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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Tatiana Daniliyants: On Filming in Italy: a Gaze from Abroad.

Tatiana Daniliyants is an artist who works in three distinct media: poetry, photography and film. she graduated as a Master of Fine Arts from the Moscow Surikov Academy of Fine Arts and also at the celebrated Higher Courses of Film Directing and Script Writing. She also participated in a Master Class under the celebrated Polish director Andrej Wajda in Krakow and has established The Butterfly Angel film company. She is a member of the International Union of Art Photographers and has published three volumes of poetry.

Here rather than giving a full portrait of the very varied artistic career of Tatiana Daniliyants (which I hope to do so in a fuller piece published elsewhere), I wanted to concentrate on her work as a documentary film-maker who shoots her films not in Russia but in a foreign country- in this case, Italy. As she explains in her answers during my interview for a documentary film-maker this is not necessary an unusual step and the examples abound. Nonetheless it is, perhaps, rare that an artist has is so profoundly immersed in the culture and life of another country as Tatiana is in Italy. The dangers and threats that cultural isolationism and exceptionalism pose are still, all too commonly, present. Russian film has often been at the vanguard of cinematic trends precisely because of its openness and porousness. As I have argued a number of previous posts in this blog the links between Italian and Russian (or Soviet) culture have been particularly rich ones throughout the twentieth century and this is continuing into the twenty-first. I am hoping that this post will be one of many too which will focus on documentary film in Russia today. Here is a transcript of the interview:

I would be very interested to hear about how you think your own way of filming a foreign country (in this case Italy) may differ from how you would film your own country?

Replying to your question I wanted, first of all, to remark that when filming another country you find yourself in a situation peeping from a special distance, you become, if you like, a special type of pioneer or explorer. Just as there were explorers of countries and continents: North America, uninhabited islands, Madagascar for example. I want to say that the gaze of the director filming in another country always has this a priori, as I see it, quality of a "blank piece of paper" even if, of course, you are preparing your film, researching your material and sometimes you've already done some preparatory research. On the other hand, a documentary film-maker, in any case, (if she is not making a film of edited archive material) is always a pioneer ready and open to unexpected turns of events. In the case of shooting in another country, to these unexpected turns of events, one can include the foreign language in which your characters communicate.

How were your films received in Italy?

I've made three films in one way or another linked to Italy. A short film Frescoes of Dreams with the Italian actress Cecilia Dazzi and two films which I would call a 'Venetian City Epic': The Hidden Garden (2008, 53 mins) and Venice Afloat (2012, 63 min). Since I've been associated with Venice already for almost 20 years (I first came to Italy, to Venice in fact, on a scholarship with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of the Gallery of Contemporary Art) and I lived and visited this city around... well, certainly 50 times and, of course, I know a lot of native Venetians ... my idea was to tell the story of a Venice "hidden"from the view of tourists to the city, this unique city in a unique situation.

Both films were shown in Venice, both in the context of the Venice Film Festival at the Forum which was organised by the City Municipality and the local Cinematographers Union. The Hidden Garden was also shown at the House of Cinema in Venice at San Stae.

The films had a wonderful reaction. At all three of the showings. The last film shown at the Cinema Astra on the Lido provoked by laughter (even at places during the film where I was not expecting this reaction) and tears... this was very touching. Venetians are very sensitive to what is authentic and, of course, if there were to be even a hint of something that wasn't quite natural they would have immediately been alert to this.

Do you have any models for your type of film-making? What do you think of foreign documentary films made about Russia (or Armenia) and other Russian film-makers who have made important films about, for them, foreign subjects? Are there any particular films which you found interesting?

It's difficult for me to talk about such trends, rather, it's rather difficult to separate these trends from any other general trends... you see, if one looks attentively at European film production then one discovers that all European film-makers go around the world filming some 'hot topic' (or less than hot topic) or other. The most significant thing about documentary film is to broaden the limits of the known (including in a geographical sense). The fact that, for example, Wim Wenders has filmed his film Notebooks on Countries and Cities in Japan or a director from Brussels, Rob Rombout, has shot a film at the Flahertiana festival of documentary cinema in Perm entitled Perm Mission and hundreds and thousands of other directors have made similar choices to film outside of their country... arouses absolutely no surprise. This is an essential part of our profession, an entirely natural part of it. At the Art Doc Festival there were many such 'criss-crossings': Russians who shoot abroad, and foreigners who shoot in Russia... This is the norm.

I'd also like to ask you something about the process of shooting in Italy - what felt strange and different, what advantages and disadvantages you had in filming as a foreign film-maker? And why did you decide to shoot the particular subjects that you did?

Filming in Venice, however astonishing this may seem, was very easy. Practically all agreements we reached were arrived at immediately and, in spite of reaching them so quickly, they were all adhered to. In general, there is a sense of precision and accuracy inherent in Venetians. In addition, the participants wanted to do even more for us, the film crew. For them, just as it was for us, participating in these two films was some kind of important 'mission' to try to immortalise the images and categories with which to describe their native city.

The first film of the diptych - The Hidden Garden - talks about the so-called cultural elite of the city- poets, artists, actors, in a word, people with an unusual vision. However, if one looks more closely, one discovers that all Venetians are thinkers, aesthetes and very different from inhabitants of other Italian cities; it seems that the beauty of the city has an enormous influence on their way of life and way of thinking. The second film Venice Afloat - continuing this theme - is about one day in the life of those who maintain and secure the life of the city through its only transport system - water transport. It recounts the life of those who work on the public transportation system of the city, skippers of the vaporetti -  Venice's river tram, and fishermen, fire fighters and so on.

Finally, what could you tell me about Russian documentary film in the past ten years and what are the different kinds of pressure on film-maker in Italy and in Russia.

In recent times documentary films have become more 'heated' and more willing to react interactively on social and political events in the country. If you like, they have become more socially engaged. These are, in general, interesting developments even though, from my point of view, no one has managed to revoke the need for a documentary cinema which is linked to culture and art, and most importantly, to the discovery of the human being. Ultimately, humankind is the basic 'subject' of practically any successful cinema. Susan Sontag wrote a lot about this and it is difficult here to disagree with her. The human being and  human kind - this is what interests film-makers and spectators throughout the world - in Russia, Italy, Madagascar. And it will continue to interest them as long as the cinematic muse exists.

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