Europe and especially in the U.S. One of the more increasingly well-known bands is Gogol Bordello, based out of NYC, and who seem to be touring across the states all the time. The are fronted by Eugene Huts, a Ukrainian who grew up in the USSR and is a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster. Recently, I heard a couple great pieces of radio about the band and their music. These resources are available online and as podcasts:
That's all for Gypsy Wednesday. I'm sure there's lots more news, events, and bands I could profile in this space, but this media came to my attention, and I hope it's a jumping-off point.


Welcome to the new blog of The University of Chicago Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies. Check out the CEERES website for full details about what we do. Basically, we are situated at The University of Chicago and have funding from the U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers program to educate and encourage interest and scholarship about the wide region of the world which we represent. Our goal is to reach out beyond the University - to Chicago Public Schools and all the K-12, community college, and other university teachers and students in the Chicago area, to cultural organizations, to people who love music and art, to anyone who needs to know even a little bit about our region of the world to make sense of their own.

The CEERES Blog will serve as an informal, but hopefully informative space for students, teachers, and community members to find out about events (conferences, lectures, concerts, films - you name it) in the Chicago area and on the U of C campus in Hyde Park that are related to our region. We will also use this space to highlight news and cultural events that come to our attention and that we think should be shared - bits of information that are uniquely interesting. Hopefully you'll see what mean.

Your respectful comments and appropriate information to share with us and our readers are welcome and encouraged. This blog will generally be informative and objective. When opinions are shared, they are by no means indicative of the point of view CEERES or The University of Chicago, but are the sole opinions of the posters themselves.