Zina Semenova: How I came up with an idea for my documentary “The Land of Spirits” (part one).

There are times when completely unexpected things happen that get you into something you never thought would be a part of your life before. It was late spring afternoon. I came home from a frustrating first year of my American work and study experience.

Completely lost, I was unsure what to do next. I was sitting on my parent’s bed in the small town Myski, the same my folks had since before I was born. Bored, I flipped through a local newspaper, with a heavy mind. This newspaper was about the local life of a small coal-mining town. The town of hard workers with its small victories, coal mining celebrations and uneasy everyday problem solving.  I moved from this place, a fifteen-year-old girl and seldomly visited, except for New Years and short summer vacations. These last seven years I lived my busy life trying to pursue a music career in Novosibirsk (the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg), then continued my studies at Indiana and almost forgot about the land of my childhood.

Here, in outskirts of Myski, I usually spent my endless middle school summers, freely running up and down the hills at grandma’s (Myski in Russian means the town of hills). It was a land of vast opened space and green meadows, the land that still remembered the adventurous outdoor activities of three young ladies – my sister, a cousin and me included.

Locals call this vast taiga land “Mountain Shoria” – the land of Shor people (a small Turkic nation of Siberian minorities who settled here many centuries before the discovery of Siberia).


The local newspaper informed me about a harsh rafting experience in water with snow in May! at the Shor National Park (my family knows this family of rafters). Then some news about a successful tour in Germany that one of my mom’s former sight singing students went. Native Shor, Chyltyz Tannagasheva, is a well-known figure among lovers of ethnic Siberian music. I stopped reading and in one moment I got an idea. What if I can do a documentary and tell a story about local Shor people? Later, I knew that UNESCO put these people and their culture on their endangered list and that their traditional way of life might disappear within a decade or two. As I plunged more into reading about the locals, I learned that some villages still live without electricity. The modes of life and housekeeping habits of these scarce people have been preserved for centuries. The utensils and dishes have never changed since medieval times. Reflecting back to my childhood, I realized how involved the Shors were in my life but I had taken this for granted. My first elementary school teacher Nina Chuchumaeva was a Shor (I still recall her as a teacher of special gift). A choir friend who happened to be an “A” student in our class was half Shor also. The people with Turkic ancestry you can meet everywhere but we Russians never notice anything special about them (culturally and by language most all of them nowadays are Russian).

The next day I was talking to my cousin, asking if she knew any Shors around who can tell me something about Shor traditional life. She said something undefined but the next day came from the city market with a phone number. She randomly met a young Shor lady and she shared a phone number of another acquaintance, an older person who would to be great, helpful and tell me everything about Shors. So, I called her up, we talked on the phone for twenty minutes on her money (she missed my call and called me back) and I understood that this is the right person to guide me into this culture. It was decided. I will make a movie about this dying Turkic culture and its people even if I need to go to taiga and see the wild bears in big numbers. Last summer of 2012 the wild bears came down from the deep taiga due to fires in Krasnoyarsk taiga region. Will be continued.

Photo by Vera Semenova


About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at filmcareer.wordpress.com

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