Inside the zone: otherworldly scenes from a Russian film set

Photographs taken on the set of Under Electric Clouds outside St Petersburg

13 August 2015

The film Under Electric Clouds by Alexei German Jr, which won a Silver Bear for its cinematography at this year’s Berlinale, is an attempt to address the problem of Russian identity in a changing world. Set in 2017 on the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the film centres around an unfinished skyscraper and features an eccentric collection of protagonists including the skyscraper’s architect, a poor intellectual and a Kyrgyz drifter. Photographer Oleg Savunov spent four months on set with German Jr’s team in and around St Petersburg (other parts of the film were shot in Ukraine). “The conditions were difficult: dirt, slush and frost,” remembers Savunov. “The filming only took place at a particular time each day: when the sky is still light in the evening but the city lights are already on is considered to be the most beautiful time for shooting. Most of the day was taken up by rehearsals but the shooting itself only took 30-40 minutes, which created a lot of tension. I was most impressed by the scenes at the beaches on the Finnish Gulf, next to the port — wide open empty places with sculptures.” The sets for the film were created by Yelena Okopnaya, and they complement the strangeness and remoteness of the film’s location. “I think my photographs reflect the atmosphere of the film: they are very still, capture people waiting for something unknown, sometimes in awkward poses,” adds Savunov. “It’s full of melancholy, just like the film, and complete powerlessness to change anything, the feeling of upcoming war in the air. As German said himself, this is the last Russian-Ukrainian film for a long time to come.”