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Friday, August 15, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Maxim Pozdorovkin

Maxim Pozdorovkin
By Maxim Pozdorovkin and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Maxim Pozdorovkin, best-known for his 2013 documentary, PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER, and his most recent documentary, THE NOTORIOUS MR. BOUT.  PUSSY RIOT premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Award. Released theatrically around the world, the film was shortlisted for an Academy Award.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Being a voracious and promiscuous viewer of independent and world cinema is to my mind the single most important requirement for aspiring filmmakers and for anyone with an interest in film. We become better filmmakers and viewers of cinema by engaging in dialogue with film language that is not immediately familiar to us, with cinematic forms that expand our sense of what film is capable of expressing. Less subject to commercial constraints and familiar templates, independent and world cinema is more likely to challenge us with their film grammar, to surprise and dazzle us with its unorthodox leaps and detours, to inspire us with their lack of familiar constraints.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
The first generation of filmmakers looked out at the world and made movies about what they saw. The second generation of filmmakers watched films and made their work in response to their predecessors. Filmmakers today, a third generation of sorts, emboldened by the opportunities open to them by the widespread availability of affordable digital technology can be said to make films based on what they find inside a camera catalog. The democratization of film production has been an incredible boon for aspiring filmmakers but has on occasion made us myopic to cinema's evolution as a narrative form. Delving into cinema's past, including silent cinema, a period of unprecedented innovation and efficiency in visual storytelling, is an unparalleled way of exposing ourselves to the storytelling modes and techniques perfected through trial and error. The availability of such a historical panorama at the click of a button is a sizeable privilege, one that should neither to be ignored nor taken lightly by aspiring filmmakers. 
 How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when making PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER and THE NOTORIOUS MR. BOUT?
I am extremely fortunate to have worked with collaborators who are diehard cinephiles. Thus, the process of making a movie for me has always included daily conversations about other films. The application of these references to my own films ranges from thoughts about how to frame individual shots to the structure of scenes and all the way up to broad narrative strategies that films employ as a whole. From the outset my first film CAPITAL was an attempt to make a contemporary version of a city symphony films, popular in the teens and twenties. The question of how to depict a metropolis as a character hung over the entire production and was solved with frequent reflection and reviewing of films like Sheeler and Strand's MANHATTA, Vertov's MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, Ruttman's BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY, and Ivens' RAIN. 
In structuring PUSSY RIOT the central challenge was to find a balance between the courtroom drama at the heart of the story and the need to convey the political energy in Moscow during the six months following the women's arrest for their controversial performance in Russia's biggest cathedral. Along with studying trial films such as Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, I found myself thinking about many of the great politically engaged French documentaries of the 60s and 70s, in particular Chris Marker's LE JOLI MAI and A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT.  
Both PUSSY RIOT and THE NOTORIOUS MR. BOUT were, to a large extent, found footage films. In working with found footage, the central challenge is always how to bring an authorial voice to material that is not your own and was often produced for very different ends. In appropriating such material, I am often inspired by genre cinema and scenes from fiction films. In BOUT, the clearest example of this is a wedding scene that crosscuts between a wedding video and archival footage of tumult and uprising in Russia between 1991 and 1993. The scene takes as its inspiration the opening of Fassbinder's THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, which oscillates between a wedding and an aerial bombardment.
What's one Russian-language film and one non-Russian-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
One Russian film that I've appreciated more and more recently is Mikhail Romm's 1965 found footage masterpiece ORDINARY FASCISM (aka TRIUMPH OVER VIOLENCE). The film is compiled largely out of the bloopers from Hitler's propaganda newsreels and is by turn ghastly and hilarious. More than anything, it is a master class on the re-appropriation of footage.

I am a great admirer of Dusan Makavejev's work and would strongly recommend, especially to those familiar with his W.R.: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM and SWEET MOVIEan earlier film called INNOCENCE UNPROTECTED, which tries to reconstruct the first Serbian sound film, made by a strongman during Nazi occupation. Formally daring and an absolute joy to watch. 
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday. 

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