Alexander Genievsky: “We, unheard creative people, are for the restoration of just unity with the rest of the world”
In 2021, with the support of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, the II Moscow International Film and Visual Arts Festival “Peace through Silence”will be held. The president of the film festival and adviser on the development of cinematography under the president of the VOG, director Alexander Genievsky, spoke about the creation of a cinema for the deaf in Russia.
— How did the idea of creating such a film festival come about? Aren’t there enough other festivals around the world, including Russia, where deaf filmmakers have the opportunity to show their film works?
— Remember, in an old, but very famous Soviet comedy film, one character complains to another: “I have a desire to buy a house, but I don’t have the opportunity. I have the opportunity to buy a goat, but I have no desire.” We can say that it is a” philosophical joke ” for all times and about the most important thing. Including our cinematic affairs in sign language in the big general world of cinema. There are a lot of film festivals around the world now. And there are also enough films on the topic of deaf people. But if you ask me if most of these foreign films have been seen by unheard people, or even if at least one of the hearing Russian viewers, I will answer without hesitation: no! A strange situation has developed for a long time – a paradox with our “Glukhovsky” cinema. If such a film appears on the big screen, it goes straight to great demand, it is bathed in prestigious prizes. There are several factors of increased interest in such film stories at once. Firstly, visually, with just one gesture, you can convey a whole range of feelings, while through words it can pull for a whole monologue, and the viewer will even get bored during this time. And one more important nuance: most of the viewers encounter something in such a picture that is still unknown to them, and therefore mysterious. And if such a film is staged at a high professional level, it wins the hearts of the audience. But, as far as I know, in the period from 1965, back in the USSR, and until today, only five professional films were shot on this topic in new Russia.
The most notable in 1997 was the film directed by Valery Todorovsky based on the story of Renata Litvinova “The Country of the Deaf”. The film has received many international awards, including the “Nika” and “Golden Aries” awards.
After 20 years, an extraordinary picture of Alexander Sukharev and Viktor Glukhov “See my love” appears. And it is also strewn with laurels, and the main role is played by a wonderful, but hearing actress Dasha Beloded. Aha, with a creak in my soul, I put the union “but” here; no offense, despite Dasha’s charming performance, this role should have been played by a deaf actress in all respects. If, for example, the hearing viewer may not notice this specific “trifle”, then the unheard person will immediately understand everything by her gestures. But let’s go further: more recently, a very lively film directed by Anar Abbasov about a hard-of-hearing dancer “Battle” was also released, which also naturally collects a rich festival harvest. And here is another American-Belgian film “The Sound of Metal”, which this year is flying at a sprint pace on the wings of fortune straight into the golden hands of the Oscar. And let’s hope he makes this historic landing.
But let’s return to our sheep, that is, to that “goat” that we have the opportunity to buy, but there is no special desire for that. So, everyone has long known that to make a real professional film for the wide screen, first of all, you need to have very wide opportunities for this. And first of all, these are financial opportunities. But it is also necessary to have your own personnel who will be able to work them professionally. You can skillfully paint over a zebra and pass it off as a horse, but a real zebra will never recognize this “fake friend” anyway. The same thing often happens with stories in the cinema about the deaf, when people who only know the culture of the deaf by hearsay take up this case. And this culture, like any other, is original and has a lot of its own specific shades.
