The slogan “No censorship in the Soviet Union” was once upon a time introduced at school level. It’s paradoxical, but this statement has a basis. Thematic and aesthetic control was largely done by the filmmakers themselves through the intercession of collegial institutions – the Screenplay Editing Board and the Arts Council. Collective deliberations during each phase of film production were much more effective in curtailing the freedom of speech and preventing subtext than any official control body, for example, the Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs (Glavlit), which had to implement specific controls of text or image into standard practice in order to prevent the revelation of “state secrets”. It was officially forbidden to exhibit work containing agitation and propaganda against the Soviet rule; forbidden to reveal state secrets; to foster nationalistic and religious fanaticism, mysticism, pornography, and be anti-artistic. The last point granted officials license because “artistic” wasn’t defined. “Artistic qualities” became one of the most often used arguments in preventing some concept or as the reason to force corrections of filmed material.
CONTROL OVER FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION
It was mandatory for a script to have Glavlit approval. Glavlit looked mainly at whether any state secrets or military information was exposed. From the 1960s right up to the end of the Soviet era, the most important institution for determining the content and predominant style in Soviet filmmaking was the Screenplay Editing Board. If a script was approved by the film studio’s editors, it was then looked at by the Arts Council, then the head editor of the State Cinematographic Committee, and only then was the script sent to Goskino in Moscow, which had various levels of controls in place. In parallel, some scripts were also looked at by various other party organizations, such as the war censor, the KGB (most often unofficially) and others.
CONTROL OVER DOCUMENTARY FILM PRODUCTION
For films that weren’t meant to be screened across the Soviet Union (which was the majority of short documentaries and newsreels), Latvian officials were required to take responsibility. Documentary films were viewed as informative rather than artistic material, and were monitored solely for any news containing state secrets. The Riga Film Studio newsreels editor Aina Adermane summarized the control system: “At that time censorship was extremely complicated - the newsreel editor, the managing editor, studio management, Cinematographic Committee management, Central Committee Dept. of Culture, Central Committee Dept. of Ideology, head party secretaries, Glavlit, the war censor... And if not one, then another would definitely contrive something or see something unacceptable.”
A film was forbidden during the Soviet era if it did not received screening approval, but those occasions were rare. “Shelved films” - a Soviet film term precisely characterizing the situation – were films that weren’t forbidden, but simply not shown. Work that was “wrong” for political or aesthetic reasons was formally approved, but received the lowest (nr. 3 or 4) category, which meant that the number of copies was minimal and they were placed in the archives without wider screening. The number of copies could even influence how noticeable a screen-released film was. Director Oļģerts Dunkers wrote: “If they allow your film a large amount of copies – the film will “go”. If they don’t, it will go missing in the vast local and foreign film production over-flooding the screens.”