a Ukrainian director and cinematographer best known for “Insiders Project” and the “Breaking into Baikonur” documentary

Interview: Anastasia Gorbunova
Photo: Danil Privet

 Instagram x Breaking into Bainokur

What’s it like to be you?
It’s a hard question. I consider myself half Apollonian, half Dionysian. Meaning that sometimes I allow myself to immerse into some deep philosophical reflections on the meaning of life and human nature, and sometimes I allow myself to step away from it all and just have fun while hanging out. 

What is your inspiration, where do you seek it, and what uplifts you creatively?
It’s impossible to say what I am seeking because it’s a process, it must happen continuously, just as accumulating knowledge. It’s a process that must happen every day. That’s how we differ from animals – man seeks and expands one’s horizons. That is if we speak about the light in man. And we can also talk about the dark side for a very long while. But the lighter side of human beings – humans seek to uncover things, to expand their capabilities.

We’re not just trying to fly to space – we are trying to expand our horizons, to expand our perception of the world. Both science and philosophy are all creations of the human being because he is seeking an understanding of what is beyond.

So something like that. I can’t say what I’m looking for. I will know once I find it. 

What excites you the most in what you do? 
Art, music, female nature, and human nature in general, because it is very deep and dark.

And what upsets you?
The lack of communication between people, the lack of business ethics, people’s egos being shoved everywhere, and in general the ego, with which you need to work on a daily basis and not let it drift off the shore. And ignorance of so many people.

What feelings overwhelmed you when working on your first project?
It’s quite an ambiguous question. The first project meaning the one I did at university? Is that considered the first project? 

Let me rephrase. What project do you consider to be your first? When did you feel that you’re doing everything right? 
Crimea 2013 when we filmed a BMX rider Vasya Lukyanenko (Red Bull athlete) on radar antennas built by Korolyov. After that I realized that I want to do action shooting, I’m interested in extreme sports. During my youth, I did extreme sports and overall I love dynamics in life. So immediately after this project, I was immersed in various spaces with obstacles. I started to test and challenge myself because that’s how you uncover new limits of the self. It’s fascinating.  

Are you more creative or pragmatic in life? How does it affect your work? 
Again – half Apollonianism, half Dionysianism. Apollo is the creative in me, he is always seeking, he dives deeper, and Dionysus is realistic, he looks at life pragmatically. He is at times domestic yet very cheerful.

Yet how do you use both of these parts of your personality in your work? What role do they play?
Of course, it affects my work. And overall for me, cinema studies human nature, external processes, and the creative reevaluation of these processes.

I believe that human nature can only be explored through the self.

For me, first of all, it’s important to monitor my own feelings and my inner state in order to understand how a person can act in a given life situation, which in the future will allow me to model and create certain dramatic stories that will emotionally affect the audience and give people some sort of reevaluation of the surrounding processes.

Regarding these processes – do you understand the production process from its beginning till its end? And doesn’t the magic disappear when you understand these nuances?
If you don’t understand the production processes and technical aspects of the entire production cycle of any audiovisual product then there won’t be any magic. In order to get pleasure from work, you need that knowledge when working on a set – that’s what excites the director and influences the end result. It is this particular work, the comfort of this work, that depends on how prepared you are. And in order to prepare well, you need to understand the processes. And no, they don’t distract you from the magic, on the contrary, they create the basis for this magic in cinema to grow.

In selected movie theatres from August 5th

How do you perceive the creations of other creators? Do you see all the shortcomings, all the processes, and how does it affect your assessment of their work?
I don’t… Well, I do see the shortcomings, it’s just … An interesting question. Firstly, I haven’t been watching anything lately. I am only engaged in reading, involved in various projects, and deal with my own affairs. Why am I not watching anything? Because when I was very young and during my youth and my studies I’ve seen a lot of films and compiled a database. Now I am engaged in evaluating and finding my own form and style. I draw inspiration only from literature because overall I understand how the film tools work. Of course, it is important to analyze work by other artists, but it is way more important to analyze the work of the classics because they were the origin of many techniques that are now used by contemporary artists. For example, Bergman. Bergman himself had a tremendous influence on Western European cinema, and on world cinema in general. He influenced so many serious directors, and his techniques are still used. I’m used to this flow, to a huge amount of visual garbage, because we live in an oversaturated information world and we live in a visually saturated world. Therefore, it is very important to find your own individual handwriting. And individual handwriting can only be found when you pass through a certain kind of art such as, for example, literature. Because literature is the basis of everything really. And it is by analyzing literature that you create something of your own, something new. And the form and the tools are all out there. In fact, the modern cinematographer won’t invent a ‘wheel’ right now. But he can definitely personalize his own wheel. It’s in our power.

