Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bye, dad.

My father, Vladimir Erweis, passed away earlier today in Moscow. He was 81.
That was one long, eventful life. He was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1928. Hes father (my grandfather,) Grigory Erweis, was arrested by Stalin's authorities and sentenced to ten years of exile on false accusations in 1940. My dad moved with him to a small town in Kazakhstan where grandfather was sent to.

In 1942, 14-years-old Vladimir decided to join the Red Army to fight Nazis. He entered the Selishe Aviation Mechanics School in northern Kazakhstan and, after completing the course in 1944, was sent to the frontline. He served as aviation mechanic on the Balkan Peninsula part of the frontline. When war was over, he was transferred to Azerbaijan (at that time part of the Soviet Union) where he served the rest of then-regular 4.5-years military service term as a member of a radar post crew until October 6, 1948, when he was sent to the city of Ashgabat (capital of the Soviet republic of Turkmenistan) that was totally destroyed in a few minutes by one of the worst earthquakes in history. After many days of digging the debris in the risig odour (as two thirds of the city's population, over one houndred thousand people, died in the earthquake,) Vladimir experienced a breakdown and was sent to a hospital for two months of rehabilitation. After that, he was discharged from the military service.

Upon returning to the civil life in late 1948, he found his family reunited in Western part of Russia, in a small city called Velikie Luki. The city was heavily destroyed during the war, but there was a lot of reconstruction going on, and a brand new steel mill where Vladimir found a job, first as a steelworker, then (after six years) as a foreman. He also participated in amateur theater production at the steel mill worker's club, which, as I understand, led him to a most exotic decision: after five years in the military and ten years in metallurgy, he decided to change his life entirely. In 1958, aged 30, Vladimir Erweis moved to Moscow and enrolled in full-time Filmmaking course at the Moscow Institute of Cinematography. He also married at that time, thought briefly. He graduated in 1966, and set to work in documentary filmmaking.

In 1966, he met my mother, Irina Moshkova, 16 years his junior, who at that time was working at the Izvestia publishing house. She, too, was divorced, like dad. Next year he moved to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he signed a contract with Tajikfilm Studios for several documentary films. My mom moved with him, and they married. In 1968, she returned to Moscow to give birth to me; dad was filming half the time in Tajikistan, half the time staying in Moscow. A few of his documentary movies were really successful, especially "Light" (1969,) about the construction of the 984-ft-tall Nurek Dam on the Vakhsh River, and "Cinema" (1970), awarded Gold prize at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary Film (DOK Leipzig) in Germany the same year. "Cinema" was a touching 20-minute story of a Tajik man who operated a moving cinema (essentially, a truck with a cinema projector and a sound system) -- he was moving from one tiny highland village in Pamir Mountains to another to show the local peasants the movie about Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. This documentary would still run about once a year at the Moscow's Cinema Museum Theater until the late 2000s.

My parents divorced in 1977. After that, I have seen dad a few times a year, when he was in Moscow -- he continued to film documentaries for different prodiction companies throughout the Soviet Union and abroad (in East Germany in 1972 and 1978, for instance.) In early 1980s, he moved to Chukotka, the farthest Eastern part of Russia, next door to Alaska (across the Bering Strait,) where he found a new home and a new family. He married Natalia Khabarova, a prominent geologist, in 1983. This marriage proved to be the happiest: they were still together this morning when he died.

Dad filed several documentaries in Chukotka, dedicated to the people who work in this remote Northern region: dockers, geologists, gold miners. He also wrote several non-fiction books for a local publishing house, including "Women of Chukotka" and "Natalia Khabarova's Golden Trail." This is how he met Natalia: the local geology research authority assigned him to write about this wonderful woman, who at 45 was the top expert in the region's geology research, especially in finding the Chukotka's biggest treasure, gold.

In the late 1980s, they both retired and moved to Moscow where dad owned a small apartment. Dad was really happy to see his grandson, my son, born in 1989. Dad and I used to see each other several times a year, whatever happened in my life. He might not entirely understand (or simply like) the music I devoted my life to (his favorites being Russian singers-songwriters who played guitars and sung simple melodies with rich poetic texts,) but he was proud to see me writing books, publishing a magazine, travelling the world, and liked to see the photos I would bring from my travels.

Bye, dad. I'm going to miss you.

No comments: