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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Oct. 23, 2009 | 2:21 PM

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An Interview with Director Dmitry Trakovsky

“In 1987, a year after Tarkovsky’s death, Dmitry Trakovsky and his parents emigrated from Russia to the United States, where he grew up feeling a special relationship to the images, sounds, and themes in Tarkovsky’s films. Here, he goes in search of other lives affected by the auteur’s work: collaborators Erland Josephson and Domiziana Giordano, friends Krzysztof Zanussi and Franco Terilli, an Orthodox priest, and even the director’s son, Andrei Andreevich Tarkovsky. The result is a touching, highly personal and provocative record of the lingering effects of Tarkovsky on an extraordinary range of individuals.”

When did you first become interested in film?

Naturally, I have been watching movies since I was a kid.  It wasn’t until sixteen or seventeen, however, that I realized the difference between film as entertainment and film as art.  Once I immersed myself in the latter world, there was no exit.  At the age of nineteen, I ditched plans to become a doctor and began making my first feature, Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky.

How did you first come to see the films of Andrei Tarkovsky?

My parents emigrated from Russia to the United States when I was three. They often watched Tarkovsky’s films while I was a child.  Though at that time, I was more interested in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the like, I detected an aura emanating from Tarkovsky’s work. Perhaps, I was subconsciously drawn to the culture that my family had abandoned.  Or perhaps I intuited that films like Andrei Rublev or Nostalghia addressed metaphysical issues that would preoccupy me later. In any case, my initial contact with Tarkovsky’s work happened at an early age, but it took years before I began to experience his films in a more deliberate way.

What sort of connection did you feel to his work?

Of course there was a feeling of cultural identification. The films offered a look into the inner world of my motherland.  But more importantly, I felt that Tarkovsky’s work gave me a sense of spiritual certainty—that there is more to life than meets the eye.  As a teenager, I found this enormously appealing since I was coping with the realities of life and death for the first time. 

As a Russian, do you feel that increased your understanding of him?

Actually, I don’t think it’s that important to speak Russian or be Russian in order to understand these films.  For in each one, the poetic potential is so vast that even if one doesn’t grasp the linguistic subtleties, there is always something else to be found.  In other words, these are multifaceted artworks. The Russian element is only one among many parts. Other elements include: the music, the atmosphere, the unique sense of rhythm Tarkovsky achieves in his films; and, most importantly, the depiction of time itself.  Each of these components fuse together to create a web of poetic and spiritual depth that is appreciable to any sensitive viewer.  Moreover, my work on Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky has led me to encounter enthusiasts from all over the world.  I would even say that there are more Tarkovsky lovers (per capita) in Brazil, Turkey, or Romania than there are in Russia. 

When did you decide to make this film?

I was a sophomore at UC Santa Cruz at the time, studying biology and art history.  In one of my art history classes, I had the opportunity to make a short film about The Vimalakirti Sutra, an important Buddhist text.  My professor liked the film and suggested that I apply for a grant.  I pitched the idea for a documentary about Tarkovsky and, luckily, the university approved the project.  Little did I know that the funds would cover only about 5% of production cost, but still…  It was one of the best things to ever happen to me!

What were some of the challenges or difficulties you faced during production?

There were so many.  Every part of filmmaking is riddled with obstacles.  These included: a snowstorm that kept me from interviewing the Russian director Alexander Sokurov in Switzerland, a lost tape, a crazy person that started a fire outside of my room in a hostel in Sweden—the list goes on and on.  After the film was finished, I was quickly introduced to problems of a different order: legal concerns, rights issues, financial worries…

Has the film played well on the festival circuit?

The film opened at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival in Brazil, where it was awarded a Jury Special Mention.  After that, it screened at Leeds, Bratislava, Gothenburg, Cape Winelands in South Africa, Arad in Romania, and Message to Man in St. Petersburg.  The US Premiere took place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where the film was granted the highest honor: sharing the screen with Tarkovsky’s own films during a retrospective of his work.

What other films and filmmakers inspire you?

My favorite living filmmaker is Nuri Bilge Ceylan.  His recent films include Climates (2002), Distant (2006), and Three Monkeys (2008).  I would also recommend Clouds of May (1999), which depicts the filming of an independent movie in a small Turkish town. It is a film that feels very humble and effortlessly profound, like the rest of Ceylan’s work.  For me, it’s important that a filmmaker treats the cinematic medium as an art form with its own, unique expressive qualities.  This means that it is not enough to tell a compelling story through images… why do that when the same could be achieved through words? Instead, cinema has to portray time itself, and do so in an honest and compelling way.  If this is achieved, the film opens itself up to the viewer and so much becomes possible… 

What are you working on for your next project?

In a week, I’m moving to New York where I’ll begin filming a short documentary about a concert violinist.  After that is done, I hope to put my money where my mouth is and begin shooting a fiction film, one that will abide by the rules that I have come to love in the work of other directors, such as Tarkovsky or Ceylan.  This is a challenge that I am looking forward to very much!

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  1. It’s only earlier this year I’ve seen Tarkovsky’s films and so far seen too, The Mirror and Andrei Rublev, the second one staying with me for awhile.

    It’s great in this day and age to expose yourself to the great masters of world cinema.  Last Sunday, Scorsese mentioned a handful in his Golden Globes acceptance speech and it’s a pity not more people think the way he does.

    Still, the best way to just enjoy and have fun while transporting yourself to different times and cultures.

    Posted by James J Cremin on 01/21 at 08:44 AM