INTERVIEWS | FILMMAKER SERIES
By: Robert Misovic Jun-15-2017
The greatest challenge for a filmmaker is finding their audience. Films that receive mixed reviews in one territory are often given rave reviews in another. Do you expect the reaction in North America to be different from the reaction in Europe? If so, why?
To be honest, I think that many people in the film business and I guess in all businesses suffer from a herd-mentality. When a film is doing well, or is expected to do well because of popular filmmaker or cast, or because it debuted well at a film festival, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and give it the thumbs-up. It takes much more to have an unknown film viewed, let alone positively reviewed by people working for prestigious media.
This film has had a very unusual provenance. It was suppressed in Russia by the Ministry of Culture and then by the international film festival circuit because it was released at a time when Russia had invaded Ukraine and festivals were not selecting Russian films.
So, it’s now coming to the international market at last. It came from nowhere and so far the reception has been bewildering. Many of the reviews have been ecstatic, but we haven’t yet reached a wide market yet. I think the reaction has the potential to be pretty amazing, but only if we can keep up the momentum and keep the film alive on what is a tiny marketing budget.
While Irishman Johnny O'Reilly is a graduate of NYU, he's spent over a decade in Russia and is fluent in the language. His film Moscow Never Sleeps takes place over 24 hours on Moscow City Day, and captures several loosely connected stories in an engaging fast-paced larger than life film about a city most of the world knows very little about.
It's almost difficult to imagine that a film of this size and magnitude with a cast of some of Russia's biggest names could be made for 3.4 million dollars. It's even harder to imagine that more people haven't heard about it. As O'Reilly describes in his interview, the film wound up in a sort of No-Man's-Land; too anti-Russian for the Russian government, and too Russian for the world at a time when Russia had just invaded Ukraine.
A little over 21 months after it premiered in Russia, the film is being released in the United States. We caught up with O'Reilly ahead of the Los Angeles release of the film.
From the Trailer, the opening credit sequence, and the almost omniscient smoothness of every shot, this film feels enormous. The production value actually feels like something that heavyweights like Nolan and Fincher might direct. While this size, scope and ambition is commonplace in Hollywood, it is seldom seen coming out of European films. How were you able to achieve this?
In all my films, I’ve tried to make the most of a small budget and have looked for opportunities to shoot things on the cheap. What I did with Moscow Never Sleeps was effectively apply guerrilla filmmaking techniques to a larger budget. All it required was a bit more time spent on locations, logistics and planning.
I had three crews working simultaneously on Moscow City day in order to capture the large crowds of people. I worked with a big number of extras, but usually positioned them as the first tier in a real, crowded environment such as public parks, or streets, so that large groups of people in the distance were in the frame, but not part of our filming group.
I also shot in many places without permission, such as the Moscow’s subway system. And I negotiated many of the locations deals myself. Time equals money on many projects. I had the luxury of planning this film out properly and had the time to visit locations myself and use the “Irish” card to extract discounts and friendly deals wherever we filmed.
As an Irish filmmaker, what made you want to shoot a film not only IN Moscow, but about Moscow?
With 15 millon inhabitants, Moscow is the biggest city in Europe. It’s the capital of the world’s biggest country and it’s geographically about as far from London as Athens is. But nobody ever goes there. Having lived half my adult life in Russia, I’m very aware of how little people outside the country know about it.
Unfortunately, all the information received about Russia in the West is filtered through geopolitics. Most of what people know about Russia is limited to Putin, vodka, spies and prostitutes. So I always felt that international audiences needed to be shown a more nuanced view of Russia and Russian people – something that conveys what life is like behind the geopolitical curtain.
Sasha K. Gordon Q&A. From Odessa to New York City
The political climate in the U.S has thrust Russia into the forefront of the North American consciousness for the first time since the Cold War. How do you feel this impacts how the film will be received in North America?
Never before has there been such an impact by a foreign country on U.S democracy, so audiences are more curious about Russia than ever before. Of course, many Americans are antipathetic towards Russia, but I try to make the point both in the film and in my discussions that normal Russian people should not be made answerable for the actions of their government, anymore than Americans should be for Donald Trump.
There has not been free or fair elections in Russia, so it doesn’t follow that everything that Putin does is supported by Russian people. One of the stories in the film exposes Russian government corruption so I’m hoping that US audiences will appreciate the film for both conveying the humanity of Russian people and the cynicism of the Russian government.
Aleksey Serebryakov is one of the premiere actors in Russia. Were you aware of his work prior to casting him, and what made him an ideal fit for the role of Anton?
Aleksey is one of the best Russian actors of his generation. To put it simply, I was aware of the scale of his talent and knew he would bring something special to the role. Aleksey is also well known in Russia as an “actor in exile” who has publicly disparaged the policies of the Russian government and taken his family to Toronto to bring them up in a country he felt more comfortable in. I know he would relate to the role I wrote for him, given that the character is forced into exile by predatory government officials trying to take over his business.
Johnny O'Reilly: “I’m hoping that U.S audiences will appreciate the film for both conveying the humanity of Russian people and the cynicism of the Russian government. "
In 2010, a video surfaced online of a girl throwing puppies into a river in Bosnia. It sparked rage online with people protesting that the girl should face legal consequences, jail time, or even death for her actions. This went as far as director Michael Bay offering $50,000 in exchange for her capture. The girl in the video was 12 years old. The story is the subject of Ben’s first feature film Find this Dumb Bitch and Throw her in the River.
Meet Sasha K. Gordon, the star of David Bezmozgis' film Natasha, and one of the more talked about actresses of 2017 due to her stellar work in the film. As Natasha heads for a theatrical release in New York on April 28th, we caught up with Sasha and talked about her character, the film, her upcoming off-broadway play Terezin, and her interesting journey from Odessa, Ukraine to New York City.
I can only assume after such a triumphant technical achievement that people are lining up at your door with projects. What is next for you?
People in the industry are still not aware of this film. It hasn’t had its full impact yet, but we’re working hard to push it out there so it still might hit. In the meantime, I’m starting the cycle again with a new project – a dark comedy about undertakers set in Dublin.
Robert is a screenwriter and writer for Pensare Films Media. He loves cinema in all its glory. Follow Robert Misovic on Facebook for more Film Reviews and Film Festival-related goodies
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