Thanks to Taisia Igumentseva for giving me permission to translate her Russian interview into English.
Last year Taisia won the student competition in Cinéfondation of Cannes Film Festival with her debut “Road to …” Now she is finishing her first feature “Bite The Dust” to be shown in Cannes-2013. The film tells the story of a tiny village whose inhabitants learn that the end of the world is coming.
In an interview with Russian RIA Novosti Maria Tokmasheva, Igumentseva answered why she chose a tragicomedy about life in a village for the Cannes’s competition.
The film “Long and Happy life”, by Boris Khlebnikov, shown this year at Berlinale takes place in a village, as well. It seems this is becoming a new trend.
I have not seen the movie by Khlebnikov. I know that he does not usually work in this genre. At the festivals some directors were keen to show Russia from extreme perspectives, showing Russian provincials with a negative connotations. They like to talk about how hard it is to live there and by doing this, win the sympathy of the jury. But in the genre of comedy it is impossible to appeal to the negative stereotypes of Russia, at least we try not to. Sometimes it is hard not to mock Russian moonshine practice. Telling our story we wanted to poise the neglected genre comedy with sincere, subtle humor and purity of sorts.
How did you choose the topic for the script?
The theme was created spontaneously and equally captivated our scriptwriter and myself.
You decided to shoot full-length feature just because you won the student competition at Cannes and it was a requirement for last year winners to premier this year with full-length film?
No, Bite The Dust was written as a full-length film much before I went to Cannes in general. It is assumed that graduates from VGIK (Russian Institute of Cinematography) will eventually ended up with the full-length film. In the summer after the graduation we started to create, and come up with some ideas. We were not counting on the prizes, awards or festivals, which gave us a chance to create freely.
Your teacher/master Alexei Uchitel played a great role in your career in cinema. Is he now a producer of your film?
I think that in my life his method of teaching plays a big role. It allows me to reveal my creative freedom. During my studies in VGIK he gave me a chance to try myself in different genres. I understood which genre is closer to my own personality. In our experimental workshop students can work in different directions. This was the starting point to develop my own interests and find my own voice as a filmmaker. Alexei Uchitel supported me as a producer with his film production studio Rock.
Which of the latest Russian films did you find the most interesting?
The last one I watched was the film “living” by Vasily Sigarev. As a teenager, I knew him as a playwright. When he started as a director I liked his movie “Spinner” a lot. His second feature “Living” I liked less. One journalist said that in “Living” Sigarev tried to make a comedy. To me it was a proof, because at some point in this movie for some reason I found some things funny. Although, perhaps, laugh is a natural mechanism for the human psyche to defend us from difficult experiences, like were portrayed in his movie, and keeps us from taking it too deeply.
Did you get a chance to get to know some of the foreign directors or actors in Cannes?
No, they are elusive. Especially when you have your own schedule and they have their own; the programs do not overlap. I managed to get to the red carpet with Robert Pattinson. Now all fan girls have to scream.
How did it go?
Well, I’m not his fan, but it’s a nice memory.
Do you have any ideas for a new movie?
We just finished sound recording of Bite The Dust but I have new ideas. I want to continue to be in the genre of tragicomedy. I already have some leads. I do not always write myself, but try to get together with a scriptwriter and come up with characters, develop the dramaturgy. Now the paths with my previous scriptwriter are different due to the fact that she is becoming more and more popular. And it is good. At least I can always try with someone else. Here I want ask my colleagues. Maybe someone is interested to work with me?
Are there any preferences on candidates?
Candidates! This is my first call. Maybe something interesting would come out in collaboration with Alexander Rodionov. (The scriptwriter of All Die But Me and Boris Khlebnikhov’s movies). I do not know him personally but I think I understand his scripts.
If you are going to continue work in the genre of tragicomedy in the future, will your stories again be about Russia?
This movie will be about issues that are close and dear to me. Russian reality never scares me. I am a patriot of my country and I am sure I will find many interesting stories. Honestly, our country is a big tragicomedy.
Your new movie takes place in an abstract place …
When people talk about an abstract place, all I think about are those arthouse films. But in reality it is different. In order to create something interesting one needs to talk about what he/she knows. As the basis for our plot we took Russian culture and tried to bring it to a fairyland. The plot is quite fantastic, but it has parallels with Russian reality. Apparently, the village is the most convenient and powerful concept for the place with limited number of people. It is very convenient to develop ideas from that. Life threw people to the village in isolated island. One of the characters got there to rest because he had lost all his possessions in his former city. He returns to where he was born and tries to educate all other characters. In the village he shows old film classics during the evenings at the village’s film club. Well, where else to put this type of character if not into a village? If the scene would take place in a one-bedroom apartment, it would never allow us to develop the action further, it would never work out.
In addition to this hero, what other interesting characters are in the movie?
