We talked to Aleksandra about what young Belarusian filmmakers lack to make our cinema interesting to the audience.

Project Citizen Journalism

Aleksandra Butor is a Belarusian filmmaker of a new generation. She had directed state-funded films at a state-owned film studio and later decided to produce new works on her own.

We talk with Aleksandra about her film school Territory of Cinema, her first experience as a producer and what young Belarusian filmmakers lack to make our cinema interesting to the audience.

— What does your film school mean for you today? What was your aim when you opened it?

— In this season, I found more time for the school, because it’s not just a film school. My students and I have made our first movie. I opened this place to raise my own team. I mean not only a film crew, but also artists, especially small ones. It’s really difficult to find small children who have both a talent and an understanding of the production process – they are not distracted by the camera, understand what a filming location is, how they should move in the frame, where the light is.

We even don’t organise castings for children outside our school. Some take it as offence, but I don’t need castings because I work with these kids, I know what they can do. If you take someone from the street, it’s very difficult to work with them.

This is my self-interest in the film school – I want to raise my own team and turn the project into a film company.

As for the general situation, I am concerned about the state of culture and cinematography in our country. I often attend so called independent screenings of films by people who make movies with their own money, outside Belarusfilm studio, without state support. For some time, I was happy to see the mere fact of this movement in our industry. But the more I saw it, the less progress I noticed. The national competition at the latest Listapad film festival was the last straw.

I can accept it when I watch diploma works by students of the Academy of Arts: I watch students’ works where mistakes and faults are natural. They are studying. But when the international festival screens amateur projects and represent them as real cinema, I feel fear. For cinema and culture in general.

Authors of these films believe they are established filmmakers and know everything. They don’t care about their development and study. It’s a dead end.

— Did you try to talk to them?

— I tried to talk to these guys, but it resulted into pure ambitions instead of a conversation of professionals. A filmmaker who cannot answer what his film is about is not a filmmaker for me. Any journalist can ask the author about it, there’s nothing offensive. But if people find it offensive, they probably don’t have the answer. What I see on the screen are ridiculous, blurred, indistinct utterances.

I once was at Khrustalev’s [RTR Belarus TV channel, the show What’s Going On – editor] TV show together with Sukmanov, the organiser of Listapad festival. He said we were a closed country, and that’s why the situation was so bad. These words shocked me. Go to YouTube and watch lessons by great masters – actors, filmmakers, – read interviews, watch backstages.

When I was studying in the Academy for the first time, which was in the late 1990s, we had no internet, mobile phones or access to books. I remember that my fellow student Max Subbotin brought a small book about screenwriting from Moscow, and we formed queues to take it just for one night to make notes. We endlessly watched films, trying to explore editing, to understand how the camera and actors tell the story…

We wanted to study! We wanted to understand why wonderful films were created, how to learn to make them. Now everything is available, but people don’t use it. It looks like they reinvent the wheel every time and boast it.

These children come on stage to present their films to the audience and cannot put two words together, but they later write Facebook posts full of resentment.

I hate this superficial approach to work and inner emptiness. I probably can understand organisers of the festival – they have to represent Belarusian cinema in some way, at least with this set of amateur movies, create the impression that Belarusian cinema exists and develops. But it is a false impression.

— But just a desire is not enough to change the current situation. Do you have a step by step action plan?

— I have ambitions to change the situation. But I can do it only through my works or through sharing my experience with someone, so that their works could change something. What concerns commercial issues, the school is my independence. I value freedom more than anything. I’d better receive less money, but have freedom to live and work comfortably. To keep it and develop, I need to give some time to the school.

Also, I work hard to raise the bar of the film school. Creating your own feature film is a serious step in this direction. Each new season must be one level higher than the previous one. It means I have no time to stop, no time to rest, no time to be afraid. I must do something. Move. Grow.

— Have you thought of employing someone to perform management tasks instead of you and devoting yourself only to production?

— I dream of a serious educational institution offering deep knowledge in screenwriting, directing, acting. My small film school is only the beginning. Of course, I will need a bigger team later, but even now I have people I can entrust with tasks relating to the school.

I also have responsibilities as a film producer, who must not just finish the production, but also promote and sell the movie to earn money for the next project.

— Can you name other film schools in our country that are worth the attention of students?

— Of course, I know many heads of schools. For example, Andrei Palupanau [the head of a film school – editor]. But I don’t know how he teaches. I didn’t attend his classes. I can judge only by his students’ works. To my regret, I haven’t seen any to impress me. But I probable haven’t seen all the works. Sometimes graduates of Palupanau’s school came to us. Sometimes our students go to Palupanau after our school. People have the right to try and choose. It’s normal.

— What about our Academy of Arts? I know you have students who study there. What do they lack? What makes them attend expensive private courses?

— I think they lack the foundation. I can’t say you shouldn’t study in our academy. It is the place where you have to do something, dig it, explore it, whether you want it or not. The Academy creates an atmosphere, but there’s no foundation. As a result, we have a very long independent way to the profession.

— How would you define the strong point of education offered by private schools?

— An education programme is always based on a personality. Speaking about me, I have an education and experience in various fields – all television genres, music videos, commercials, feature films, both commercial and state-funded. All scripts I wrote or co-wrote were turned into films. When film schools are opened as a place to hang out, it’s hard to say about a high level of education they offer. However, these entertainment projects have the right to be – bring likeminded people together, discuss and do something. But it’s not my way.

— Could you name the most remarkable recent events for you?

— It was the first time that I has served as a producer. No Entrance to Private Space is my first experience where I was responsible for everything.

Belarusfilm studio’s production process is rather poor, to put it mildly. In this situation you may lose your idea, because you have to make compromises.

For example, they don’t give you a steadicam the day you have tracking shots. Or they give you half of the light equipment you’ve ordered. Or they protract the preparation until snow melts when you need winter scenes. If you organise everything yourself, you know you will have a steadicam. And light equipment. And winter. Everything in their places in the way you’ve planned.

It’s the same with the promotion. The films White Dew. The Return and Vera's Sweet Farewell are owned by Belarusfilm. The studio decides how they are promoted and where. I can’t do anything. But I have rights to Private Space, so it’s only me who determines its destiny.

— Have you ever thought of trying your hand at working in the “top league” of cinema – America?

— The language barrier stops me. I have a wonderful script specially translated into English, but you still need the language to find an agent, to pitch your project.

I can shoot films there, but I want to promote them abroad. I’d like to try to work in another country, and I think I will do it sooner or later. For example, I dream of working in the Czech Republic in terms of film production. Barrandov Studio [a Czech film studio – editor] is one of the best film studios in the world at the moment. They have successfully adopted Hollywood techniques.

I also dream of including symphonic music into my film. It will be recorded in Germany, because Germany has cool recording studios.

If we speak about actors, I have a list of them. I adore Alisa Freindlich. The script that was translated into English was written for her. I hope I will have time to work with all artists I grew on. Or just be near them, listen to them, talk to them. It would be great. Today’s stars are what interests me the least.

— If you try to look several years ahead, how do you see yourself?

— I will be an absolutely free person with my own successful film company. It trains creative film professionals, makes films and produces talented people.

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