How do you feel when the project is completed and the audience is there to finally witness it?
Pride, and a feeling of great relief, because, first and foremost, an artist is not an artist if he does not present his work to society.

Behind every piece of work, there must be some kind of purpose, some meaning, a relevance. Therefore, it is very important to show your work and just let it go and feel relief. It’s like a child you birth into the world. Like a bird that you release from captivity. You took care of it and finally set it free.

But again, you have to understand why you’re doing something, why you’re spending a year or two of your life creating a great form, a great film. Working on a large project is a waste of a large resource. Because first of all, we spend our most important resource – time. And you have to understand why you spend it.

And this feeling when you sit in the theatre while everyone watches your work, what’s that like?
I don’t think about what and how people evaluate my work. I start from the basis of what I invested into the concept of the same “Insiders project” or “Breaking into Baikonur.” I like that my vector of movement in creativity, in cinema in general, seeks the final point of being on the big screen. I have ambitions to make films that would be presented to the viewer on the big screen. What is the advantage of the big screen? That it is a collective perception. That is, the viewer is not distracted by mobile phones, there is a big screen, there is a moment of immersion into this big screen and into the story, there is a strong sound which is a serious supporting element. At the film screenings that we did for the “Insiders project” andBreaking into Baikonuron the big screen, I tried to catch in certain moments of the film in which I incorporated certain emotional keys, the emotional resonance of the film theatre room. If I felt those notes, then I did the right thing. If I acknowledge that I did everything right then I am satisfied with my work.

If you would get a chance to become a part of a film or book reality, which reality would you choose? 
“Braveheart” with Mel Gibson.

What is your definition of beauty at this stage of your life? What is beauty for you?
If talking about what I’ve seen while working on the “Insiders project” andBreaking into Baikonur then it’s the beauty of the flow of time. It was an immersion in that space, in those places that are as if out of time. They froze in time. When you get inside these objects – be it underground bunkers, dead factories, or the space canned station, you seem to enter into another space, you seem to fall into the past. You are just out of space, out of time. And you see how time affects it. It’s cool because it’s a frozen moment. A peeling wall, a rusty huge plane – all the results of time.

And when you see the results of time, you begin to value time.

That’s why beauty for me opened up in the fact that I saw how time operates.

And what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen or felt in your life?
This question … You can expand it so much…

One of the most wonderful things I felt was fear. Because fear is a very interesting substance that affects you differently every time. Because fear is multifaceted. When you encounter fear, it reveals in you the unseen facets of your inner nature. And when you discover within yourself the unseen facets of your nature – that is beauty.

It is the authenticity of what is called “human nature”. So it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever felt. Observing your world is wonderful.

Is the world fair in your opinion and do fairy tales happen in real life, in your opinion?
I can’t say whether the world is fair, it’s a very difficult question. It depends on how the person, the artist, looks at it. But I don’t know, that needs to be investigated. But okay, let’s sort it out. I am currently making a film about children with cancer. And I discovered an entirely different world. I discovered the world of children’s struggle for life, parents’ struggle for their children’s lives. I knew that one of the protagonists that I was filming, a ten-year-old girl, would, unfortunately, pass away. So here the question of justice is on such an interesting verge. Because a child is so pure that I don’t even know if a child would ever deserve the suffering that this world can bring upon. And when the Creator leads man (Creator – I do not mean the Orthodox God, but the force that created man), when he brings the soul into the world, he leads it for a purpose. And he takes this soul, too, for a purpose. And this world, in which this child will wander, can be much brighter, purer, more transparent, and gentler to this soul than our world. Therefore, the justice of the world is a very serious and delicate issue. It depends on many circumstances of perception and experience of the person who thinks about it. As regarding the “fairy tale” … What is a fairy tale? A space in which some metaphysical laws, laws of mysticism, etc. operate. When I visited Baikonur, when I went to the place where there were dead space shuttles, it was a fairy tale for me. Why was it a fairy tale? Because I came up with associative images and designed my own fairy tale. For me, it was a necropolis of sorts that I entered. These big birds were asleep, and I imagined that these weapons could wake up at any moment. It is very important for an artist to see this metaphysics, this mesmeric world. The artist must be the translator of this fairy tale, he must see these details, images, archetypes. The artist must watch life to see these fairytale-like elements. And then life becomes more interesting and then an interesting form emerges that can be given to the audience.

