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The Children of Leningradsky

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Original title
Dzieci z Leningradzkiego (The Children of Leningradsky)
Running time
35 min.
Poland Poland
Hanna Polak, Andrzej Celinski
Hanna Polak, Andrzej Celinski, Hans Jürgen Burkard
Forte Andrzej Celinski Hanna Polak
Documentary | Poverty. Childhood. Prostitution. Drugs. Half-length Film
Official Site
Synopsis / Plot
Nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary, Short Subject, this 35-minute documentary, takes an unblinking look at the reality of homeless children living in Russia today - in particular the ones who call the underground Leningradsky train station in Moscow home. Utilizing verité footage of over a dozen children who speak candidly about their lives, routines and lost dreams, the film captures the sobering reality of post-Soviet Russia, as kids are left behind, get booted out of their homes, turn into prostitutes, are abused, and run away. Though it has been making efforts to overcome this dire situation, the Russian system has yet to completely control it, as many young children (ages 8-16) continue to be swept into the abyss.

When this film was made, authorities estimated that some 30,000 children were living on the streets and railway stations of Moscow. The Children of Leningradsky concentrates on a dozen or so children living in the Moscow train station Leningradsky. Panhandling from strangers and sleeping among the rush of commuters, their wants are minimal. "We need some heat, food, a little money and nothing more," says one, forgetting that his daily diet also includes an unhealthy dose of vodka, cigarettes and glue sniffing. "When it is worst, we try to make money for food by prostitution," admits another.

Police brutality is a daily reality for the children of Leningradsky. The film captures one incident where the police patrol beats one of the street children and smears an entire tube of glue into his hair and onto his face. Ironically, it is by sniffing glue fumes that these children (at least for a little while) are able escape the unforgiving world around them. It is a life of fleeting possibilities and danger.

The Children of Leningradsky conveys what life is like for these homeless children as they plan their day around "best begging hours." Originally part of a project to bring money and aid to homeless youth, Polak and Celinski started filming this documentary as a non-profit initiative. The film has helped focus attention on this matter; since it was made, Russian authorities have stepped up their efforts to reduce homelessness in Moscow, though it's still a serious problem in other cities.

Death sometimes crosses the paths of the children of Leningradsky, directly and indirectly. One group of kids explains how they were badgered for 48 hours by police after another child was murdered, even though they weren't anywhere near the crime scene. In another, far more emotional scene, a group of homeless children wail at the funeral of a pretty 14-year-old girl. Neverless, Misha, the boy who was discarded by his father, remains optimistic: "God believes in people and helps them. He loves everyone, even bad people, not just Russians. He even loves Chechnyans. But most of all, He loves children."

About the filmmakers: Born in Katowice, Poland, Hanna Polak studied acting before beginning her studies at the Moscow School of Cinematography. In 1997 she founded a charity organization in order to help the underprivileged children of Russia. Andrzej Celinski began his career in the theater, and directed several successful plays in Poland and the Czech Republic. He has won the Main Award of the Czech Theater Festival in Prague.

CREDITS: Directed and Produced by Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celinski; Editors: Ewa Romanowska-Rózewicz and Andrzej Celinski; Cinematography: Hanna Polak, Andrzej Celinski and Hans Jürgen Burkard; On-Line Editors: Marek Kempista and Piotr Rejmer; Post-Production Supervisor: Piotr Rejmer. For Cinemax Reel Life: Supervising Editor: Geof Bartz; Coordinating Producer: Sara Bernstein; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins
2004: Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Short Documentary.
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