Film director Alexander Yefremov sets aside his tough schedule to tell
us about the national features of Belarusian cinematography and his own path via Belarusfilm studio
Mr. Yefremov came to Belarusfilm in the 1970s, moving from Moscow. During Soviet times, it was the best film studio in the USSR, releasing children’s films and those about war — all becoming cult classics. At the time, Alexander was an alumnus of the prestigious Stage Acting Department of the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography.
What inspired you to devote your whole life to cinema?
My passion was born in childhood, after watching ‘Amphibian Man’. Its plot enthralled me and I immediately hurried to a library to take out the book upon which the film had been based. I then thought that it would be nice to shoot a similar film myself. I wanted to penetrate the world behind the screen...
You dreamt of becoming an actor, so why did you shift your passion towards directorship?
After finishing school, I applied to the Stage Acting Department at the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography. However, I was informed that I’d submitted my application too late. I passed an exam for the Acting Department but, on taking it up, realised that it wasn’t for me. I then conducted my military service with the missile troops for two years, before applying once more to the Stage Acting Department. On leaving the army, I was invited for examinations. There were only five vacancies per 200 applicants! To collect my results, I came to the Dean’s Office early, so that no one would be able to witness my shame. I thought I’d get a ‘two’ or ‘three’, being unsure of myself. I came in and saw a girl called Lena, who looked at me and said, “Yefremov, look at you!” I immediately imagined that I’d done terribly but I’d been given one of only two ‘five’ marks.
What brought you from Moscow to Belarus?
After I graduated from the Institute, I was invited to Belarusfilm. Until then, I’d had no ties with Belarus and had visited Minsk only once — testing for a role. However, after my arrival at Belarusfilm and shooting my first film, I was invited to Lenfilm, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). I was on the verge of staying there but work on my film ceased — through no fault of my own — so I returned to Minsk. I’ve been working with Belarusfilm for almost 35 years.
Being a young director, how did you manage to find a common language with your actors? Some were already well established stars of Soviet and Belarusian cinema…
Actors can literally trample a director to pieces if he is unsure of himself or fails to show exactly what he wants. It’s vital to be convincing with actors. One famous personality once said that a director must arrive, show a cameraman from which angle to film, tell actors what to do and then keep smiling: everyone should see that he knows everything and can answer any question. I don’t match this ‘ideal’ fully. My attitude differs in that I try to educate myself, ever learning from my students, actors and cameramen. I know what I can and must demand from them all.
Is it possible to argue with you?
Honestly, I’ve become a little more abrupt recently. However, it’s possible to argue with me. I can be swayed in certain things but only where an actor has concrete ideas — rather than vague notions. If you don’t believe me or think I’m wrong, then show me how it should be done. If an actor can show and convince me, we’ll definitely follow the suggestion. It’s happened several times while working with Russian actor Dmitry Pevtsov. He’s my friend now, rather than a colleague.
Soviet cinema had a unique identity. Can the same be said of Belarusian cinema?
Our cinematography is still forming its own character, while preserving its traditions. This varies depending on who is directing, since they are creating an artistic product. When we form a uniform understanding of our single nationhood, with personal interests intermixing with those of the state, we’ll understand the priorities upon which our character should be built forevermore. We should speak of the purity of the human soul and our intentions, setting targets which each of us can aim for through life.
Do you think classical cinema exists? Did you ever imagine that audiences would be watching your films many years on?
It’s difficult to predict such a thing. We can speak of such directors as Bergman, Fellini and Tarkovsky, whose films are widely known but tend to please only the elite. They will probably remain eternal, with people always wishing to view them. It’s hard to speculate about my own art. How can I speak of the future?
By Viktor Korbut
Cinema for all
[b]Film director Alexander Yefremov sets aside his tough schedule to tell us about the national features of Belarusian cinematography and his own path via Belarusfilm studio [/b]Mr. Yefremov came to Belarusfilm in the 1970s, moving from Moscow. During Soviet times, it was the best film studio in the USSR, releasing children’s films and those about war — all becoming cult classics. At the time, Alexander was an alumnus of the prestigious Stage Acting Department of the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography.