The Politics of Translation at Soviet Film Festivals during the Cold War


Some time between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, my grandmother, Kira Razlogova, translated an African film at the Moscow International Film Festival. It was an official screening, with the ambassador of the African country present in the audience. She sat in a translator’s booth at the back of the theater, reading into the microphone from a printed French dialogue list just given to her. She had never seen this film before. She watched it now for the first time through the window of her booth, and synced her reading to the spoken lines flowing into her earphones, lines in an African language she did not know. Loudspeakers transmitted her voice into the cinema hall over the partially muted original soundtrack. Ten minutes before the end, the script ran out of pages. The film goes on; she has nothing to say; an administrator storms into her booth predicting a diplomatic crisis. To save the situation, she went ahead and invented the dialogue for the rest of the film on the basis of the moving images. After the screening, the ambassador, made aware that the script was too short, thanked her for making up the final scenes. He claimed her translation was quite close to the original (Kira Razlogova).

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