Boris Shumyatsky

Boris Zakharovich Shumyatsky (Russian: Бори́с Заха́рович Шумя́цкий; November 16, 1886 – July 29, 1938) was a Soviet politician, diplomat and the de facto executive producer for the Soviet film monopolies Soyuzkino and GUKF from 1930 to 1937. He was executed as a traitor in 1938, following a "purge" of the Soviet film industry, and much information about him was expunged from the public record as a consequence.[1]

Boris Shumyatsky in 1924

Life and careerEdit

Shumyatsky was born in Verkhneudinsk (now Ulan-Ude) in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in Russian Siberia. He appears to have been active in Marxist circles by 1903. He was a member of the Bolshevik committee in Krasnoyarsk during the 1905 revolution, and was arrested for his role in organising a rail strike. He escaped and by 1907 was working underground in Vladivostok. Arrested again, he was deported to the same region of Siberia where Joseph Stalin was in exile. Following the Russian Revolution he was a party functionary in Soviet Siberia, including a stint as premier of the Far Eastern Republic from November 1920 to April 1921. From 1923 to 1925, he represented Soviet interests in Iran, and after that was in charge of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, and then a member of the Central Asian Bureau of the Party Central Committee back in Siberia.

In none of these capacities did he evidently have anything to do with film-making. Nonetheless, following a reorganization of the Soviet film industry he was selected by Stalin to become the head of Soyuzkino in December 1930. When Soyuzkino was dissolved and replaced by GUKF on February 11, 1933, he remained in charge and even with expanded powers over all matters of production, import/export, distribution and exhibition.

He took over the film industry at a time when it was going through major technological changes, and rapid expansion. The number of cinemas in the USSR almost quadrupled under his supervision, to around 30,000, and silent movies were supplanted by 'talkies'. The first Soviet film with a full sound track was released in October 1931. He was also expected to end import of foreign equipment, and blank film when Soviet factories were not well equipped to supply demand, and he had to contend with tightening censorship and Stalin's personal obsession with cinema, which made it expedient to show new films to Stalin before they went on release, and in many cases to submit scripts to Stalin before shooting began.

After visiting Hollywood, he also conceived the idea of creating a similar centre for the film industry at a spot near Odessa, where the climate and geography were similar to those of Hollywood and thus more amenable to year-round film-making. This vision extended to the building of an entire film community, to be called Kinograd—a highly expensive proposition. The output of Soviet films certainly deteriorated in quantity under his supervision: only 35 new films were completed in 1933, compared with 148 in 1928; in 1935, of a planned 130 feature films, only 45 were completed; in 1936, only 46 of 165; in 1937— his final year— only 24 of 62.

This may have been because he was operating under impossible conditions. Alexander Barmine, who worked with Shumyatsky in Tehran, found him "gifted with astounding energy, capable of working all day and all night, eager and uncompromising... the stuff of which leaders are made" and believed that his job as head of the film industry was made impossible by the political demands made on him. By contrast, Jay Leyda, an American student who worked with Sergei Eisenstein, claimed that on the day Shumyatsky was eventually sacked "all of Moscow's film makers gave parties" to celebrate.[2]

Leyda's hostility to Shumyatsky resulted from what he saw as the systematic persecution of Eisenstein, who was prevented from completing a film for the entire time that Shumyatsky headed the film industry. Shumyatsky had a role in the suppression of Eisenstein's unfinished film Bezhin Meadow in 1937, though in the end it was Stalin's decision to ban it. On 18 March 1937 Shumyatsky delivered the opening speech at a three-day conference on cinema, which consisted mainly of an attack on Eisenstein, and on 28 March wrote a letter to Molotov denouncing seven people by name for conspiring to rescue the banned film and "discredit me as the stifler of the 'brilliant work of S. Eisenstein'". Four of those he named were arrested and shot. On 16 April, he sent Stalin a note suggesting that Eisenstein should never be allowed to make another film.[3]

Shumyatsky was arrested on 8 January 1938. On the same day, Pravda carried an excoriating account of his record as the head of the cinema industry. He was accused of collaborating with saboteurs within the film industry. On 28 June 1938 he was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad. His reputation was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956.


  1. ^ Peter Rollberg (2016). Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema. US: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 684–686. ISBN 1442268425.
  2. ^ McSmith, Andy (2015). Fear and the Muse Kept Watch. New York: The New Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-59558-056-6.
  3. ^ McSmith, Andy. Fear and the Muse Kept Watch. pp. 165–166.


Richard Taylor, "Ideology as Mass Entertainment: Boris Shumyatsky and Soviet Cinema in the 1930s", in Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, (eds.), Inside the Film Factory, Routledge Ltd., 1991.