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Why cinematographers say locations in Murmansk Region are filmmakers’ paradise

For moviemakers the Polar Region is the place, where they may find whatever they may need, leader of the regional center for cinematography development Svetlana Soldatova noted

MOSCOW, September 14. /TASS/. Over recent hundred years, movie makers have chosen locations in the Murmansk Region for 120 films. Directors from Central Russia tend to pick locations near the Polar Circle. What attracts them? The Far North’s harsh views and the unique nature on the Kola Peninsula, or the logistics, technical opportunities, or the inspiration. We have talked to those who develop the moviemaking industry in the region and who come there to film movies.

Deep reality

"Last year, in the Murmansk Region were made five projects in different genres, however none of them has been presented to the public. This year, we have finalized the sixth project - to continue the Black Sea series - The Barents Sea. The production began in early August," leader of the regional center for cinematography development Svetlana Soldatova told TASS.

Right now, in Teriberka, continues production of four projects: Fog, a psycho thriller, short movies My North and On Bones, and a drama titled Three Minutes of Silence.

Svetlana is adamant: for moviemakers the Polar Region is the place, where they may find whatever they may need.

"Houses, without exterior insulation, which make scenes of historical movies, small villages like Mishukovo, Ura-Guba, where the time seems to have stopped, various terraces, hills, lakes, unique technical equipment, and, surely, the accessible Arctic, which is only two hours by plane from Moscow," Svetlana said.

Galina Lifanova, general director of the Gamma company in Moscow, has been working in moviemaking for 18 years. The Murmansk Region has overwhelmed her, she said.

"We are filled with inspiration from the days we have spent on the Kola Peninsula. First of all, from the nature: remarkable lakes, the endless tundra. Everything strikes as absolutely unique," she said, unable to hide emotions.

Together with a delegation of Russian producers she has come to the Far North to pick locations. All the producers have highlighted the convenient logistics and good roads in the Murmansk Region.

"Here are two airports - in Murmansk and in Apatity, a railroad, any equipment could be brought by car. Here are hotels, affordable food in cafes," said participants in the group, which featured well-known script writers Vera Sher (Mysteries of Investigation), Igor Ter-Karapetov (Sky on Fire, Fortuneteller), author and director Alexander Kazakevich (Neofit Studios, Moscow), who works for the Culture television channel, well-known Galina Lifanova - Director General of the Gamma Production Studios (Moscow), as well as Svetlana Stasenko - a director at the Passazhir studios - she has chosen a location in Kandalaksha for a new movie.

"This is not my first voyage to the Murmansk Region, here I’ve made two docu movies, one of which will be presented this autumn. This region has surprised me so much, that I have written a script for a regular movie, so that to make the movie here, because I must say these places suit best to tell about the Russian character, about the Russian personality. The region expresses so clearly our nature, that, I believe, we do not need to search for any deep, expressive sets," Stasenko said.

Svetlana Soldatova shares this opinion. "Our nature - harsh, northern - helps to reveal the character. It’s a different story when a person goes through hardship in a very comfortable environment, at some beach in Sochi, and in our case, the stories are rather like in the "Survived" or in "How I Ended This Summer". We show the tundra, when everything seems to be opposing, and thus it highlights the strength. The current demand is for the heroes who overcome every-day and natural conditions," she said.

More than strong character

The Murmansk Region is a wonderful setting to make movies not only about severe hardships. The nature there is so rich, and it takes a few hours by car to get from the old village on the Barents Sea - Teriberka, where Leviafan was made, to Kirovsk, which in Mystery of Dyatlov Ridge was filmed to show Siberian towns Vizhai and Ivdel.

"Here, in a complex, you may find anything - the Kola Peninsula is like a macro pavilion, where any movie may be made. Here were produced the Dead Lake mysterious series, the Kola Superdeep horror movie was also made here, as well as documentaries, dramas, take again Zvyagintsev’s Leviafan, many movies about the war (World War II), like, for example, Rogozhkin’s Kukushka (Cuckoo)," said Svetlana Soldatova, whose center in Murmansk assists the producers who come to film movies in the region.

Murmansk center for cinematography development

Only a few years ago, such a center did not exist in the Murmansk region. However, the demand from visiting filmmakers for local experts was only growing, and it was apparent such a center must exist.

"Here should have been people, who could help the visiting producers and direct them. We have connections, we have grown here, and, surely, we know a lot about what people coming from Moscow or St. Petersburg even do not have a slightest idea," Soldatova said.

Producer Svetlana Stasenko remembered how one of her documentaries, produced near the Arctic Circle, was at stake.

"Without the producer center, the movie was not possible. I came here with incorrect papers, and Svetlana Soldatova was here next to me, adjusting everything, rewriting the applications, and in the long run the movie was made, and I am not ashamed for what I’ve produced," Stasenko said.

"People, working in the Murmansk center, speak the language we speak," continues Galina Lifanova. "Those are people, caring for production, knowing it. It is easy to work with them, we even have consulted them at the stage of scripts for the movies we plan to produce on the Kola Peninsula next year. Imagine surfing the net, or when you simply make a call, ask a question, and they help you, liaise with the people, this is great."

Technical opportunities

It is not a problem to find people in the Murmansk Region, who can be helpful in filming. Producers from the capital cities say it is not a big deal to staff a second crew there.

"Those could be light technicians, assistant directors, cameramen; in the Murmansk Region there are a few theaters, from which it is possible to borrow background actors, or extras. Our company, Gamma, has filmed a few movies here, and we have used local actors very actively. It is quite possible to be bringing from Moscow or St. Petersburg the minimum crew, and get the rest here," Galina Lifanova said.

Svetlana Soldatova agrees with Galina. "For the locals it is most interesting. No wonder - to work face to face with celebrities. Recently, when we were filming the Barents Sea, a Murmansk radio presenter became a swing for Ekaterina Vilkova - that was unique experience."

Polar day and magic hour shooting

The locals may receive unique experience of acting. No less experience receive the producers who come from other regions: only here they can experience the Polar Day. In summer, the Sun remains above the horizon and, thus, it is never dark.

Galina Lifanova laughs saying due to that phenomenon producers (it’s a joke!) are happy to keep actors awake and have them work round the clock.

On a serious note, the polar day has great advantages - the outdoor shooting, which normally is very limited in time, here could last endlessly. Cinematographers love this time, calling it magic time.

"I keep thinking about lighting directors. They would have got marveled. This time, the magic hour, our favorite time - twilights, half-evening, the fantastic state, and when Zvyagintsev came to make Leviafan here, he was set to be shooting during that magic hour," said Director Svetlana Stasenko, and Galina Lifanova added: "When in the south, this condition continues for hardly 20 minutes, within which we must manage to prepare and film everything, and here this condition stays for probably six hours. This is unique. The magic hour is endless here."

"It’s impossible to set light of this kind in a pavilion, this is our natural lighting, very Scandinavian, low-key, low and nearly horizontal shades, which emerge at the time when the Sun gives light at night," Svetlana Soldatova said, finishing the conversation: the Murmansk Region loves cinematography, and cinematography loves the Murmansk Region.

In place of epilogue

The most popular movies, filmed in the Murmansk Region are: Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviafan, Alexander Rogozhkin’s Cuccoo, Finnish Renny Harlin’s Dyatlov Pass Incident, the Dead Lake series with Evgeny Tsyganov, Deep Bay with Ivan Oganesyan, and many others. A new line on that list is Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment Number 6 (Finland), which has scooped the Grand Prix award at the Cannes film festival in 2021.