Syracuse Film Festival Daily Wrap
Tuesday, April 28, the Syracuse International Film Festival presented a special event called «Russian Heroes of Disability» that featured a panel discussion sandwiched between two Russian feature films, both dealing with disability — the first with a physical disability, and the second with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Before the panel discussion began, Ramil Khayrulin and Tatiana Bogaeva, both Russian, and their translator Gregg Opelka, came down to sit at the table in the front of the auditorium in Weiskotten Hall on Irving Ave.
«I want to thank Topol (the director of the first film, «Standing on the Edge») for creating such a film about this problem that people with disabilities face, which touches all of us, no matter our country or nationality,» Khayrulin said.
Khayrulin and Bogaeva founded the Autonomous Nonprofit Organization «Independent Project in Social Sciences» in Moscow to rehabilitate the disabled in Russia and help them enter the workforce. They came to the US at the invitation of Owen Shapiro, creative director of the Syracuse International Film Festival, in the hopes of making connections and possibly beginning collaborations with similar organizations here.
«In America, you have a lot of experience in working with people with disabilities,» he said, «In Russia, we’ve only begun this kind of work since 1993. And prior to that there was really no understanding about people with limited capacities or disabilities.»
Khayrulin first came to the US in 1998 to undergo spinal surgery at Shriners Hospital in Chicago, he said in an interview at the filmmaker’s party Wednesday night at Dinosaur Bar-b-que. That’s where he first met Opelka, who served as his translator at the time.
«I’m very grateful to America for the fact that I’m so healthy now and that I’ve been cured,» Khayrulin said. «And it would be great to share this experience, so that other children in Russia could have the same sort of treatment in America.»
The financing that brought Khayrulin to the US for treatment was cut off shortly after his return to Russia, and re-opening that source of funding is one of Khayrulin’s goals. But the main thrust of his organization is to prepare young disabled Russians to enter the workforce.
The first step of that is mental rehabilitation — overcoming the «disability complex,» and feeling empowered to move forward, Khayrulin said. Then, the foundation uses a sports-centered program to physically prepare the disabled for the workforce.
Khayrulin, as well as the directors of the films screened that night, admitted that the dialogue about disability rights in Russia is playing catch-up. Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993, the issue was simply ignored.
«The amazing thing about the first film, the Topol film, is that it’s the first film to really depict the life of an invalid in Russia,» Khayrulin said. «They never discussed that or never showed that in film.»
Now, Khayrulin, and others in places like Moscow and St. Petersberg, are trying to advance that dialogue. This trip to Syracuse is part of his effort to form international bonds that will be beneficial to both sides.
«This film festival is a part of that,» he said. «Through film and music and the arts, it’s often easier to make people aware of a problem.»
At 24, Khayrulin— who holds a doctorate of biophysics with a secondary specialization in psychology, both of which he put aside to run the foundation — was one of the younger guests at the filmmaker’s party, but he moved about with an easy confidence, smiling and shaking hands with just about everyone he saw.
As he and Opelka left, a car full of VIP’s stopped in the middle of the street to chat with Khayrulin and make plans for the next day.
Opelka watched with a smile. «If he stays in the US much longer,» he said. «He’ll be a mayor somewhere.»
Anyone interested in contacting Khayrulin about his work or possible collaboration is encouraged to e-mail: