The Film and Media Studies Program mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague Volodia Padunov. Over decades Volodia helped build our community intellectually and socially. We miss his intelligence and humor, his knowledge and energetic engagement.
Vladimir (Volodia) Padunov was born on 4 June 1947 in a displaced persons (DP) camp in Aschaffenburg (Germany). His mother (a Ukrainian farm worker) and his father (a Russian chemistry instructor and soldier) met in the DP system when the slave-labor camps and PoW camps were combined after World War II. The family lived in the DP system until 1952 when they gained passage on a ship for the US. His parents were divorced on the ship and went their own ways; Volodia was five years old.
Volodia and his mother found lodging on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and encountered difficulties that were typical for new Soviet arrivals in the McCarthy era: suspicion and surveillance, a paucity of immigrant services; poverty. Speaking English poorly, Volodia was assigned to classes for cognitively disabled children. As a teenager, he attended Stuyvesant High School, then Brooklyn College (BA 1968) before being drafted by the US Army to Thailand, where he worked as a senior administrative specialist, reassigning or discharging soldiers from the field. After military service, he held a DAAD Fellowship at Freie Universität Berlin (1975–76), as well as teaching positions at the University of Iowa (1976–78) and Hunter College (1979–85). He completed his doctorate in Comparative Literature at Cornell University (1983).
In 1984, Volodia Padunov moved with his partner, Nancy Condee, to the Soviet Union. There, supported by US grants from IREX and the Institute of Current World Affairs, they were affiliated with the Gor'kii Institute of World Literature (Moscow) and stayed on to work in a publishing house. Their first child, Kira Condee-Padunova, was born during this research period. Returning to the US in 1986, he taught at Wheaton College (Norton, MA). His son, Nikolai Condee-Padunov, was born in 1988 while the couple was affiliated with the Kennan Institute of Advanced Russian Studies (Woodrow Wilson International Center, Smithsonian Institution). In 1990, Volodia joined the University of Pittsburgh faculty (Slavic department and Film Studies program), where he served as Film Studies Associate Director (2002–13) and taught courses that included literary theory, Russo-Soviet cinema history, the 19c. novel, and Soviet popular culture. He has directed Slavic and film PhD dissertations on such topics as Eisenstein’s work of the late 1920s, early Soviet subjectivities, Soviet television spy mini-series, second-world queue culture, Soviet buddy films, second-world celebrity culture, post-Soviet documentary film, and Russo-Soviet postmodernism. His research (both single-authored and with Nancy Condee) appeared in The Nation, New Left Review, and October, as well as in the leading Russian journals Iskusstvo kino, Voprosy literatury, Znamia, Seans, and the independent Russian newspaper Novaia gazeta. His acting career was more rarified: you may see him briefly at 54:34-37 and 56:29-49 in George Miller’s Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), where he played an interpreter at an international conference on experimental cures for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).
Between 1990 and 1993, together with Nancy Condee, he organized the Working Group on Contemporary Russian Culture, a series of four weeklong meetings (held in Moscow, Berkeley, and London) on contemporary Russian cultural politics, supported by funds from the American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, and the MacArthur Foundation. In these four years, a core group of ten scholars from the US, Russia, and Britain met annually for an ongoing series of working papers that proved formative for a generation of scholars in the new field of post-Soviet studies.
In May 1999, Prof. Padunov founded the Russian Film Symposium, the longest-running US forum for contemporary Russian and regional cinema, including films that had been refused screening certification in Russia. The Symposium drew US and Russian media attention—in periodicals ranging from Voice of America to the Russian mainstream business daily Kommersant—for its readiness to broach controversial themes, screening over 300 films from Central Asia, Ukraine, Chechnya, Russia, and elsewhere. The Symposium’s guests included the region’s major film directors, scriptwriters, producers, and actors, as well as fifty of Russia’s leading critics, scholars, and journalists who engaged in debate and discussion with Pitt PhD students as well as with colleagues from Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. Guests regularly donated media copies to the university library, contributing to what became the largest collections of materials on Russian and regional cinema in the Western hemisphere. The Symposium also served as a practicum: each year Pitt’s PhD students would spend four months preparing the weeklong event, writing press releases, researching films, designing visually provocative posters (https://neweastcinema.pitt.edu/past-symposia/). In a fraught political climate, the Symposium’s sustained dialogue was supported by a range of institutions that included—on the US side—the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research; the A.W. Mellon Educational & Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation; the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the US Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center, as well as Pitt’s School of Arts & Sciences and University Center for International Studies. On the Russian side, the Symposium’s inspiration and example were supported by Kinotavr (producer Alexander Rodnyansky and artistic director Sitora Alieva), Russia’s leading film festival held in Sochi each June until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (February 2022) scattered its irreplaceable participants to the four winds.
Volodia Padunov died of cancer on 26 June 2022 in Pittsburgh, PA. He is survived by his wife, two children, and grandchild Leander Nathaniel Hauser. A gathering in his memory will be scheduled for the early autumn 2022.