I did not accidentally say that the situation is strange. Such films have prizes and successfully shoot the box office. Sometimes for good films, but often “for not so much”, from which they simply “squeeze” the topic of the deaf, blind, and so on, because for the most part the viewer automatically sympathizes with them. One of the tasks of our festival is precisely the debunking of such “masterpieces”. Therefore, we try to select for the festival audience not whiny soap operas about the disabled, but films-stories about the life of the deaf. Surprisingly, in our Russian cinema, you need to” chew ” about 20 years to finally release a good professional film on this topic again. But all this is probably due to the fact that our literature in this specific section, to put it mildly, is slightly lame. And if you ask a layman what he has ever read about the life of the deaf, then, no doubt, most likely, he will remember Turgenev’s “Mumu”, which will turn 170 years old this “Friday”! There is no literary material, there are no stories recorded by his own “Glukhovsky” hand — so there will be no “kin”of his own! That’s why we had the idea that deaf people in Russia, as well as in many other countries, should have their own film festival. And not just a holiday, but also an opportunity to push domestic filmmakers to create films about the lives of people with “hearing disabilities”. I’m sorry, for some time now they have been saying this instead of the word “deaf”, but this is just a politically correct phrase, but in reality our possibilities are unlimited. It’s just that the hearing world does not have the opportunity to see them. And we will always be happy to tell you about it on our screen. But, I think, the most important task of the festival is to interest and activate the deaf themselves by reproducing and promoting original material about themselves, to show the general public the life of deaf people in various guises, to make the unknown ordinary. After all, it is from ignorance and misunderstanding, as we know, that all large and small conflicts grow in this world. And so that, finally, our desire, as they say, coincides with our capabilities. So that we become self-sufficient, have the opportunity to create art in this direction, and we have not only our own original cinema, but also our own literature, and with it-a story written on the big screen.
— Why has the traditional film festival been postponed from May to October?
— For two reasons. The first, of course, is related to the pandemic. Films from abroad will definitely “reach” us, and, frankly, there are already enough of them to hold screenings during the two days of the festival. But the people, the participants of the festival themselves… it’s too early to talk about this yet. Filmmakers will come to us from some countries, but not from some, and so far this situation with moving across borders is not entirely clear. We’ll wait. The second reason is that on September 25 of this year the All-Russian Society of the Deaf celebrates its 95th anniversary. We want to combine both events and hold a film festival in early October. We will determine the exact dates and venue a little later.
— What, in your opinion, is the main goal of the “World through Silence”film festival?
— It is important for us to draw the attention of society to the creativity of people with hearing impairments. Maybe our view of the world is a little different from how ordinary people see it. But in images and feelings, humanity is not divided by the ability to perceive decibels. The talent either exists or it does not exist. And we also want to convey to the participants and the audience that art is not only an inspiration, entertainment and passion, but often also the foundation on the way to the heights of education. If people do not have the opportunity to study somewhere, but there is a desire, let them come to our seminars during the festival. We will show not only films, but along with this we will hold a series of master classes in various areas of cinema, acting, drama, painting. In addition, we will hold an exhibition of fine arts of deaf artists and photographers from all over the world. Admission to all events of the film festival and for everyone will be absolutely free.
— The competition program of the film festival has already included 17 foreign films, but so far there is not a single Russian picture. Do people with hearing impairments make films less often in Russia than in other countries?
— In the USA, Canada and Europe, in recent years, a lot of films created by people with hearing impairments, as well as about the culture of hearing-impaired people, have been released annually. There are many film festivals of various genres that tell about the life of people in the midst of silence. And, by the way, it is not by chance that we called our film festival “Peace through Silence”. Among such films there are absolute creative successes. For example, the same Belgian-American film “The Sound of Metal”, which I have already mentioned, tells about a musician who loses his hearing. The film received several international awards, was nominated for a Golden Globe. And now, very soon, we are looking forward to the sharp turns at the presentation of the annual film award “Oscar”. In the domestic film history, a similar event, as I have already said, previously occurred 24 years ago with the film by Valery Todorovsky. One of the recent examples is the wonderful short film “Forgotten” by Alexander Korolev, which already has not only recognition among the audience, but also well-deserved victories at numerous international film festivals. But nevertheless, this is not enough, and I think it’s time to change our “kinorails” for more modern cinema speeds.
And what is now being produced by amateurs who have very limited financial resources are mostly films of a non-festival level, since they do not meet the relevant criteria of the big screen. Our film festival, the All-Russian Society of the Deaf and all interested parties have a super task-to finally start the process of creating a professional cinema of the deaf in Russia. We understand that this is very difficult. But the world experience inspires. And how beautiful sign language is on the big screen — this is generally not news for most professional filmmakers.
