(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: In Uzbekistan, where one would never expect to find it, is a world-class art museum. The art is mostly all art that was condemned and forbidden by the Soviets. THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART tells the story of how an impoverished painter Igor Savitsky saved these artworks, hidden by the artists, and how he managed under a Stalinist regime to create his museum as a refuge for banned art. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Dictators can only be dictators by prohibiting free expression. Dictatorial regimes all decree what art is allowed by the State and not outlawed. Hitler certainly did it. The dictatorships of the Middle East do it. And Stalin did it. Stalin demanded under pain of severe punishments and death that artist work in the style of Soviet Realism. Great artists had to destroy or hide their own best work under the rule of the Stalin. Much of the great suppressed work of those years is only visible now at the Nukus Museum of Art, or more formally The State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. Right in the middle of villages of poverty, camels, and sand is this collection of some of the great art works of the world. The Ukrainian Igor Savitsky created this museum with chutzpah and great personal risk.

Savitsky was born to wealth in 1915 in Kiev, but with the coming of the Revolution his family lost all. Trained in art and archeology he was sent in 1950 to document in painting an archeological expedition to Khwarezm. In nearby Uzbekistan he started collecting works of art from a local artist. These works were hidden away as they did not follow the art rules of the Soviet State. Savitsky was a long way from the NKVD/KGB, 1700 miles from Moscow, and felt that allowed him a little safety. With guts and nerve he managed to get from the Soviet State the money to build an art museum and to collect art that the policy makers would rarely come so far to see. In his career he collected 40,000 pieces of art, mostly forbidden. He would travel and meet with artists and smuggle back to Uzbekistan illegal painting representing schools like impressionism and Russian avant-garde as well as an entirely new school of modernism combining with Eastern traditions. Some of the art is forbidden not for its content but because the artist was gay, a crime under the Soviets. Savitsky would ask for the art and be given it with no more assurance that a verbal promise to pay the artist or the artist's family in the future. Artists were so anxious to have their works seen that they would trust Savitsky with some of their best work.

Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope co-wrote and co-directed the film about the man who collected so much forgotten, ignored, and politically incorrect art. Filming in remote and inhospitable Uzbekistan the film was a seven-year project. Savitsky's museum was all but forgotten until the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times brought the work of Gerogiev and Pope to its readership and told the story of this obscure museum. Ben Kingsley reads from the writings of Savitsky. Edward Asner and Sally Field read other people writing on the subject. The story is compelling, though as presented it is not always easy to follow. Frequently someone will be talking about someone else, but whether it is Savitsky or an artist that Savitsky helped is hard to keep clear.

This film won the Cine Golden Eagle Award, the Best Documentary Award at Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the Audience Award at Beijing International Film Festival. It is a remarkable story of heroism and of defiance of tyranny. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or /10. The film is in English and in Russian with English subtitles. This film opens in New York City at Cinema Village March 11, 2011.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper