"Yes, different styles of shooting. Dramaturgy dictates the way a film should be shot. What do they have in common? I'm trying to make films about crazy people who don't live according to the rules. I made a documentary film called Obvodnoi Kanal. At the end of the canal there are three asylums - can you believe it! In actual life, it's not always clear who are the crazy ones - the lunatics inside the building or outside."
The sun was setting, and the lights inside the adjacent buildings were being switched on, illuminating our corner table; it's not too fanciful to say that there was something of a film set about the scene. "You said recently that for you dramaturgy is the most important factor in a film; what did you mean by that?"
The answer came back straightaway, "You can make a bad film from a good script, but even a genius can't shoot a good film from a bad script." Yes, this is a man who knows his work inside out.
Our main courses came, still hissing straight from the nearby stove. The New York Steak was medium rare, accompanied with a good selection of stir-fry vegetables. My lamb chops were nicely pink. "You began your film career making documentaries; how did that experience affect your later feature films?"
"It affects how I select actors for my films. I don't pay attention only to their talent; I ask them how they behave in real life and if there are some similarities with the film character. That synthesis brings the best results."
"Is there anything particularly Russian about your work? I don't mean that a film is set in Russia, or that it has a Russian subject, but about the psychological characteristics of the protagonists?"
"Horsie is very ingenuous. He's the embodiment of Russian epic heroes, the collective image of what a Russian hero is like. But then what does it mean to be Russian? Gherman is also Russian by nationality, and yet we didn't want to show just a person who is trying to escape from his country. Longing for a lightness of being is also a part of being Russian."
"You're both a director and producer; can we talk about the business of film? You founded your own studio, Rock Studio, in 1990. Was it to make your own films?"
"At first, yes. Now we are making films by first-time directors. Dunya Smirnova is making her debut with the film Seasons."
Alexei passed on the pudding; but I had to know what was the fried ice cream.
"The reason I am both the director and the producer of my films is that I don't want to be told what to do; which actor to invite and which not to invite, which film to make and which not."
"Where does the money come from?"
"There are three sources of financing: the Ministry of Culture, TV channels - but they're mostly interested in serials - and some companies and private investors; about 80 to 90 % of financing comes from the state."
The fried ice-cream? It's rolled in flour and muesli, and very briefly dipped in oil. Delicious.
"What was it like when you first started in the film business? Has it changed?"
"During the earlier years it was terrible; there was so much criticism, it was very hard to work. Right now a commission of experts is the only thing you have to pass to get government financing. The commission mostly consists of creative people - critics, directors, producers. A producer submits a script with the name of the author hidden, for fairness. The commission meets twice a year and issues grants. And after you've got your money, there's no control over how you make the film."
"Do you think that the Russian film industry will always need government help, like the French industry; or do you see it becoming independent like Hollywood?
"The government should just be financing debutants and art films, and the others should be financing themselves through distribution in cinemas, and sales of video and DVD.
Cosmos is an art film, it needs government support. But you know, advertising is not included in the grant money; that's what prevents it from having a wide release.
Turkish Gambit and Nightwatch were financed by Channel 1, which then gave them national advertising, in effect, for free.
I wonder what sales we would have if we could spend the same amount of money."
Alexei had to leave for a television interview. I was thinking after he left that when a film is finished, that's when the business has only just begun.
|© 2005 Jeremy Noble|