Film based on Bykov’s prose receives deserved praise

In the Fog, based on Vasil Bykov’s novel, shot in conjunction with Belarusfilm National Film Studio, has won the prestigious FIPRESCI International Federation of Film Press Jury Prize at the 65th International Film Festival in Cannes
By Tatiana Pastushenko

The film, directed by Sergey Loznitsa — well-known in Belarus, was shot with collaboration from Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia, which has led some critics and journalists to doubt Belarus’ true input. The film’s successful debut in Cannes has been followed by rumours that Belarusfilm simply ‘jumped onto a leaving train’. Accordingly, the Director General of the National Film Studio, Oleg Silvanovich, here demolishes such views.

Tell us, please, how prestigious is the FIPRESCI Award?

To answer that, let’s look at its history. It has been awarded to such well-known people as Woody Allen, Andrei Tarkovsky and Francis Ford Copolla over the years, so it’s a great honour for Sergey Loznitsa to gain such world-class recognition. Most importantly, FIPRESCI is given by independent, impartial film critics. The list of jury members this year comprises not a single resident of the former Soviet Union — only those from Western Europe.

How has the foreign audience responded to this film based on the prose of a Belarusian writer?

The audience began to applaud during the final credits, which lasted for more than four minutes. The applause grew into a great ovation. I wish I’d thought to record the moment on my mobile phone.

We co-produced ‘In the Fog’, so are mentioned in the official catalogue of the Cannes Film Festival. The order of names reflects the degree of involvement, with the most important listed first; Belarusfilm is almost in the middle.

In fact, Belarus joined this international project as preproduction was completed, added all we could to improve the film. Truly, we deserve to credited with some of its success. Belarusfilm is responsible for the soundtrack, mixed by wonderful Belarusian sound control supervisor Vladimir Golovnitsky; this shows that our national film studio is using technologies sought after by top international projects. Sergey Loznitsa also comes to us from time to time for work on his documentaries; he’s well-known to our domestic audience from the Minsk International ‘Listapad’ Film Festival, having won the grand prize for his debut film, ‘My Happiness’, in 2010.

Could In the Fog be shown at other forums, including Listapad-2012?

‘In the Fog’ is just beginning its festival life. In addition to winning the FIPRESCI prize, it has been awarded the Grand Prix at the 6th International ‘Mirror’ Film Festival named after Andrei Tarkovsky. The award was received by the leading actor Vladimir Svirsky at the solemn closing ceremony. It has been invited to be shown in Toronto (Canada) and we expect further recognition. We’re now thinking about when to show the film in Belarus. Perhaps its premiere will be held at a festival in Brest this September. It’s also likely that it will be screened at ‘Listapad-2012’, later, in November.

The national pavilion operated for the second consecutive year in Cannes. With which countries’ filmmakers have you negotiated during this time?

The representatives of the national pavilion managed to conduct dozens of meetings and negotiations with filmmaking companies: from the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, Italy, Japan and the United States. They discussed co-production and the possibility of signing the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production, as well as possible future inclusion of Belarus in the Eurimages International Fund. We talked to French producers about the possible involvement of their actors in our film projects. Regardless of the red carpet, the participation of a French actor guarantees automatic interest from French television.

Various actors may star in joint film projects with us. For example, the great French actor Gerard Depardieu is less interested in money these days than in playing complex roles. So, if we want such legends as Depardieu to participate, we should prepare a special project to suit the actor. Belarusfilm can suggest any role or script to any actor.

Moreover, our modern film studio should carefully consider joint film production with China. It would be an extremely strong partner, owning the largest film industry in the world. It has an incredibly powerful market for film production, with the average budget often exceeding that of a Belarusian film ten-fold. This year, Days of Belarusian Cinema in China are planned. Of course, as General Director of Belarusfilm, I hope that we’ll negotiate with Chinese colleagues, finding partners among them.

In which other international film festivals are Belarusian films taking part soon?

The joint Belarusian-Latvian-Estonian film ‘Lonely Island’ will be screened at the 34th Moscow International Film Festival, taking place from June 21st-30th. The last Belarusfilm project was presented at the Moscow International Film Festival, more than a quarter of a century ago: a joint production by Belarusfilm and Mosfilm, directed by Elem Klimov, entitled ‘Come and See’. It won major awards in the prestigious class ‘A’ film forum.

‘Amateur Filmmaker. Autumn Dream’, directed by Olga Dashuk and filmed by Anatoly Kazazaev (Letopis Film Studio), is to compete in the documentary nomination at the International Film Festival in Krakow (Poland). The festival is being held for the 52nd time this year and is considered to be one of the most prestigious and largest in Europe. The film will also participate in the Silverdocs Festival, held near Washington in June.

Meanwhile, Yekaterina Makhova’s ‘The Bell Ringer’ will be shown at the French ‘One Country-One Film’ International Film Festival, and at the 18th International Festival of Local Televisions in Kosice (Slovakia).

What are the future plans of Belarusfilm?

Our studio continues to grow and develop, with state support. We realise that films need to be commercially viable, aimed at a particular target audience. We achieved our aim and more with ‘In the Fog’. Initially, we’d simply hoped to be selected for the competition. The prestigious award has been a bonus.

Belarusfilm is changing, trying to integrate innovative ideas. Our films released this year focus more on television; we set ourselves the task of making something which would pay for itself. For the first time for quite some while, Belarusfilm has shot four joint pictures funded from its own money rather than relying on state support; we’ve shifted from a receiver to a producer of revenue.

Victories at international film festivals are very important for us but it’s more important to be in demand at home, loved by our own people. We are running a business, with high goals set. It might be easier to receive a Palme d’Or at Cannes than achieve domestic success! Of course, ambitious people are always creative. As for respect, this is crucial. If Belarusian audiences respect national filmmaking then our mission will be worthwhile.
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