Interview with Carlos Mugiro, the curator of a documentary retrospective Ver Sin Vertov (Without Vertov) La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain
Carlos Mugiro: - If I'm not wrong, your father worked as editor in Kiev. How do you remember his work when you were a child? Did you go sometime to the studio? Had he any influence in your vocation?
Andrei Zagdansky: - Yes, my father was editor-in-chief of a film studio. And it seems that all the people who used to come over to our place in Kiev talked about films. As a kid visiting the studio, I remember the smell of newly developed film. I wanted this smell to be a part of my grownup life.
And of course, my father strongly opposed my career choice.
CM.: - After the meeting "The Legacy of Vertov and Flaherty" in Riga (September 1990), Scott McDonald wrote: "I was particularly impressed with the films of Victor Kossakovsky , Andrei Zagdansky and Arthur Peleshian". Do you consider yourself as a part of a non-fiction tradition? I talking specially about the revolutionary Soviet filmmakers of the twenties?
AZ.: – I’ve been always interested in exploring this thin border line between fiction and non-fiction in film. I am very aware of the fictitious element in any non-fiction film, and this awareness is probably part of my aesthetics.
I have a great deal of respect for “direct documentary” which appears to be a predominant mode in non-fiction film in the United States and very talented filmmakers who work in this direction, but this is not my cup of tea.
As for the revolutionary Soviet filmmakers of the twenties I doubt I have any real affinity with them.
CM.: - I'm also thinking in Surrealism (Buñuel and so on). There's a fascinating idea of provocation to the spectator in your film The interpretation of Dreams that makes me think in that relationship. Do you feel close to Surrealism?
AZ.: - I take this one as compliment. Lois Buñuel is my all time favorite film maker/ auteur.
CM.: - What was the genesis of The Interpretation of Dreams? How long did you take the making of the film? How was the process? Was your first project after leaving the Institute of the Arts?
AZ.: - “Interpretation of Dreams” was not my first project, but my first feature documentary.
I went into production with a very weak script. For financial reasons if we wanted our little production company to survive, we had to move it into production no matter what. I rewrote the script during preproduction – not a very uncommon occurrence – based on two major concepts: Soundtrack is my imagined conversation with Dr. S. Freud. Visually film is a journey in time starting from the invention of the cinema - Br. Lumieres’ “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” – 1895.
Of course, Sigmund Freud published his ground breaking Interpretation of Dreams in 1896.
It took me two months of frantic reading - Freud’s works, and no less frantic researching - archival footage, to finish the script. I remember my friend and story editor Yuri Makarov was very helpful.
And of course we were lucky to strike a deal with ORF (Austrian TV). They arranged for our shoot in the Freud’s apartment in Vienna and some essential archival footage. I think the film was completed in eight months.
CM.: - How did you have access to Sigmund Freud's ideas? Were his books allowed in the Soviet Union? Do you find his influence in other of your films?
AZ.: - Freud’s works were published in the Soviet Union before 1928/29. And some big libraries had these works in so called “special”, closed to general public, funds. As a film student and later as a filmmaker I could get access to these funds.
I think I never read Freud’s works after this.
But I read Freud’s correspondence with Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein.
I even planned to make a film about this curious triangle, but never succeeded in raising production funds. Of course, since that a number of films about this amazing story were made.
CM.: - Are your latest films, in some way, a map of your own personal experience? Do you keep any kind of filmed diary, similar to those shot by Jonas Mekas? What's your idea of filmmaking?
AZ.: - In a way every film is a map of a personal experience. The distinction is only to what degree. “Six Days” is a result of my personal experience in the most direct way – what I saw and felt in New York City after the September 11th attack.
“Vasya” is a film about an artist and his fate, and one can draw numerous parallels. I do keep video diary, the question is when I am brave and resolute enough to turn all this into a film.
CM.: - How do you understand the relation with the spectator? Non-fiction is, in your opinion, a subversive form of art?
AZ.: - Non-fiction can be everything, including subversion. If you live in totalitarian society your options are very limited, and subversion seems like a right choice.
CM.: - In the United States you have directed Vasya. Are you interested in the idea of exile? Have you ever had that feeling of exile?
AZ.: - I’ve never thought of myself as an exile per se, but I am aware of my composite identity.
CM: - Talking about the feeling of the native land: Alexander Dovzhenko died in 1956, fifty years ago. Did you see his films when you were young? Was his name popular among the spectators and filmmakers?
AZ.: - Alexander Dovzhenko was an appointed Soviet Filmmaker Saint, a “must” in film history. Heavily censored and polished by the communist propaganda machine. Thus - distant and somewhat boring. This is a shame. Years later when I saw his “Earth” without any rebellious prejudice, I discovered a major work of art, beautiful and brave. But that was my personal discovery and I owe nothing to my former teachers.
June 2005, Madrid - New York