Nationality: Russian. Born: Iosif Yefimovitch Heifitz (sometimes transliterated as Josef Kheifits) in Minsk, Russia, 17 December 1905. Education: Leningrad School of Screen Arts, graduated 1927. Family: Married, two sons (filmmakers Vladimir and Dmitri Svetozarov). Career: Formed partnership with fellow student Alexander Zarkhi; they directed first film together, A Song of Steel, for Sovkino, 1928; joined Soyuzfilm, 1933, Lenfilm, 1935; ended partnership with Zarkhi, 1950. Awards: Stalin Prize, for Razgrom Japonii, 1945. Died: 24 April 1995, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Films as Director:
Pesn o metallye (A Song of Steel) (co-d, + co-sc, co-ed)
Veter v litso (Facing the Wind) (co-d)
Polden (Noon) (co-d, + co-sc)
Moya rodina (My Fatherland; My Country) (co-d, + co-sc)
Goryachie dyenechki (Hectic Days) (co-d, + co-sc)
Deputat Baltiki (Baltic Deputy) (co-d, + co-sc)
Chlen pravitelstva (The Great Beginning; Member of theGovernment) (co-d, + co-sc)
Yevo zovut Sukhe-Bator (His Name Is Sukhe-Bator) (co-d, + co-sc)
Malakhov Kurgan (co-d, + co-sc)
Razgrom Japonii (The Defeat of Japan) (co-d, + co-sc, co-ed)
Vo imya zhizni (In the Name of Life) (co-d, + co-sc)
Dragotsennye zerna (The Precious Grain) (co-d)
Ogni Baku (Flames over Baku; Fires of Baku) (co-d) (released 1958)
Vesna v Moskve (Spring in Moscow) (co-d)
Bolshaya semya (The Big Family)
Dyelo Rumyantseva (The Rumyantsev Case) (+ co-sc)
Dorogoi moi chelovek (My Dear Fellow; My Dear Man) (+ co-sc)
Dama s sobachkoi (The Lady with the Little Dog) (+ sc)
Dyen schastya (A Day of Happiness) (+ co-sc)
V gorodye S (In the Town of S) (+ sc)
Saliut Maria! (Salute, Maria) (+ co-sc)
Plokhoy khoroshyi chelovek (The Duel; The Bad Good Man) (+ sc)
Edinstvennaia (The Only One; The One and Only) (+ co-sc)
Asya (Love Should Be Guarded) (+ sc)
Vpervye zamuzhem (Married for the First Time) (+ co-sc)
Podsudimy (The Accused) (+ co-sc)
Vy chyo, starichyo (Who Are You, Old People?) (+ co-sc)
Brodyachij avtobus (Nomad Bus) (+ co-sc)
Luna sleva (The Moon Is to the Left) (Ivanov) (co-sc, asst-d)
Transport ognya (Transport of Fire) (Ivanov) (co-sc, asst-d)
By HEIFITZ: articles—
"Director's Notes," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 1, 1966.
Interview in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 2, 1971.
Interview in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 9, 1976.
Article in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 11, 1978.
Hejfic, Iosif, "Vzlet I padenie Moej Rodiny," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), December 1990.
On HEIFITZ: books—
Christie, Ian, and Richard Taylor, editors, The Film Factory: Russianand Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896–1939, London, 1988.
Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, Princeton, 1999.
On HEIFITZ: articles—
Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 2, 1967, and no. 2, 1971.
Panoráma, no. 4, 1976.
Lipkov, "Iosif Heifits," in Soviet Film (Moscow), February 1983.
"Iosif Kheifits," in Film Dope (London), September 1984.
Gillett, John, and Claire Kitson, "Chekhov and After: The Films of Iosif Heifitz," in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), December 1986.
Dobrotvorsky, S., "Father and Sons," in Soviet Film (Moscow), April 1987.
Birchenough, Tom, "Iosif Kheifits," in Variety (New York), 29 May 1995.
Brandlmeier, Thomas, "Iosif Chejfic 4.12.1905 - 24.4.1995," an obituary in, EPD Film (Frankfurt), August 1995.
