HotDocs Review: Pipeline [Vitaly Mansky, 2014]


“There is a pipeline that runs from Siberia to Germany. We took a camera to it and here’s the result. Let’s talk after”. Through an interpretor, this was how the director introduced the film at the late night screening to his audience. And in a sense, his stoic honesty is appreciated. Pipeline is just that simple a documentary. You will see snow, machinery, a confluence of living conditions and attitude, all wrapped up in the title.

As video-journalism, Pipeline is atmospheric and succeeds in conveying the director’s vision. But I find the final product hard to digest. This is not because of content (the director does gravitate towards some graphic stuff), but the mundane nature of it all. Basically, the filmmakers went along the Siberia-Ukraine-Germany gas pipeline and filmed around every pumping station. How people deal with their lives, along the line, changes dramatically. This is, of course, the modus operandi of the film. It is also the source of tedium. There is little more frustrating than listening to farmers and shut-ins recount their lives, without any background, for the 5th time in 30 minutes. Yes, there is great contrast between how people in Cologne act compared to those living in Urengoy. And yes, we may even feel obligated to sympathize. But the film was unsuccessful in persuading me that the pipeline created the problem. If anything I feel that the Europe/Asia divide existed long before the oil/gas discovery and the eventual export in the 1980s. From my “Western” perspective, the film merely confirms my preconceived stereotypes. If Mansky aimed to reveal a deeper layer of thought, it was completely lost on me. Is this a lamentation to the dichotomy or an ode to the existing programs?

In the Q&A, Mansky mentioned that we should have noticed that the Ukrainians were the ones complaining, whereas the Siberians were oblivious and the Germans couldn’t care less. Why fault the ignorance of anyone when we lack direct answers for how they should act otherwise? Not that I demand an answer, of course. Perhaps it was even meant to be aimless. But a little hint of what’s over the horizon of snow and dreary couldn’t hurt.

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews