Esfir Tobak

1908 – 2004

Esfir (a.k.a. Esther) Tobak, with sixteen film credits, began working in 1924 at age sixteen when she was given a job editing negatives at the Odessa film studio (straight out of the orphanage-school where she had been since her father died in 1917). She was never without work after that until she retired—fifty-eight years later—in 1982.
Early on, Tobak worked on Dovzhenko’s Earth in Kiev. After moving to Moscow in 1930, she immediately got a job at the Moscow film studio, editing negatives and soon began working on one of the first sound films, Men and Jobs, directed by Aleksandr Macheret. In her work with Sergei Eisenstein and Grigoriy Aleksandrov, she was the editor of Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible Part I and Part II, and Bezhin Meadow. She was also the editor of Aleksandrov’s Moscow Laughs, and in 1979, she and Aleksandrov co-edited Que Viva Mexico.
Tobak edited for numerous other Russian directors such as Mikhail Romm, Iskra Babich, Samson Samsonov (The Grasshopper, Behind Show Windows), Aleksandr Mitta (Bez strakha i upryoka) and Fyodor Filippov and Valentin Kadochnikov (Volshebnoye zerno).

(As for other Russian women editors, it’s worth nothing that multiple films were edited for Samsonov by Zoya Veryovkina, Aleksandra Kamagorova, Klavdiya Aleyeva, L. Lysenkova and Ida Dorofeyeva.
Working for Romm, Valentina Kulagina edited one film, Tatyana Likhachyova edited two and Yeva Ladyzhenskaya edited seven.)

“In the editing studio we had a Moviola, which only enlarged frames 2-3 times. This is very little. I would thread the film and soundtrack, turn it on, stop at the right place, and make a mark on the film with a special pencil. Eisenstein would come up behind me, lean over the back of the chair to see the lens through my eyes. Usually he agreed with my mark. Sometimes he asked me to add or remove a shot without specifying, as other directors did, exactly how many frames. An experienced editor, with a good sense of rhythm, knows. Attaching strips of film took a long time. The footage was cut with scissors and glued with acetone. Unfortunately, new splicing methods came to Mosfilm only in 1955. And flat-bed editing tables with large screens, only in the 1960s.
In the difficult years of the war, we worked in the editing studio in fur coats and fingerless gloves. On our feet we wore huge felt boots from the prop department. Vapor came out of our mouths. Those are the conditions in which we edited Ivan the Terrible.”
—“A Woman Named Star” by Elena Konstantinova. The full text (in Russian) can be found in the appendix.


Esfir Shub

1894 – 1959

In addition to her involvement with Russian avant-garde theater and art movements, Esfir (also known as Esther) Shub was a pioneering editor and filmmaker and one of few women to play a significant role behind the scenes in the Soviet film industry. In 1922 at Goskino, the major state-owned film company, she was promoted to chief of the local montage division alongside another woman, Tatiana Levinton. Shub underwent specialized training to teach her to excise politically incorrect portions of films to render them suitable for Soviet audiences. After reediting many pre-revolutionary and foreign films, and new Soviet features, Shub became, largely on her own initiative, a pioneer of the “compilation film.” She applied this technique to the trilogy of films she made during the 1920’s: Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, The Great Road, and The Russia of Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy. And in 1932, she recorded the first-ever sync-sound interviews.

“It is amazing how many unexpected solutions come up when you hold film stock in your hands. Just like letters: they are born on the top of the pen.”
— Esfir Shub, “Cinema Is My Life”. The full text can be found in the Appendix