Exploring Soviet Newsreels 1927-1994 Using a Cultural Data Analytics Approach

Nov 24, 2021
Digital Data in the Service of Cultural Heritage workshop, Estonian Maritime Museum & Tallinn University, Estonia


This presentation is concerned with the evolution of Soviet audio-visual culture during 1927-1994. Newsreels—short news films shown in cinemas right before the main feature—served as illustrators of the news provided by newspapers and radio to wider audiences in the 20th century. The Soviet newsreel scene was rich, featuring various thematic series, and the genre survived much longer than in the West: until the 1990s. What were the characteristics of the audiovisual landscape of Soviet newsreels and how did they change over time?

Here we introduce a new project which explores a vast cultural heritage collection of Soviet newsreels to characterize the continuities and changes in the official Soviet representations of world events.

We show how a large Russian-language collection of newsreels, digitized by Net-Film (www.net-film.ru), opens unprecedented possibilities to systematically explore long-term cultural phenomenae. We aim to challenge the existing perceptions of Soviet informational audio-visual culture and provide new insights by employing a cultural-data analytics approach. Driven by and integrated with strong expertise in cultural history, this approach entails a data science workflow pipeline, including audiovisual machine learning methods, as well as is complimented by insight from film studies and creative industries disciplines. The research questions of the project concern the temporal patterns that can be identified through the exploration of places or organizations depicted in newsreels, the composition of film production labour networks, and the aesthetic features of footage. The presentation also discusses the intricacies of using digitized cultural heritage collections in interdisciplinary projects, including challenges faced.