Posts tagged “Russia

Reprise from 2010: Vladivostok: A Soviet Time Machine

Vladivostok Train Station

Vladivostok Train Station – the end of the Trans Siberian Railway its cornerstone was laid by Czar Nicholas and actor Yule Brynner’s grandfather. I walked Vladivostok looking everywhere. I can’t read any signs so I focus completely on the people, what they are doing, details of dress, what they carry, their energy. It’s busy here, jammed with traffic but as packed as the streets are the sidewalks flow with people, most walk with purpose, the ones that wait sit with intention.The light is amazing, a silky veil of marine clouds softens the edges, it often glows. I’m shooting a black and white photographic portrait so in keeping with this city’s face: harbor, ships, train station, shopping districts, pedestrian underpasses filled with little shops, new construction everywhere beside decaying buildings and crumbling roads, passageways, begging bubuschas and striking, gorgeous fashionistas (are all the Russian women so beautiful?) strutting on amazing heels, North Korean laborers digging with picks and shovels, choking traffic jams of Japanese cars, army trucks and smoky diesel buses, the whole city a fifties Soviet time machine pasted with gaudy billboards, bustling with the brightly dressed carrying Blackberries and iPhones.

I conduct a filmmaking seminar workshop at Far Eastern State Technical University. The students are bright, friendly and optimistic. They smile so much I kid them that they defy the stereotype of dour Russian pessimism. They laugh at that, they want to be free of their Soviet baggage and the opening of my film reminds them of their grandparents world only half known through the propaganda of official history versus first hand accounts. You get the feeling they want to throw that deadweight overboard but can’t. I point out parallels in the American experience that they have to “own” their history to ultimately be free of it (or free of repeating it). Through their lives Laszlo and Vilmos show us that out of great tragedy can come great art and beauty and ultimately forgiveness and renewal. When talk turns to the corporate and political oligarchs or Putin, an unspoken tension arises, looks and shrugs acknowledging that this is the big problem and challenge of their time.

Cinema is the universal language, its inherently natural to communicate with images, ever more so with each succeeding generation. The seminar becomes a workshop, I gather everyone in a tight group. Our camera has a live feed to a large flat screen monitor and we review the grammar of shot making, that we all grasp, even if we have not analyzed how we see movies and television. I tell them first of all that they already have a deep grasp of the language of images and cinema and we know how to read them as well as we do our native language. The camera is a pointing device; you point it at what is important. It is free to move and point at anything your own mind decides: “This girl’s hand writing a note panning up to her face watching the class, panning over to this man’s face watching her, panning to the rest of the group.” We quickly review all the kinds of shots and angles we can make without restriction: wide angle, telephoto detail, high or low, close and intimate or distant and objective, camera movement with almost invisible subtlety or swiftly with sharp dramatic intent. We stage little scenes and try different camera grammar. I ask them what is the next shot that we need to see? They realize they know intuitively how to shoot. We talk about the editing of those shots and point of view. To make a film you the filmmaker has to have a point of view.