— And yet, what do you see as the main problem?
— Steven Spielberg gave an exhaustive answer when he was asked a similar question: what is the main thing in cinema? He replied: the first is a script, the second is a script, and the third is also a script. We have hundreds of wonderful and original stories in sign language, but, unfortunately, we do not have people who could make a high-quality film script for the deaf or on the topic of the deaf. Partly because there is no film education taking into account this specificity. In Russia, the doors to studios at many higher educational institutions are now wide open, where hard-of-hearing and inaudible artists and actors study. The Russian State Specialized Academy of Arts has many different classes and studios for the disabled, including for the deaf. For example, the theater “Nedoslov”, which came out of this educational structure. But at the same time, there is no unified system in the country to develop professional cinema for the deaf. Therefore, the first thing that, in our opinion, it is necessary to pay attention to is the need to create a structure where talented deaf children could get a high — quality cinematic education. Our festival is now forming a base for training young filmmakers. The first studio with an acting course in sign language was organized with the help of the B. Shchukin Higher Theater School. We hope that the prospect of our joint work with the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography named after S. A. Gerasimov is not far off.
— Can a director without a hearing disability, but who has made a film about the life of the deaf, become a participant in a film festival?
— Of course! At our 2019 film festival, the films of three well-known hearing directors became laureates: these are the documentary “Cold Ears” by Lithuanian director Linas Mikuta, a short film by Russian director Alexander Korolev “Forgotten” and the film “Watch My Love” by Alexander Sukharev, which received the audience award. And in the program of 2021, we very much hope that the action-packed social drama “The Sounds of Metal” will be shown, which is also shot by the hearing director Darius Marder. By the way, while working on the set, he was able to very organically unite hearing-impaired and hearing-impaired people in one team. So we are for such a search for new ways of creative integration of the two worlds — the deaf and the hearing.
— Do the prizes of the Moscow Film Festival “Peace through Silence” contribute to the further film career of the laureates?
— I’ll tell you a story. An American film director with a hearing impairment, Mark Wood, decided to leave the profession ten years ago because of financial problems at his studio. I myself have already managed to watch all his original films for a long time and asked him to send any of his pictures to participate in our 2019 film festival. And as a result, his picture “Die Hard” about a deaf pensioner who does not agree to move to a nursing home, with a unanimous vote of the jury, won the prize as the best feature film. This success helped him to return to the cinema. Mark, as they say, rolled up the “movie sleeve” and is now back at work.
— There are 16 nominations in the competition program of the festival. One of them is “The best video shot with an amateur camera or via a smartphone”. What are the requirements for authors and videos put forward in this category?
— We have specially introduced such a nomination in order to attract as many people as possible to the festival who are eager to make films, but do not always have the opportunity. (This is what we have already talked about-about the “goat and desires”.) Now, as you know, professionals also shoot on a smartphone. Provided that the author has an original idea and imagination, it is quite possible that a decent movie hit will turn out. But most importantly, in this case, we just want to support the guys who can’t financially pull even a short film. And in this nomination, we are definitely waiting for the manifestation of talent.
— Films released no earlier than January 1, 2010 are allowed to participate in the competition program. Does this mean that the festival contains the best paintings by authors with hearing impairments who have declared themselves in the last ten years?
— When preparing for the new festival, we jointly with the organizing committee took into account all aspects of the development of cinema for the deaf around the world over the past ten years and decided that it would be right to increase the admission time for our competitive selection. So that the Russian audience can more fully look at our extraordinary world from the inside (all the films of the film festival are in sync with Russian subtitles). And, I assure you, over the years, many amazing foreign films have been released about the culture of the deaf, which, unfortunately, our Russian audience has never seen and knows absolutely nothing about them.
But I am also sure that for the majority of viewers, these films may well become the discovery of a completely different, unique and amazing “world of silence”.
Photo: Oksana Smidovich. Photos provided by the press service of VOGUE.