The absence of high-profile Russian filmmakers in any of the main competitions at this year’s Cannes Film Festival came as a surprise to many industry experts. By contrast, up-and-coming directors continue to punch above their weight with their offerings of short and feature films. The Calvert Journal brings you five young directors who, having won over critics and audiences alike with their short films, are now making the move to full-length debuts. Together, these five filmmakers represent the future of contemporary Russian cinema.
Name: Mikhail Mestetsky
When deciding on a career path, Mikhail Mestetsky, one of Russia’s most promising filmmakers, vacillated between dedicating his life to literature or cinema. In the end, he struck a compromise, writing scripts instead of novels, not only for his own films but for other directors as well. His sports biopic Legend No 17 about Soviet hockey player Valery Kharlamov proved to be box office gold in Russia when it was released in April, taking in $7.6m in the first weekend alone. Mestetsky wrote the original screenplay along with scriptwriter Nikolai Kulikov and director Nikolai Lebedev.
When it comes to his own directorial work, Mestetsky has produced two highly surreal short films: Insignificant Details of the Accidental Episode and Legs—Atavism, both of which have been nominated for a string of prizes at various international film festivals. At present, Mestetsky is preparing his first feature film, Rag Union, with producer Roman Borisevich who worked on How I Ended This Summer, winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 60th Berlin Film Festival and Best Film at the 2010 London Film Festival.
Film: Insignificant Details of the Accidental Episode (2011)
Two trains standing side-by-side on a railway track waiting for repairs to take place set the scene for an interesting series of encounters, including a romantic liaison. Making the debut was fraught with complications: a shortage of funding, difficulties with shooting permits and a lengthy post-production phase that involved virtually inserting the trains into the film.
Name: Aksinya Gog
Although the youngest of the five filmmakers featured here, Moscow-born Aksinya Gog has produced five short films since making Yes. No. I Don’t Know in 2010. Before turning her hand to directing, she studied theatre set design, a skill that has imbued each of her films with a very distinct style. Gog is currently working on her first feature film while continuing her studies at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. For now, she refuses to reveal any details: “It’s a bit early for that.”
Film: In Search For (2012)
A five-minute comic sketch, which won first prize in the WIFF Best Experimental Film 2012. The short film follows a series of characters from a pair of lovers to three men sitting in an open-top car, as they search for something — what that something is only becomes clear in the end.
Name: Ivan Tverdovsky
With a documentary filmmaker father, Ivan Tverdovsky received an early education in cinema. “We had a deal with my father,” he explains. “For every cartoon I had to watch one documentary – Robert Flaherty, Dziga Vertov and so on.” His own work embraces elements from both documentary and fiction to create films that live in the space somewhere in between. He is currently working on his first feature-length film about which he is loath to reveal details.
Film: Snow (2011)
An 18-minute film that best illustrates the director’s style. While Snow is a fictional tale that uses professional actors, its documentary style filming and prosaic use of language blurs the boundaries between the two genres. The film follows the protagonist, a Russian language and literature teacher, and her complex relationship with her daughter, who suffers from drug addiction.
Name: Ekaterina Telegina
Omsk-born, Moscow-based Ekaterina Telegina has tried her hand at both theatre and film projects. She has worked as a photographer, directed fashion shows and created music videos, public service adverts and of course, films. Her short film The Gust of Wind (2009) was awarded the people’s choice award at ARTkino Russian Festival of Art Films and was shown at both the Interfest 25th Short Film Festival in Berlin and the Russian Film Festival in London.
In 2011, Telegina was one of nine filmmakers to contribute to Astra, I Love You, an anthology of short films overseen by veteran director Vladimir Khotinenko. She is currently putting the final touches to her full-length debut, a comic melodrama entitled The Habit of Parting, which will be released this September. The film tells the story of a young girl as she tries to figure out why she has never been able to maintain a romantic relationship.
Film: The Cat, the Bear and the Fox (2011)
Telegina’s film is part of the mosaic of shorts that make up Astra, I Love You, in which the main character in each story is a car. Each director was given a selection of themes to choose from; Telegina went for “revenge and triplets”. “There were triplets in the script for my previous film but it was impossible to keep them in at the time,” she says. “It was a great coincidence when the producers offered me this theme.”
Name: Alexander Yevseyev
Although he has only released one short film to date — The Supper — Yevseyev has shown himself to be a promising filmmaker. Before moving to Moscow to train as a director at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinema, the 27-year-old studied to become a cameraman in his native St Petersburg. Yevseyev is currently writing the screenplay for his first feature film, which will be set in a prison. “I know this subject has been done to death in Russian cinema,” he says, “but I’m going to do it in a way that’s never been done before.”
Film: The Supper (2012)
A surreal short film that follows an obese man as he prepares a meal in a grimy kitchen. What’s particularly striking about the film is the cinematography. The camera presents the action from a variety of unusual angles, from the inside of a shopping bag to the ceiling, and occasionally switches to a fish-eye lens. There are also plenty of close-ups, many accompanied by bright sounds — the sharpening of a knife, the opening of a beer bottle, all of which feel heightened against the otherwise silent backdrop. The film picked up first prize at the 2012 VGIK International Student Film Festival.