Natalya Kudryashova (Pioneer Heroes) – Interview
An interview with Natalya Kudryashova, director, writer and lead-actress of her debut film Pioneer Heroes that premiered during the Panorama section of the 65th Berlin Film Festival and its associate producer Natalia Drozd.
The past couple of years we have seen so many Russian films that are dealing with that post-Soviet generation, especially in New Russian Drama, do you feel that there is a need for directors to express themselves for that past or is it just a current phase?
Natalya Kudryashova: Pioneer Heroes is not about this theme, the film has another view and doesn’t follow the traditional way and it just follows the spirit of the time. New Russian Drama is more social and our project is not social at all.
There is a different way of filming when the film moves to the past and it changes when the story goes to the present-day. How does this work from creative point of view?
N.K.: From the very beginning we wanted to make these two parts different. So for the contemporary and modern time we tried to make the camera to be more flexible, more moving, since the maneuvers suggest to reflect the inner position of the characters. Instead the past is more stable and feels closer to the Soviet aesthetics.
The film seems quite personal. Do the stories bear a strong autobiographical element or are they more fictional with some minor personal details added?
N.K.: There are not so many things that are fictional. This is my experience and the stories of my closest friends who shared their experiences with me, so there is almost nothing artificial there or fictional. Everything is based on true stories.
So is this a reality for your generation?
N.K.: Yes, that is true, this is the reality that we live now. It is a joke, but I regret that we didn’t put a “Based on real events” subtitle for the European audience. European viewers don’t really know how our childhood looked like and for many many people the story seems almost artificial and like a fairytale. It was indeed very paradoxical, it is true but it’s hard to believe.
This year in Berlinale we have already seen two other films that are dealing with similar topics – Alexey German’s Under Electric Clouds and Andreas Dresen’s As We Were Dreaming – is there any hint of nostalgia 25 years after the collapse of Soviet Union to deal with this subject?
N.K.: Our picture is not nostalgic at all. It is basically about the difficulty to accept real values, real ideas as a child and later as a grown-up how to deal with the reality with no ideas at all. During our childhood, we were taught to do something useful and to be real, like good human beings and now in Russia, and not only there, it is difficult to fulfill that promise and it is difficult to live like that.
Since this is your debut feature film, do you have any directors or films that you were inspired from?
N.K.: Talking about this particular film, no I didn’t really have any particular examples in mind.
Since the film is dealing with contemporary Russia, how do you deal with the limitations from the Russian government on the so-called anti-patriotic films, like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan? Do you feel that there is an issue of censorship in Russia?
N.K.: If we are talking about the censorship, this is not the biggest problem in Russia. What is much worse than this, when we take Leviathan as an example, is that a lot of people in Russia won’t be able to feel happy for its great success. This is a film that has been shortlisted for the Oscars, it has won the Golden Globe and people got angry about it and hated that success. Even within the film industry, they couldn’t feel happy about it. So this is a bigger problem than the censorship and the pressure from the government. It is the illness of the society, today people are not friends anymore with each other but they are enemies. Something bad is happening to the nation, generally. Furthermore the censorship is not the biggest problem because we and especially our parents were used to live in a time when censorship was real and present.
Natalia Drozd (Associate Producer): For me as a producer, I don’t believe that the censorship really exists right now. There are of course some topics that are not so welcomed, like gay topics, but this doesn’t happen like a script or a film that it is not approved by a committee or something similar. Also there is no real censorship on the distribution level. It is more a problem of the market itself since it is a small and tough market especially for Russian films. There is a huge market for big American films and a niche, almost nothing, for Russian small films or European art-house films. So this is not about censorship, this is a market’s problem generally. We can handle censorship because it is not that hard and it is almost not there now. I don’t know what is going to happen next but the real problem is the state of mind of the audience and the society.
On the production level do you feel that it is easy for a small film to get financed and be produced especially in this limited market?
N.D.: It wasn’t difficult to finance the film since it wasn’t a co-production and it is a Russian production, so it was quite easier. Also some part of the finance was given by the Russian Minister of Culture and the budget was quite limited. To be more precise, the film is a real child by Natalya and Sergey Selyanov who worked together and everything was done by them. So it was a real adventure for them since they had to deal both with the creative and the production parts of the film. Past December we won the best work-in-progress award at Les Arcs Film Festival. The real problem of the film was that we didn’t know from the beginning if it would be interesting for the European viewers. After the award we understood that it is interesting and that people wanted to know more about Russia and the state of the society. And then of course we got the invitation from Berlinale and this was our biggest achievement so far.
Going back to Natalya and the creative part of the film. How was the experience for you as a director to be also the leading actress of the film?
Natalya Kudryashova: From one side it was quite easy because I know myself very well as an actress so I can really direct myself quite easily. On the other side I understood that I was quite protective towards the other actors who always had their time to relax and feel comfortable but I didn’t do this for myself since I was all the time on the set so I wasn’t that “protected” as the rest of the cast. So it was interesting but physically it wasn’t that easy and I was quite nervous too.
As a final question, do you have any future projects or anything that you are already preparing now?
N.K.: I have some new ideas and I think that Pioneer Heroes will allow me to make my next film quicker and that I will not have to fight that much as I did for my first one. My next film is currently in development so it’s is going to be released probably in a couple of years from now.