Dimitri Kirsanoff: The Elusive Estonian

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This article investigates the contradictory information about the Estonian identity of the filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff (1899–1957) and examines the archival material that provides final confirmation of his birth and childhood in Tartu. In addition, Kirsanoff’s substantial contribution to silent cinema and his significance in the context of French avant-garde impressionism are discussed. Kirsanoff’s most acclaimed film Ménilmontant (France, 1926) was released 90 years ago. It is still frequently screened all over the world, due to its experimental montage techniques, the early use of handheld cameras, its innovative use of actual locations and the actors’ performances that still resonate with contemporary audiences. Ménilmontant is also influential because of its elliptical narrative style. However, with the advent of sound film, Kirsanoff’s career declined because the reorganisation of the film industry limited the creative freedom he enjoyed in the 1920s. This article attempts to contribute to a wider acknowledgement of Dimitri Kirsanoff’s Estonian origins, his films and his important place in the world cinema.

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