Bondarchuk – almost a renowned actor – has taken to directing with ease, and his latest picture is an accomplished piece of filmmaking. We spoke to him on a live video feed (alongside his translator), to discuss the challenges in making a 3D movie for the first time, how he captured such intimacy despite the grand surroundings, and what this film could mean for the future of Russian cinema.
This is Russia’s first ever 3D and IMAX movie, you must feel quite honoured that it’s been left in your hands?
I’m very proud. I intended to make this movie in IMAX from the very start.
What new challenges did you find when shooting a film in IMAX 3D?
I first said to my producers to be to the crew, and my director of photography who I work with on all my movies, we are friends and study in the same film institute, and we’ve known each for about 25 years, I’ve directed and he has shot about 200 music videos together. Anyway one day I said to everybody, I think with Stalingrad we should shoot it in 3D and just imagine, a war drama with 3D. It’s not about cartoon, it’s not about Marvel comics, it’s not a sci-fi movie – it’s a war drama. This is new territory. But after I first started thinking war drama films, it’s not about Stalingrad, it’s about World War Two. It’s about war. I thought about genre first of all – war drama. My idea was to create a new type of cinema language. Just thinking about the possibility of shooting a movie like this is ridiculous.
So that’s why when I first told my colleagues about this idea, I needed to convince them first that this idea was worthwhile and we had to do it together. When we finished with pre-production, only after that, me showing them the 3D shots, they understood what I had in mind and where I was going with this. I basically convinced them this was a worthy idea. Not only convince, but surprise too, in a way. It wasn’t technology for marketing, it was to allow people to get closer to the events that actually happened. Immersing them through 3D. Afterwards when people understood, they believed. After I convinced people this idea was worthy, the costume department would jump on the bandwagon, the effects department started doing their job properly – everybody understood what was going on.
All the directors and directors of photography were learning by watching classic Soviet movies, and the basic idea was to break down those stereotypes and break down those standards and show a new cinematic language. Even though it has been the film with the biggest box office in the history of Russian cinema, and the fact that over 10 million people watched the movie, I was still interested to see comments that people would compare it to classic Soviet movies. The thing is, it was an experiment, I completely understood that and I did leave a possibility that there was a chance it would not work – which gave an additional rush to the process.
You did a fantastic job in taking these huge set of events, and a nasty battle – and yet you found an intimate story within that. Was that a challenge for you?
When I do movie, I mostly make movies that have emotional connections with the viewers, and I do subdivide movies into those you have to just watch, and those you have to feel. First and foremost it’s important for me to involve a viewer into the process and make them believe in the movie, and feel emotionally connected to it. For me it’s really important that after two hours and 15 minutes, a person would come out of the cinema emotionally changed.
A lot of the emotion comes from Captain Kahn. Though a Nazi, he’s not your typical villain, and he’s been humanised. By giving him a sympathetic side, what does that bring to the movie?
I do not side with the Germans, but the history of Soviet filmmaking, and some propaganda, that Nazis would be shown as being emotionally weak and caricature. The thing is, the battle was won not with those caricature portraits of people, but actually against one of, maybe the very best army in the world. So it was important to me to show the enemy as being very strong. Kahn’s character is not positive, he’s just complicated and a complex character.
You often work with many first-time performers in your movies – and this is no different. Why are you attracted to working with inexperienced actors?
I always work with first-time actors. It’s different rules of casting, because after the initial auditions, if you chose the right people you seem them uncover their hidden talents, and I always prefer a younger generation of actors in those terms. It was a challenge for me as a director and after the movie it was really important for me that these actors starting to live their acting lives. It’s just different working with debutants, and this is what attracts me. The movies I do are all large scale movies and that’s why actors need to be immersed into the shooting process for years and even though it sounds a little bit overdone, we become a real family and will be as a whole group of people. That’s the most interesting thing for me.
Finally, do you think that given the box office success of Stalingrad, do you think more, bugger budget productions will now come out of Russia?
The success of the movie, first of all, proves that Russian cinema is valued. Secondly, and the sad thing is, these are large scale projects and without the participation of the government with movie funding, it’s impossible to shoot something like that. The fact that we succeeded in launching such a huge project gives an example to other directors and shows that it’s possible to this. You have to invest a lot of money, but for me it was important that my colleagues and other directors will approach me and say that, if you can do that, maybe we can as well. It’s not even in terms of financing, it’s mostly in terms of quality, that if you can do something so convincing and on such a large scale, it means the industry has changed and that we’re capable of doing high quality projects.
Stalingrad is out in cinemas on February 21st, and you can read our review here.