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Rural Yakut teacher conquers World Film Festivals

Davydov Bonfire1

Stories like the one that happened to Dmitry Davydov seem to happen only in the movies.

He was born and raised in the far-away Yakut village of Amga, worked as a primary school teacher, then as a school principal in the neighboring village of Chapchylgan. With the pupils of the school he began to shoot small amateur films and once decided to make a real movie, without schoolchildren. He gathered his fellow villagers, borrowed money and in two weeks filmed the drama "The Bonfire," with which he traveled half the world, amazing critics, ordinary spectators and professional cinematographers.

The all-Russian premiere of the film took place in Omsk at the Dvizhenie (Movement) festival, where "Bonfire" has won three awards, including Best Director Award. Here Dmitry Davydov gave an interview to RIA Novosti.

He speaks quietly, calmly. Everything that had happened to him, in his retelling sounds like something mundane, a matter of course. Dmitry gives the impression of an absolutely unruffled and very modest person and admits that he feels himself an outsider among directors with higher education and metropolitan film critics.

- Dmitry, while you are at the festival, who is in charge of the school?

- There is a deputy, and I am on leave. I'm afraid that the management will soon make me choose: either the movie or the work - I started to travel too often.

- Over the past year, you have visited Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Canada, where "The Bonfire" was recognized as Best Drama. How has the attitude of fellow villagers changed towards you?

- It has not changed much in any way, everyone knew me before. When I arrive, I come to the old men to drink tea, I show photos and tell – everything is interesting for them. Everyone says that I'm a great guy, and tries to say something good. Ordinary life, nothing special.

- What are the most frequently asked questions abroad?

- Basic questions are: where we come from, how we made a film, who we are in general. I used to take a map and showed: here, comrades, Yakutia. Because everywhere they asked where it was. In Australia, everyone thinks that only Russians live in Russia. We told them that there are other nations. Something interesting happened at the festival in Busan. We could get into the main, Asian competition, but we got into the European one. We regard ourselves as Asians, but the festival organizers took Russia to Europe and sent us to the other contest. But there was interest everywhere. Many have heard of Yakut cinema, and everyone was interested to see what that is.


- "The Bonfire" tells about two old men who lost their only sons, experiencing grief in different ways. One learns how to live on, the other drinks and wants revenge. Is it a kind of true story that happened to someone you know?

- Not really. I wanted to make a film about ordinary people, describe routine village life. I have given this a lot of thought whether it would be interesting to the audience or not, but still decided to make this film. I began to recall the stories that I saw, heard or read in the newspapers, and collected them into one story.

I wanted to tell about an elderly man, for whom such concepts as honor and justice are important. I am not saying for all the Russian old people, I did not communicate with them all, but if a person has lived a good honest life, it immediately becomes visible - one can feel it in conversation. And the fact that the problem with alcoholism is shown in the film - it seems to exist in all the villages.

It was also important for me to show that the main character is a believer, and his faith remains after him. If you enter an ordinary village house, then you will definitely see the icon. Although you rarely see an old Yakut man praying in front of the icon. We are all intertwined: the Christian faith, the belief in spirits... One time ago I was scolded by the audience that the protagonist in the film prays wrongly. But it was done on purpose, because we have people who are not very literate in this sense: they pray the way they know.

- People learn to write scripts for years, but you just sat down and wrote?

- As a child, I wrote poems, short stories. Writing a story is not a problem for me, but I did not know what a script was. I searched over the Internet and saw how other people write: I have read From Dusk Till Dawn, for example, and something more. I was curious to know how to write scripts. But in fact, you can write the way you want. Big companies need the form, but we do it all at amateur level: I wrote the text and I work with it myself. The cameraman is also one of us, he understands everything. We are amateurs; I'm just learning to write scripts.


- How did you choose the actors?

- In our village there is an actor's troupe - not a theater, but just a group of theater lovers. They played all the roles – they are all my fellow villagers, many live in my street. They told me that in the neighboring village there is one interesting old man, Aleksei Ustinov, who fully fits the character. Off the screen he looks the same: with the same beard, slightly stutters, has a limp. He is disabled, once he was in an accident and has been sitting at home for 20 years, he is bored. He told me straight: I want something interesting to happen in my life.


- Was it difficult to work with amateurs who had never dealt with a camera?

- There was, of course, a problem with the actors. They were all afraid of the camera. As soon as I told them that the camera was working, that was the end of everything - fear gripped them. Sometimes they looked directly at the camera. And I told them that I did not need any acting: just live on camera the way you do in real life.

Shooting in the field, in the snow were the most difficult. I made a mistake - began with filming in the house, and planned the outside shooting for later. We began shooting in early October, at the end of the month frosty days came. Although it was not so cold, minus 25-27 degrees and the wind, we had difficulties with our camera: it worked for a minute or two, and then it was necessary to warm it up for half an hour. At that time I realized for the first time that it was very difficult for Aleksei to walk for a long time, he quickly got tired and became weak, he could not do anything. Other than that everything was easy.


- Where did you get the money?

- The money was all mine, I had to get into debt. I was looking for sponsors, appealed to our Yakut entrepreneurs, but the problem was that was a novice. They asked me: who are you, what films did you make? I'm just someone from the village; I came to ask for money. And that was the problem. I applied to the Republican Ministry of Culture, they gave a small part.

Then we tried to show the film with a projector and a laptop traveling from village to village. In Yakutsk there was a premiere in the Lena movie theater. We were allowed to hold it for free, although they immediately said that the viewer would not go.

We did not have any money for advertising. I ordered banners, gave an interview, but that was not enough. Gathered about half of the audience: journalists, the guys who work in the film industry. In principle, everyone liked the film. And that's all. I realized that there would be no rollout. The main problem was that I made a film about the elderly. And the movies are mostly for young guys - they do not find it very interesting to watch a film about old people.

But Sardana Savvina came to that show. Everyone who is interested in Yakut cinema knows her. She promotes films, although she does not have a special education either - she seems to be teaching English to students. And she began to send the film to festivals. For the first time in history, the Yakut film came to the festival in Busan. And so it went. And if it were not for her, I would have put the film on the shelf and forgot about it, I already had such thoughts.


- What will you do next?

- I want now to make a film in Russian, although everyone dissuades me. In Yakutia, they mostly watch Yakut movies with Yakut faces. I believe that we need to move away from the local level and make a movie that will be interesting to others. I think to go out to the neighboring regions: Buryatia, Irkutsk, and Khabarovsk. Then all over Siberia. If the Yakut cinema wants to grow, it should enter either Asian or Russian market. We can already make better films, there are professionals and we’ve got experience, but we are now limited to the scale of film distribution and exhibition in the republic.

By Pavel Gaikov

RIA Novosti 
Tagged under Yakut cinema, Bonfire