Please tell us about your background. What or who made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making Dubliner?
I was born in Russia in 1972 and lived in Moscow until 2003. Graduated from the Moscow Academy of Oil and Gas with the diploma of an engineer and interpreter in 1994. Since 2003 I have been living mostly abroad, implementing my creative ideas in various fields, i.e. art exhibitions, musical events and now it’s filmmaking.
I had been working in advertising for 9 years in good agencies in Moscow, that gave me an idea of a video production. I have always been a frequenter at the Moscow Museum of Cinema to see the classics, my parents and my family always loved cinema and I was fascinated by it too.
Which filmmakers or films influenced you and your filmmaking?
Jim Jarmusch, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrey Tarkovsky.
Where did the idea for the film come from? Could you talk a bit about Stephen Keenan and why you decided to make this film?
Stephen Keenan was a close friend of mine, I have met him in 2008 when he first came to Dahab (Sinai, Egypt) after his travels in Africa. Stephen was the man who knew no fear and was always there for you. You can find one like him out of a million, a true best friend for many. Besides that, he has become a star in freediving and the best safety diver on the planet, people from all over the world were learning freediving with him.
When Steve died in July 2017, his family and friends from all over the world were heartbroken and no one could believe that he is gone. Many people were sharing their amazing adventures/memories of Steve, it was endless, and hard to read through the tears.
When I came back to Dahab later on in 2017, I had a conversation with a common friend of ours Sinem Uretmen, Turkish photographer, model and performer, she took part in my events when we all lived in Dahab. She said, “Make a film about Steve. You can do it. And if you won’t be able to finish it, someone will do it for you”. So I did… All the pain I had is in the film, I managed to transform the grief into creative process. He lived and died as a hero, his life deserved making a film, and somebody had to make it, I felt on the mission somehow…
I have organized Steve’s photo exhibition ”Dark continent” in 2009 covering his 3 year travels through Africa, and he was always proud that we have done that.
Dubliner is considered to be a Docufiction. What does it mean? Additionally, how much of the film is based on facts and how much of it is your own added content?
Docufiction is a combination of fiction and documentary.
There are a few dreams of mine about Steve in the film, this is a fiction part.
The rest, 85-90% of the film is documentary filmed in Ireland, Egypt, Italy and Vietnam, where all the facts are real.
I understand that this is your debut film. What were the challenges that you faced when making Dubliner? Tell us about the production and your experiences of making the film.
I have worked in advertising before, so I had an idea of the filming, production, and post production process, but I never had an idea of making a film before my friend Stephen died. First, I called a friend in Moscow, a film director, asking him if he is interested to do it. He goes “Do you have a budget?” “No…” “So, just do it yourself, start making it. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask ” “And I did so, I am very grateful for his support and encouragement.
What is your creative process when making a film? Starting from the scripts to the final stages of the post-production.
I did not have a script. First, I had a few dreams on Steve, I remember them well.
We first staged, filmed, and edited 3 of my dreams, they were like milestones. One in the beginning, one at the end, one in the middle of the“Dubliner”(the festival version does not contain the Dream in the cellar, but Director’s cut does). In the meanwhile, we started to film the interviews. Luckily, I have met a talented young French cameraman Bastien Clément, who has understood my idea so well, so almost every of his shots was better than I could imagined. I felt blessed. We were in the flow, and you always feel that… I have only invited those people for the interviews who wanted to be in the film and were keen to do it, that’s why they are so real, so natural in front of the camera.
Daniel Isichenko, gifted Russian cameraman helped me to film most of the Egyptian part of the film including the dreams and we inspiringly have edited them together…
When all the documentary part was filmed and the dreams edited I went to Moscow to complete the editing of entire film in the studio of a friend where I had to provide an editing list with exact time codes… I was not ready for that… We have eventually edited the film with Den Mantrov, and “Dubliner” has gradually appeared as a magical collage, or a puzzle where everything has come in place in its time. It has been a great experience indeed. Den Mantrov has subsequently become one of the co-producers of the“Dubliner”. Irish co-producer Gary Walshe has helped a lot with arranging filming in Ireland, as well as in establishing connections with Irish musicians whose music was eventually used in the film.
I think it’s important to mention, that most of the cameramen would not charge anything for their work, doing it in the bright memory of Stephen Keenan.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom?
Well, of course it’s important to have at least some funds just to make a film, to be able to work with talented people you choose, applying the best of the creativity, experience and taste. The rest – is not so relevant…
I have just completed my third film with no budget whatsoever, and I have to say it’s an achievement! It feels like I am in the train that never stops before the film is completed. It stops shortly, just to change platforms), and start a new one…
Independent filmmaking allows you to work with people you like, with non-professional actors, showing and doing their very best, it allows you to avoid unnecessary complications on approval certain things with producers. You are free to do whatever you want. Just a bit of money to make it happen is needed.
Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed?
The “Dubliner” has been selected at more than 30 film festivals in the world: in the States, Germany, Canada, Italy, Turkey, India etc… and has received 7 awards. This is amazing! I am happy the story of Stephen Keenan has found its audience and it’s been liked by many.
What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?
When the rough cut was complete, I have sent it first to Steve’s father, Peter Keenan, who called me 2 days later, all in tears, saying how beautiful the film was and thanks to it he feels his son being alive. I think it’s the best response that you can hear.
I have had amazing feedback elsewhere, and I am very grateful for that. In addition to the numerous selections at the film festivals, I would have liked to receive some money prize for the “Dubliner”, that would allow me to implement my new ideas right now, without looking for funds and attracting co - producers.
Please tell us about your future project(s). Will you be following the same path or are you planning to move to other genres?
I have made two films after “Dubliner”, a folktale “The Giant Turnip” you can find it on Youtube.
It was filmed in Egypt and edited in Cambodia.
My recent film that has been produced in Cambodia, KAMPOT LA VILLE LIBRE/KAMPOT the FREE TOWN (54 min, 2021) with truly global production (France/Russia/Belgium/UK/China/Lithuania/Colombia/Turkey/Spain/Italy/Ireland/Japan).
This film is a musical postcard of freedom to the world. The footage was recorded in Kampot, Cambodia in the spring - autumn of 2020, where we had a chance to experience the ultimate freedom, when the whole world was on lockdown.
The film depicts the epic year 2020, this moment was needed to capture! (I felt on the mission again, like with the “Dubliner”), so I did it with the help of cameramen, co-producers, editors and musicians living in Kampot, Cambodia. I would like to personally thank Erentug Turan (Turkey) and Sam Osborn (UK) aka wAgAwAgA, they are both musicians, DJs and editors, for their effort and talent; and Luc Lenvain and Den Mantrov for being 2 major co-producers of the film (among a few others) for their support.
PS KAMPOT LA VILLE LIBRE - This film is a docufiction too, where 95% is documentary, plus some staged scenes/ dance on the bridge…