Goldovskaja, Marina, "Stariki," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), November 1995.
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It is impossible to discuss the career of Iosif Heifitz without also paying tribute to Alexander Zarkhi, with whom he worked for over twenty years after they both left the Leningrad Technicum of Cinema Art in 1927. The first film they made together was A Head Wind, but their first collaboration to gain prominence was Baltic Deputy, a landmark film of "socialist" or "historic" realism that transcends the genre's usual bombastic propaganda, moral and political schematism, and impossibly perfect and idealised heroes and heroines. This film concerns an elderly professor who, despite the disapproval of his stuffy academic colleagues, joins the forces of revolution in 1917 and is eventually elected to the Petrograd Soviet by the sailors of the Baltic fleet. It contains both humour and humanistic values, and is particularly distinguished by an excellent central performance from Nikolai Cherkasov. Equally impressive, for the same reasons, is Member of the Government. Set during the rural collectivisation period and focusing on a young farm worker who rises to a government position despite the opposition of her husband, this film concerns the improved status of women in the USSR after 1917. A similar concentration on the social position of women can be seen in his later film, Married for the First Time. Vera Maretskaya is superb throughout Member of the Government, the first of several memorable female leading roles in Heifitz's films.
Both Zarkhi and Heifitz benefited creatively from their split in 1950, although Heifitz has undoubtedly become better known. His impressive second film on his own, The Big Family, is recognised as one of the forerunners of the post-Stalin rejuvenation of the Soviet cinema. This film presents the lives of a family of shipbuilders with a feeling for everyday realities, a lively, detailed texture, a concern with the problems of the individual as opposed to the masses, and generally tries to avoid producing neat, formulaic, ideologically "sound" solutions.
In 1960 Heifitz made the film for which he is probably best known, The Lady with the Little Dog, the first of a Chekhov trilogy including In the Town of S and The Bad Good Man. It is hardly surprising that the director should have been drawn to Chekhov, nor that his Chekhov adaptations are among his finest works, for both share an understanding of the complexity of human beings, a feeling for the minute, telling detail, and a remarkable ability to conjure an almost tangible sense of atmosphere. Indeed, in the trilogy some of the most "Chekhovian" moments are not in the original stories at all! Thus, it is hardly surprising to find Heifitz admitting (in an interview in Soviet Film) that "much as I love Dostoevsky I regard Chekhov as my teacher." Stressing Chekhov's concern with the importance of clear and legible writing (in both senses of the word), he adds: "I try to apply the laws of Chekhovian prose, with due adjustments to suit our time, in my films about the present. I have always considered Chekhov to be among the most modern of writers, and have never treated him as a venerable, 'moth-eaten' classic. To me Chekhov has always been an example of a social-minded writer. . . . The hallmark of Chekhov's approach is that, while describing these small, weak people living in an atmosphere of triviality and inaction, he preserved his faith in a better future and in the power of the human spirit. So he imparted to them an important quality—the capacity to make a critical judgment of the surrounding world and of oneself. This is the quality that I prize most highly."
Thus, in spite of his obvious relish for period feel in Chekhov (and Turgenev, in the beautiful Asya), Heifitz was obviously a great deal more than a "period" director. Claiming that modern Soviet filmmakers are "heirs to the humanistic tradition of Russian literature," he once said that his films are "a panorama of the better part of a century." Looking at the remarkable gallery of characters he presented with his mix of everyday heroism and humanity, it is hard to disagree. Heifitz was not a stylistic innovator, but his films, whether set in the past or present, all exhibit an equally strong feeling for the minutiae of daily life and the humanity of their characters. In this last respect it should be pointed out that Heifitz was a masterly director of actors, and that he largely "discovered" Nikolai Cherkasov, Vera Maretskaya, Iya Savvina and Alexei Batalov, all of whom gave some of their finest performances in his films. As he himself stated, "many directors today strive for documentary realism and naturalness of tone. But in that case individuality disappears, and the human voice with its infinite inflections gives way to banality." Heifitz added: "Directing in the cinema means above all directing the actor. The actor is the focal point of the director's efforts and experience."