There is a rustic handyman Ivan who for his entire life was interested in science and technology but life in the village hid his talents. But he tries to make self-realization in this small society anyways. He builds all sorts of strange things here: the moonshine apparatus made from Russian samovar, the Vitruvian Man, created out of scrap metal, a giant camera obscura. His house stands on legs and resembles a mirror room. To prepare I went to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition to see how everything is constructed. His irons are singing, the generators operating on the basis of machine motor rumble. In general, this character somehow put his hand in all technical devices of this village. This role was performed by Sergei Abroskin – actor from our previous film “ The Road To…”.
Might the prototypes from your film be seen in real life?
They have something in common with reality. When writing the script, it is simply impossible to imagine situations without it. Our scriptwriter Alexandra Golovina developed characters inspired by a real actor – his natural features, behavior and later two prototype actors played leading roles in our movie.
Do you have remarkable female characters?
We have a very interesting character – grandma named Zina. She is such a little dictator. She walks in a big jacket, a military-like suit, in military boots. She equally loves the movies and Soviet past. She named her dog Remba in honor of her favorite movie hero.
Is it that Rembo?
Yes, but she calls it in her own slang Remba. She lives alone and she is lonely. Therefore she lives not for herself but for others. She is always in everyone’s gardens giving advice. She is very concerned about each character’s life and destiny when learns that soon all will die at the end of the world. She is the first one who starts to dig a grave, in analogy with bunkers of today.
Did this situation with the end of the world hysteria last December somehow affect your movie?
The script was written before; we kind of hit the trend. If the end of the world took place, the movie would have never happened. And was such a satire on current events.
When you started to write the script the end of the world was already announced in mass media?
Because it’s a genre of tragicomedy, which I love, it was interesting just to combine end of the world and people living isolated life in the middle of nowhere. The village allowed us to bring the primitive: where else could you find such sincere and naïve inhabitants, if not here, in a place cut off from the city, the centers. They are not spoiled by civilization. We found them in this village and it was interesting to see how they would react to all of this. They believe in what is on TV, they believe the radio; their senses are more subtle and sincere. In this film, there are also themes of love, loneliness, talking about beauty, about art, about the Renaissance, Giordano Bruno. We have a hero who is tired of people. He served for many years as a sailor on the ship. Later he becomes a hermit and finds his happiness in a cow named “Candy.” He lives alone with his cow and likes to talk about constellations with his friend who is also single.
Is it easy to shoot what you want in Russia?
It’s always a case-to-case thing. I was just lucky. The main thing is to be interesting to someone and be free. This freedom needs to be from people who trust you; in my case this was my producer. And your freedom will extend to the whole crew as how we did. It is a very valuable thing for me when your idea is supported. When this happens a bad movie just cannot happen. We had a very tight schedule, one month to make a feature film from scratch, all decorations included. For example, we had a floating transport constructed by handyman Ivan. The process of creating all of these crazy things killed a lot of shooting days, because we did not understand how it all worked. But I must say a big thank you to our production designer Eldar Karhalev. With his guidance we were able to create complicated decorations in a very short time.
It is a common opinion that for young filmmakers it is difficult to get into the industry and start to make movies. Was it hard for you to do?
I do not know. I have my own history. I do not want to be original but I believe in the young Russian cinema. And I wish other filmmakers also believe in their own voices. As for myself I am trying to understand the secret of a good movie. I’m just at the beginning, sorry, there is nothing more to say. My biography is far away from writing memoirs.
How are you trying to understand the secret of success? Do you communicate with colleagues?
I can talk to colleagues but only about the weather. Now I’m trying to learn to feel what will be interesting for the audience. When I started “Bite The Dust” I wanted to make it interesting for all generations.
Are you not afraid that your movie will be too hilarious for the Cannes?
We’ll see. In Cannes, if you remember, always were very different films from Tarantino to Kusturica and Lars von Trier. And each picture is worth attention, despite the fact that they all are very different from each other by genre and mood. You never know. I’m most afraid of failing in front of those people who believed in me the most – parents, friends, and, of course, the crew. The crew worked at the highest level. I want to say special thank you them for that.
Are you looking for a successful box office?
I think I missed. There is no way for successful box office.
Why so pessimistic?
Children with grandparents rarely go to cinemas. I’m kidding! I just do not know. I’m just trying to find a way for theatrical distribution success. I simply want my movie not lie on the shelves or go to festivals like worn-out record but to be seen and enjoyed by ordinary people who go to the cinema. Otherwise, what is the purpose of all of this?
Bite The Dust: behind the scenes
- Denis Klebleev: Documentary is when one fails or not (filmcareer.wordpress.com)
- Bernadett Tuza-Ritter: I wish I could go back, and make the whole trip again. (filmcareer.wordpress.com)