With what poem, film, book, or song could you associate yourself with at this stage of your life? What resonates with you right now?
There are many interesting poems, there are several of my own poems, but in the context of the interview, it would not be very appropriate. I will say one thing though. I have a favorite poet, Vasyl Stus, and his genius was revealed, I think, only because he found himself in extremely difficult life circumstances. And it was these circumstances that revealed his genius. And for me, this nerve, which he conveys in his works, is very important, because it reveals to me the beauty of life. It inspires, it reminds me that I live in circumstances in which I can create freely. And his poetry is a lifeline for me in some serious inner moments when I am experiencing some state of self-searching or when I am experiencing moments of burnout, depression, and so on. All these points need to be worked out, but I run away to Stus and find the answers in his work. If we talk about serious prose, then it’s Hermann Hesse. This is as far as Western literature is concerned. He is an incredible writer who, again, discovers human nature from two sides: the dark and the light. He studies and reveals everything from the inside. And Valery Shevchuk. He is a Ukrainian genius, a modern living classic, a laureate of the Shevchenko Prize. He is a serious mentor for me in the study of human nature. He is a mystic, he is a very philosophical writer. Of these, the тщмуді with which I became acquainted is “Confession” and The Murrain – these are the works of literature that I would try to illustrate in cinema.

What are you most proud of?
That my grandmother is a writer and my mother is a writer. I am proud to have been born into a literary family and that my grandmother did a gigantic job for me to be delivered into this world. That is, karmically, I believe, my grandmother will break free from the circle of transformations of Samsara and go to some higher spaces. 

Why do melancholic films, books, music always resonate better and are be remembered better than something fun?
It depends on who we’re talking about.

Currently, there is a tendency for people to run away from reality. People try to forget, they think they are immortal. They think that the dark side and grief, and death, and the struggle for the environment – that it’s all somewhere else, not in our reality, although it is right here, nearby. If a person tries to deeply perceive the world, then for him tragedy works with a tragic color and it will always find a response.

It’s much deeper than humor. Although humorous, satirical stories and forms – they are also very instructive. They can also tell cool stories. For example, Antonio Lukic, who is a good friend of mine and a serious young artist in Ukrainian cinema, has a very cool authorial style of presenting a story and having a dialogue with the audience. Its shape is a needle that pierces the hardened human armor, and due to its ease of supply, it also reveals divine meanings in man. I will try to work with other tools. But the uniqueness of each director is that he is looking for his own form of presentation. Your needle, which can pierce the heart of whoever is watching.

And what was the wisest thing you’ve ever heard or maybe realized yourself?
From what I’ve heard was a quote by Skovoroda, “The world caught me, but it didn’t catch me.” It speaks of continuous movement, continuous effort to find oneself, and the desire to travel in oneself, to travel in the world. And thus explore both the external and the internal.
And something that I realized myself … It may sound very loud, but if I’m talking about myself, then maybe it’s the moment that you should not give up and always need to be able to stand your ground.

You need to be confident in your ideas, stay focused and achieve your goals. Find a resource and don’t ever give up. If your hands are down, you need to find a resource that will raise them.

What question would you like to be asked in this interview and what would you answer? Perhaps you’d like to cover a topic that we didn’t discuss.
It’s a very difficult question, really, because it awakens my ego. Let me give it a thought.

Maybe it was intended to awaken your ego.
Yeah. “What is something new that you discovered about yourself?” I became acquainted with yoga, and for me, yoga is an incredible system that reveals your inner potential and allows you to see yourself, see your weaknesses, and work them out. I highly recommend trying to uncover yoga, because it is an incredible system. But it requires discipline. It cultivates discipline, cultivates mental abilities and it requires effort. And that’s the beauty – yoga only begins to work when you start to put in the effort. When one well-known and respected yogi, Petri Raisyanen, was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in yoga?”, he replied: “The most difficult thing is to spread a rug.” It really is.
Thank you.

Translation: Elena Savlokhova