Finding duke in oranges
Belarus competes in 38th Moscow International Film Festival for first time in years, with young director Vlada Senkova’s teen-drama project
A still from the film
Lines in credits not expensive
Vlada, as a translator, how did you come to direct a film?
I learnt languages at university, but have always enjoyed writing. After I graduated, I decided to develop this inclination and took scriptwriting courses at Andrey Polupanov’s cine school. I realised that I didn’t want other people to shoot films based on my scripts, so I learned direction. ‘Duke in Oranges’ is my first full-length film.
Have you ever considered entering the All-Russian State University of Cinematography?
Moving to Moscow, of course, would open up more opportunities, but I don’t want to leave my home country. Talking about contemporary cinema, Belarus is an untouched field, with talented young people and plenty of ideas. However, selling the product may be a challenge. Promoting independent films is a difficult job, and it’s especially the case with new directors. Such projects never pay off.
Sorry to ask, but how do you earn your living?
Until recently, I worked at a children’s centre, conducting learning games in English. I also translate and give private lessons from time to time.
As a freelancer, it must be impossible to earn enough money to fund a full-length film.
Belarus has state programmes that support new directors. One of the requirements is to make purely patriotic films, which is a theme I’m not so interested in.
When I began shooting ‘Duke’, my mother sold her apartment in Vitebsk and my brother and I each received $1,000. My brother spent the money on travel, while I spent mine on film production. Of course, that amount was insufficient, so I had to find additional solutions. Our crew was the first in Belarus to raise money for filmmaking through crowd-funding.
Did you raise much?
Within a month, we gathered just over $2,000 for our ‘orange peels’. We had a good PR campaign: without it, such fundraising would have been impossible. We involved the media, organised a flash mob, and we created our posters, saying, ‘Buy Belarusian’, ‘Credit Lines Cheaper than Site on Mars’, ‘A New iPhone Will Become Outdated, While Our Film Will Become a Classic’. Private individuals then donated.
Belarus, not Belorussiya!
Where did you find actors?
All are from the cine school where I studied. They’re very gifted, and dedicated. One of the actresses offered us her family’s summer cottage as a film set. We were shooting five days a week, from Monday to Friday, as her mother was using the house at the weekend.
Funny things happened during the shoot. Do you remember the scene where the neighbour is scolding the teenagers for their noise? It actually happened. A summer resident came to complain, as he thought we were shooting dirty videos and threatened to sue us. We recorded his rant and used it for one of the characters.
The film has many national elements: characters often switch to Belarusian language, sing folk songs, and speak of the homeland sympathetically. Was it intentional?
Yes, partly. There is a scene with a radio programme, in which participants discuss which is correct, Belorussiya or Belarus. To me, this is a crucial issue. We live in the Republic of Belarus, but the older generation continues to think that they live in Belorussiya. And they call the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, I know that I both speak and think in Russian. This isn’t right. I don’t want our culture to die, I want it to live and evolve.
Was it hard to gain a place at the Moscow Festival?
When the film was released in cinemas, critics ignored the premiere. However, during private viewing in Vilnius, Asya Kolodizhner and Piotr Shepotinnik, members of the Moscow International Film Festival selection board, gave the film a distinction. They suggested that we should apply to participate in the festival. We didn’t make it into the main competition, but screening in the ‘Spektr’ programme was a real breakthrough.
Which are your favourite contemporary directors?
I respect Kirill Serebrennikov, Vasily Sigarev, Xavier Dolan, Paolo Sorrentino and Wes Anderson. Most of all I like Andrey Zvyagintsev. Once, he attended the ‘Listapad’ Festival and signed a book for me. I hope to meet him on a shoot some time.
Vlada Senkova was born in 1986 in Vitebsk. She graduated from the Belarusian State University, and trained as a translator in computer linguistics, then finished Minsk cine school, run by director Andrey Polupanov. She has worked as a short-film scriptwriter.
By Irina Mustafina