When I was walking around a mall in South Korea last year, there were a lot of digital camera salesmen. They didn’t speak any English, but seeing how my girlfriend and I were as white as can be, they knew we were foreigners and gave a simple one word sales pitch, “Memories.”
I was struck by the sweetness and straightforwardness of the sales pitch. A camera is not a collection of its cutting edge HD components, megapixel counts, special effect features, and on-board memory. A camera is a memory machine, able to crystallize the images that fade from our minds as time withers us away.
Mikhail Zheleznikov‘s video, “Brighton Beach Memory Exchange,” is a beautiful and simplistic short documentary consisting of interviews with Russian immigrants gathering around a “boardwalk picture-exchange” table.
The people offer their memories, and in exchange, they are given pictures of the homeland. Mikhail & co. interview mainly older Russians who still remember their homeland – some with longing, others with no regrets of leaving it. They also reflect on their lives in America, often with mixed, yet palpable emotions.
On the cynical side, I was particularly amused by the man who proclaimed that “I hate, hate, hate, America…yet it keeps me somehow…people are forced to sell themselves, running after [the] American dream, which does not exist.”
Not everyone was quite as hard on their adopted surroundings, “God bless America, I’m very happy here… now I’m old, I like it, where I live right now,” said a woman who had reflected on the gloominess of her former life in Russia.
Mikhail produced this film as part of his “My America” project with CEC ArtsLink and One Big City at the Museum of Moving Image in New York City. There are a slew of other “installations” related to immigration and New York culture that you can find on the project’s website.