All news

Northern miracle: How a film about village life wins international festivals

Most films in Yakutia are in the native tongue and the local audience demonstrates a clear demand for it

MOSCOW, January 22. /TASS/. The Esquire's Russian version put on the list of 33 best films in 2017 a film, made by a village teacher. The magazine called the Bonfire film "another miracle from the Russian countryside."

Since 2016, the film has participated in festivals both in Russia and in South Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Latvia, Finland, and Kazakhstan. Now it participates in the Tromso (Norway) international film festival.

TASS is telling a story about the film, made by a teacher from a village in Yakutia.

'About a man, who has conscience'

The Bonfire film was a debut as a film director for teacher Dmitri Davydov from a small village in Yakutia's Amga district (200 kilometers from the regional center). At school, the teacher had organized a film club for the kids. "We made short videos, some amateur films," he told TASS.

When Dmitri had a script and 500,000 rubles ($8.8 thousand) for the work, he decided to make a film, which brought him to success. The film was ready back in autumn of 2014, he had paid for it from his own money; the production did not take long - just two weeks, as most characters were people living nearby. The distribution, however, began in 2016 only.

The film shows life in a far-away village in Yakutia. A teenager kills his friend and then kills himself. The boys' fathers think how to live on. While one of them gives in, the other takes home an orphan.

The director says he did not plan to make a "deep drama." "I only wanted to make a film, telling about life in a village, to tell an ordinary story," he said. "During the production, I changed the script, and finally it grew into a story of a man, who has a conscience."

International festivals

The Bonfire is a Yakut film, which has received many prizes. The world premiere was in October 2017 at Asia's biggest Busan film festival in South Korea. "Back then, the film was included in the competition," Yakutia's producer Sardana Savvina, a former translator and teacher, said. In late 2012 she organized a film club in the region.

In 2016, the film participated in the ImagineNATIVE festival in Toronto. "We won in the Best Dramatic Feature," she said. "And later on, we were nominated for the Asian Oscar - the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in APSA/UNESCO Award for Cultural Diversity in Australia's Brisbane. Dmitri and I became members of the APSA Academy, and the director went to present the film."

The local distribution in Yakutia began right in April, 2016. "About two or three thousand saw the film," the producer said. "The film was on for about one month."

According to the producer, the local distribution was a mistake. "A good film should be - at first - made, then tried at festivals. A film participates in festivals usually for a year or two, and after festivals the audience is 'upgraded' - the film is known, discussions continue," she said. "But most often, producers hurry to return the money and thus begin distribution early."

Yakut film industry

In the 1990s, the regional authorities supported the sector's development, opened a national film company, and in the 2000s local cinemas showed local products, Savvina said. Thus, the developing Yakut film industry became a notable phenomenon in Russia, she added. The local audience "love their films and want to see them," she explained. "The Yakut audience wants to see Yakut characters, local actors, hear the native language, recognize the local culture."

Most films in Yakutia are in the native tongue and the local audience demonstrates a clear demand for it. The language, she continued, is what makes films "spicy," authentic. "In this aspect, dubbing kills national film products. A language is the "air" it breathes."

The producer pointed to a high "potential" of films in languages of the North's low-numbered indigenous peoples - Evenks, Evens, Dolgans. "We do not have stories about indigenous peoples, made in their languages. This is what is interesting to me," the producer said, adding most films about the Arctic are made abroad. "It is valuable to have a view from inside, to show how the peoples see their worlds."

All regional filmmakers seem to face similar problems: the limited sector, the problems with accessing the national distribution. "The regions have young, talented directors, good films, but they do not always reach the audience - they cannot access the big system," the producer said.