Yelena Turova: ‘Directors always play the role of Columbus’

Director, poetess and scriptwriter Yelena Turova tells us about her work as an animator, cinema special effects and the Vileika ghost
By Lyudmila Minakova

Ms. Turova’s recent film releases were extravagant Belarusian fairy tales, entitled New Year Adventures in July, and Ryzhik Through the Looking-Glass. The talented daughter of film director Victor Turov and actress Svetlana Turova has won various prizes at children’s film festivals and continues to surprise us with her unusual films.
Her latest fantasy is a Gothic comedy with overtones of the macabre: The Kinderville Ghost, based on Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost. The film received several prizes at the Listapad Film Festival, including the Grand Prix ‘Golden Listapadzik’ (the People’s Choice Award), silver for ‘Best Adult Actor in a Children’s Film’, and a diploma from the press and sponsors.
Yelena here tells us how she manages to stay ahead of the trend, whether films need special effects and what else drives her work.

How my career began
‘When you find an artist, you’ll start directing’
As a child, my mum taught me a complex word: ‘director-animator’. I couldn’t imagine its full meaning, but I understood that it was closely connected with cartoons, so when I was asked about future professions, I answered that I wanted to be a director-animator.

I later forgot the idea, entering the Belarusian State University’s Philological Department, as I was good at writing. I graduated with an honours degree and received a letter of referral to the film studio as an editor but failed to be taken on, as they were reducing their staff. I took a job as an assistant to the director of the cartoon studio but realised that I wasn’t fulfilling my potential, so I decided to adapt. I went on courses for animation artists and created some adverts and short films.
When I showed my works to art director Igor Volchek, he told me that I ‘wasn’t bad’ and that when I’d found an artist, I’d start to direct. I found Volodya Borokhov, who studied with me on the animator course. That’s how everything began...

Cinematic cartoon characters
‘Having an imagination allows us to create anything’
I’m often asked whether I’d like to return to animation but, in fact, I never left it behind. My films combine actors and animation. I remember being impressed by Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ in the late 1980s. I thought it amazing to see real people alongside cartoon characters; it was hard to keep up with that technology. Then, I watched something about the film’s creation and I understood that nothing is impossible — such as making us believe that the hero has a Rabbit in his heart. They made the actor’s shirt move by blowing air through a vacuum cleaner hose, making it look as if his heart was jumping. They then added a cartoon of a rabbit shape, with ears and a muzzle. I understood that, if you have imagination, anything is possible.

Reviving Belarusian fairy tales
‘My films don’t rely on effects’
In early 2000, to my delight, I was asked to revive the Belarusian fairy tale. I realised that we needed to present the stories in a way appropriate for today’s generation of children: Koshchei the Deathless and Baba Yaga would hardly work in their traditional form, so I thought up the character for ‘New Year Adventures in July’: computer virus from space which tries to enslave the world, destroying all children’s holidays. In this way, we combined folk mythology with modern thinking.
Initially, we hardly knew what we were doing but the child actors worked hard, achieving the almost impossible. During shooting, we learnt to work with digital cameras and created ‘Telekino’.

The Kinderville Ghost
‘Coming home without my voice’
Each project has its own complexities; for ‘The Kinderville Ghost’ these revolved around new stunts — many involving animals, which are so unpredictable. We needed one shot of two pigeons taking flight; you’d think it was easy but it took half a day to capture!
In ‘The Kinderville Ghost’, we used quite a few child actors, aged between three and fifteen. Some act better than adults. During shooting, Alexiya Froemchuk, aged 6, surprised us with her ingenuity; she had so many ideas of her own. We also had some rather mischievous twins playing hooligan brothers. It’s not my usual way but I had to shout at them before they’d take things seriously! I returned home without my voice, but they acted well in the end. 
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