Filmmaker Alexander Epikhov was born in Budapest to Russian parents, and spent much of his upbringing in Los Angeles. Inspired more by Tarkovsky than the Hollywood hills, he moved to Moscow to study cinema, and has since been on a mission to find a new visual language for Russia as part of his video collective ELLI. His short Badlands, produced in collaboration with independent modelling agency Lumpen, synthesises the new faces of Russia with relics of utopian fantasies, in a narrative that revolves around longing and nostalgia for truth.
My childhood was LA beach culture. But my mother and father have always identified as being Russian: the sunny coast couldn’t persuade them. It was a strictly Russian household and there was a sort of Cold War mentality throughout that saturated my childhood, as far as I could remember. The cops would show up at our doorstep regularly to search our house because our neighbours claimed we were spies — it distanced me from the rest of the community.
I studied both in California and New York, which left me feeling dissatisfied with film studies. I wanted a push into a different direction; Hollywood was not my preferred choice, nor was indie filmmaking. I became infatuated with Russian cinema and I would say Andrei Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time changed my life.
I feel there is a huge gap in what is happening with cinematic language and what we are currently seeing in Russia
I’m inspired by what is not happening in Russian cinema. I feel there is a huge gap in what is happening with cinematic language and what we are currently seeing in Russia. I’m interested in exploring the post-Soviet rupture through storytelling — how archetypal story structures, characters and problems have not survived or are struggling to survive in this gap. The space, the streets, the symbolism in architecture, the context and events that happen on an everyday basis and their inherent link to and continuity with the past inspire me.
I was excited to go as far away as possible, to shift from rural to urban and to jump into an image of Russia I had floating in my mind, but that picture turned out to be nonexistent. And it took some time to realise but, now, it seems that there are endless stories in Russia which have not yet risen to the top. The possibilities of storytelling are immense, the problems that have not been resolved are extensive and it may sound strange but right now it seems like there is more potential in cinema than there was in the past ten years.
Badlands is the project that solidified Philipp Ivanov, Sergei Medvedev and I as a team and crystallised our video collective ELLI, which is still developing. It was also the moment where we found for ourselves a style, a way of expressing and a vector to work in.
In preparation for the project, we spent about four days a week for three months driving nonstop through the night in search of locations. Our budget was relatively small, so we hired a friend of a friend, a young Azerbaijani man from the outskirts of Moscow to drive us to every god-forgotten corner of the city. We drove through empty industrial zones, through heavy winter between November and January. It was even a little romantic. Our job was to be there when no one was outside, with nothing existing except for lamps and snowy landscapes. Badlands is what I saw during this period.
The film was originally commissioned for a designer, who gave us total freedom, that then turned into a director’s cut and later into a short film. Once we completed the project we got lost in it. We thought we could do more, that we could push it further. I wanted to explore the landscape we had before us and I wanted to work with faces and people who I felt I could relate to on a daily basis — it was a perfect opportunity to take these thoughts and put them into film.
I’m always searching for collaborators who I can complement and who can complement me to develop an artistic network. I’m pretty excited about our collective ELLI at this moment. We’re discussing and working on projects and hopefully, soon, you will see not only new films from me but from a small movement of like-minded individuals.
Text and image: Alexander Epikhov
Interview: Liza Premiyak
Alexander Epikhov’s Badlands will be on display at the New East Photo Prize exhibition at Calvert 22 until 18 December. You can find more information on the show here.
Book now for the New East Photo Weekend 2 – 3 December.