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FLESH: An Interview with Anna Ponomarenko

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘FLESH. How did you start, and how did you learn to make films?

My name is Anna. I am the producer and director of the short film “FLESH”. This is my first actual film work which is still a kind of experiment. For me as an artist, video has always seemed to be a very powerful medium. Before I was engaged in video art works with my friend Maria Berezhnaya, a very talented camera women and cinematographer. We both were driven by the idea of embodying our vision through video. But I think everything really started from my interest in dance performance, improvisation, and theater. I was a co-founder of the experimental theater “NITI” at the moment and was very excited about what we were doing on stage, about our principles and methods. So my first work as a director was a promo video for this theater in which I tried to bring those principles and methods into shooting which is more about creating a situation and a certain mood for people to open up in front of a camera and not about trying to tell them what to do. After that, I tried to use my vision and principles in making video work for an art exhibition with a series of sculptures made by Alyona Kalyanova. In this micro-film called “Projectors”, we use the concept of the project, the core ideas connecting sculptures to create a reflection of those ideas by means of performance and visual language.

Tell us about ‘FLESH’. How do you describe it?

“FLESH” was another project of theater “NITI” and I worked on it together with Veronika Gurina, the theater director. So we put together our ideas and expertise in different areas to make it happen. Experiments with performance were continued in this work. But this time I tried to put more visual metaphors into it connecting instruments we use in performance with movie language. The main idea was to record individual stories of actresses, but record it one-on-one with the camera without witnesses and in the absence of sound recording. So it allowed heroines to express their fears or suppressed emotions. We were not programming them and didn’t know really what finally would come out of it. To tell the truth, some of the actresses spoke a lot during those silent interviews and some kind of mumble. But we’ve never used fragments with speech and concentrated more on body language, something in between words that connects all those stories on a deeper emotional level. All other scenes followed the interviews in the shooting process and were supposed to wrap them with kind of metaphorical, archetypical images. It was still improvisation but in some symbolic settings.

The beauty of this improvisation process for me which is not exactly planned is that you always have space for something important to happen that can’t be predicted or be part of a fixed scenario. On the contrary, in a more determined process, you may just miss those godsends. And for me, it’s a very huge part of the creative process itself - to let it happen, despite of course all the hard work that should be done.

Veronika Gurina, Anna Ponomarenko

Please tell us about your favorite filmmakers.

It’s probably too many of them. And it’s hard to choose and even remember everybody. But I can say that Andrei Tarkovsky affected me a lot when I was young and absorbed in all kinds of films and afterward I was also influenced by his philosophy. Later I was impressed by David Lynch, Lars von Trier, David Cronenberg, Darren Aronofsky, and Gaspar Noé. All very different and with their unique way of thinking and speaking to the world.

Also, I can't help but mention Vincent Gallo. His work became an inspiration for me about how you can make a great movie all by yourself.

If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

If I were given a good budget I would certainly assemble a great team and pay everybody generously. And it’s not about scale, because the scale isn’t about quality necessarily in my strong opinion. Besides I’m very minimalistic, but the light and the sound, and of course the people are so very important. I would like to use good equipment as well as work with professional technical specialists and talented artists. From my point of view, making a movie is all about teamwork, trust, and enthusiasm. And the more money you have the less people involved need to suffer from extra responsibilities. So in my ideal project, I would have a person for every job and we would have time because everybody is paid for it, nobody needs to work 24 hours, and everybody has a good sleep and good meal and a good mood - to dedicate themself fully to what we are doing. And the same for the postproduction stage. For example, you can’t create good music if you constantly need to concentrate on other things. In the end, I believe a good budget is about creating good conditions for work first of all.

What was the hardest part of making ‘FLESH’?

The hardest part of making “FLESH” was that we had only three days for shooting as everybody had other occupations in life. And it was hard to agree even those three days. Also, we had a lot of ambitious ideas about shooting itself but a very small budget so together with the cinematographer we needed to decide what would be really essential for our story and what would take a lot of effort but would have a small impact after all. Besides all that contemplation and preparation beforehand we still were forced to make everyday decisions considering the weather or someone's illness or technical issues. In addition, I had a desire to organize this process as a fun adventure for our team. But after all, it was fun and there were adventures and we used all our knowledge and creativity to squeeze the best out of what we had.

Postproduction and especially editing became a new challenge of course. For this kind of work similar to work with documentary materials editing is a process where the meaning is finally taking shape. So it takes a lot of cogitation and focus.

If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

Now I’m working on a project called “Fragile” in collaboration with Maria Berezhnaya and Olga Kovaleva. It is performance-based and dedicated to the fragility and delicacy of human nature in its both mental and physical forms. We look at the dualism of what we call humane and what we call mechanic and soulless although both can nest in the same community and even in the same person. The work explores the premonition of violence and the irreversibility of destructive events. It’s metaphorical and supposed to pose questions rather than give answers.

The project was conceived as a video performance for multi-screen installation and we are looking for a gallery to place it. But also we are planning to make a short film edition.


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