After writing about Cinetrain I contacted several directors who participated in the project this winter in Russia. One girl from the team of thirty filmmakers contacted me after I published the post about Cinetrain and said that I made a mistake. Bernadett Tuza-Ritter and John Craine were asked to make a movie about Russian soul at the last moment. Today I am glad to have Hungarian young filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter – a director of documentary about Russian soul – to share her story about Russian journey.
Bernadett, when you were first approached with this trip what conception of Russia did you have, what changed afterwards?
I’ve never been to Russia before. So, everything I knew before the trip was about Russian history. However, it is not my first Russian project. Last spring I was the editor of a Russian feature called “Saint Petersburg”, directed by Andrey Kvostov and produced by Fyodor Druzin. Fyodor was one of the directors this year at Cinetrain as well. He asked me at Berlinale Talent Campus last year to help him with “Saint Petersburg”. So I edited this feature. It turned out to be one of my best experiences in filmmaking and we started working together. Definitely, after this trip I learned much more about Russians.
What were you expecting from your trip through Russia, and what was it really like?
I was afraid of the cold and being together with people I’ve never met before. Also, I was afraid to edit a film in a very short time, especially during our trip on the train in such harsh conditions. But the cold wasn’t so bad, I got used to it soon, all participants became friends in a short time and it also turned out to be a great pleasure to take part in this trip. Also, my role had switched. I arrived as an editor of the “Russian Soul” documentary but on the way we decided with DOP John Craine (UK) to make our own film about Russian soul where I took part as a director. So everything turned out to be much easier.
How did you approach the subject of your short documentary?
Everything was new to me after the producers asked us to make a film. John Craine and I were not prepared to make this film as others could do. Other directors had around one year to approach the subject but we did not have time to prepare and started to shoot the same day we received our subjects [all subjects were chosen by producers]. We found the life of the train conductors working on our train interesting. Train conductors meet so many people but at the same time they are always alone. They are always on the road and they cannot be with their family but this is their own choice. So we thought we could find parallel features between these people’s life and Russia as a nation. And this led us to the Russian soul. So, we decided to make a film about these people and through their life we tried to present the Russian soul.
What did you learn about the Russian people?
At the first glance they look closed, surly, cheerless and harsh but in a short time they opened and became helpful and friendly. At first it seemed there were so many rules but in a short time we could solve everything.
Where was your favorite place to shoot?
At lake Baikal. It was beautiful.
photo by Bernadett Tuza-Ritter in Olkhon Iseland, Lake Baikal.
However, for the film the best location was the train conductor’s home where we were be able to shot the opening sequence of the film.
What were you looking for when choosing a lead character to tell your story?
To find something sensitive which can show the parallels between her life and Russia. The hard life conditions and suffering, which is her choice, between being with people and being alone, to be closed and open at the same time – all these contradictions mean Russia and the Russian soul for me.
What challenges did you and your team face and overcome?
I’ve learned how to shoot on a train where you don’t have enough space, optimal lights, usable sound and your characters are always working. So we had to manage everything during her real work when she is busy. It required a lot of improvisation during the shooting. And imagine having to approach shooting and editing a film at the same time.
Was this a life changing experiences, if so, how?
Maybe. Some of these experiences might change my life. I really hope that I will have a chance to work with the DOP John Craine again. We have some plans for the future. And also, there were other people I would love to work with again. We will see, how it goes.
How does it feel to be done, would you come back to Russia?
Yes, anytime! I feel a bit sad and lonely. It’s strange to live/shoot/travel/have fun with 30 people together for one month and then the next day to be sitting at home, on your own, where you cannot talk to anyone – what’s in your mind or what’s happening with you. It was a pleasure for me to be part of this project. I wish I could go back, and make the whole trip again. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Here you can see some screenshots from “Russian Soul” documentary