The Days of Venice program of the 77th Venice Film Festival, which will open on September 2, features two Russian films shot by fellow students from VGIK, graduates of the first workshop of Alexei Uchitel. This is “Conference” by Ivan I. Tverdovsky about the tragic events in the Theater Center on Dubrovka and “Kitboy” by Philip Yuriev, filmed in Chukotka. We spoke with Philip about his debut film and the possibility of a live presence at one of the world’s major festivals.
– What is your relation to Chukotka?
– There is no direct relationship. I traveled to the villages of the Far North near the shores of the White Sea, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, where I got acquainted with the life of isolated places, communicated with young guys. Chukotka emerged as an idea later. I saw a report from the village of Lorino and wanted to shoot a film there. Most of the reports and pictures that I saw were more ethnographic, with an eye to the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the North. I wanted to know how the young guys live there. I wrote the script without seeing the place. And when many years later I went on a preparatory expedition, I realized that the script, oddly enough, even in the smallest detail came to this place.
– Have you always lived in a big city?
– As a child I spent a lot of time in a village in Cyprus, so the feeling of a small place is familiar to me.
– Did you find your heroes at the filming location?
– I filmed guys from different villages of Chukotka. When I arrived on the first expedition, we advertised, looked at the guys from the villages and Anadyr, but found no one. There was no perfect match. Six months later, having once again visited Anadyr, I ended up in a rehabilitation center-orphanage, where children from different regions of Chukotka permanently lived or were temporarily. There we met two guys, and there was a feeling that they are the ones we need. One of them lived in the same village where we filmed, although we met in Anadyr, the second was from the Providensky district. I chose them more intuitively. There was no clear understanding of whether they would be able to play or not.
– All the time there are discussions about attracting children from orphanages to filming. Filmmakers give them hope for a new life, and then they leave, and all this is traumatic for children.
– We worked with already established children aged 16-17. They treated the filming as a fun adventure. For one guy, it was an opportunity to leave the walls of the orphanage, to spend time in another place in the company of new people. For the guys, this did not become a story that would inspire them insanely. One wants to become a car mechanic, the other is already getting a profession. We developed a good relationship. We are texting.
– Do orphans or children with parents live in an orphanage in Chukotka?
– Chukotka is a difficult region in terms of a number of indicators, ranging from alcoholism to suicide. There are many orphans. Our main character has parents, and he was temporarily in a rehabilitation center. There is a slightly different story.
– You filmed non-professional actors. Was there generally a line between fiction and documentary films?
– I understood that this story is possible only with a real boy from Chukotka, because it is about the life of local children. But the line still exists. The guys are very close to their heroes. In many dialogues, we moved away from the script, followed them, and completed the text. The main character Vova is very similar to his character Leshka, and the central conflict of our story turned out to be close to him. He also talked with a strange girl on the Internet, said that they had love. The real background helped a lot, although the story is like a fairy tale. The Chukchi land itself has brought in a lot, erased the original attitudes. There is a documentary approach to this, but otherwise everything was according to the laws of a feature film. In addition to locals, one of the roles was played by actress Christina Asmus. She has not been to Chukotka, but the film is based on her. We also have a wonderful and paradoxical character, played by Belgian actor Arie Worthalter. He starred in the Cannes award-winning film Girl. We brought him to Chukotka.
– Did the group go to Chukotka small?
– It was better to go in a small group, which will allow us to spend more time there. We had a mobile team of 24 people. Otherwise, it would have turned out to be a completely different film experience. Sometimes the five of us went to shoot. It is not necessary to breed giant teams everywhere. We made the first expedition to Chukotka in order to understand whether it is possible to organize shooting there at all. This is the most difficult to access and logistically difficult region. Started out as a scam. There was more desire than opportunity. We were supported by partners from Poland and Belgium.
– Were you not treated like a visiting guest? Was there trust?
– It is important to stop behaving like a guest, to get rid of the habit of thinking colonially, not to try to tell a story about the aborigines, relying on attitudes taken from books. You need to communicate with people as simply and honestly as possible. They got used to us very quickly. The effect of an alien in a down jacket about to shoot something quickly passed. The main thing is not to draw a line between yourself and the heroes yourself. Responsive people live there, with their own thinking and Chukchi character. We spent a lot of time in contact with hunters and local residents. When we felt that people were negatively disposed towards filming, they gathered them, told what kind of film we were doing.
– Your hero meets a girl from another country on the Internet. About this was the recent film by Grigory Dobrygin Sheena 667.
– The topic hangs in the air: the perception of a person from one world is completely different, and even through the Internet. The guy communicates with a girl from the USA – in this regard, Dobrygin and I have the same plots. This topic has arisen before since the advent of erotic chats. Many people get hooked on such communication, especially those who live in remote regions. For them, this is a completely different reality, a window to another world. You can recall the film “Import-Export” by Ulrich Seidl, which also covers this topic. It is relevant and will still be relevant, since it is not a sign of one time. It is interesting to consider the contact of people from completely different worlds from different angles, through different destinies.
– You graduated from VGIK for a long time. What have you been doing all this time?
– I graduated from VGIK in 2011, studied in the first workshop of Alexey Uchitel, which he recruited in 2006. My friend in the Venetian program Ivan Tverdovsky is my classmate. The film has matured for a very long time. It took 7-8 years. People who knew me well and wished only good, after reading my script, in a friendly way advised me to give up. But I had a feeling that I should be making this film. During the long production, he changed several professions: he was an editing director, worked in advertising. But he was always true to his idea of not deviating from the film.
– You took part in “Kinotavr” with a short film?
– My very first work – “Morning with different eyes” – participated in a short competition. I shot it in 2007, when I was 18 years old. In 2012 my graduation film “The Song of a Mechanical Fish” was released.
– Did you send an application to Venice yourself?
– Finishing the film, we sent an application to Cannes, and the selector advised us to apply to Venice, which we did, almost on the last day of admission. And we were taken to the “Days of Venice” program. But the situation at the border is still difficult. Can we leave? Our producers are trying to resolve this issue through the embassy. I really want to go.