Woman with an Editing Bench is a short drama about the fight for creativity in the face of repression.
In the 1930s Soviet Union Stalin has personal approval over all films and film scripts. Dziga Vertov and his editor Elizaveta Svilova, make radical and groundbreaking documentaries. (Man with a Movie Camera, 1929) Stalin is threatened by their formal innovations, he wants his henchmen to shut down their creativity.
Vertov, unhappy and artistically constrained, is inept at understanding how to work within the bureaucracy. Svilova is savvy and knows how to work the system laterally and from behind the scenes – as all great editors do. She is also adept at working with Vertov’s mind, understanding what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. Svilova’s editing makes Vertov’s genius possible. Vertov’s eccentricity, makes Svilova’s editing genius indispensible. When Svilova finally wrangles approval to shoot a film, the two of them are seen in their element, making the vibrant montage that justifies their struggle to create. They work together and think together. They almost become part of the footage they are taking.
But when the shoot is finished, and they review the footage, they find some of it is missing. The bureaucrat in charge reveals that the footage isn’t missing, it has been withheld. Vertov’s clumsy attempt to challenge the bureaucrat gets his project cancelled. Vertov seems to give up and be dying a metaphorical death. But Svilova saves the key footage and pushes on, attempting to save Vertov through the completion of their film.