Interview with director Vladimir Dzyakevich

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I was working as a biologist in a clinical research center in a pharmatech industry by day, and as an actor in a local fringe russian theatre by night. After 10 years of acting in theatre I have decided to try myself in the role of the director. I have directed a play, and I realized in the process that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I started looking for some kind of a formal education program and all I could find suitable for me was an MFA program in film directing at Tel Aviv University. I wasn’t much of a cinefill then, but I fell in love with film in the process. 

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I wouldn’t say it is essential, you can totally succeed as a film director without any formal training. But there are some advantages to film institutes over self education. The first I would say is discipline. It is hard for most people to maintain the same level of engagement and motivation through long periods of time. And mastering the craft of a director takes a lot of time. The second thing is the company. Filmmaking is a very collaborative artform. You have to have a lot of people around you that you can collaborate with on a project. They better be as talented and driven as possible. Where would you find such a community when you are new to the field? It is easier to find them in your class and evolve together. And the third and the last thing is – I found that it is easier to approach people in the industry (at least where I come from) as an anonymous director If you have some kind of a certificate. It is like they know that you were serious enough about filmmaking to go through a few years of training.    

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I think that it is harder to keep going. By far. When you are just starting out you are not aware of how hard it would be, you think that it is all meant to be and you develop fast in the beginning. Every time you write something or shoot a few shots or watch a youtube video you learn something. You feel the rapid growth and it motivates you to invest yourself more and more. You feel like the sky’s the limit. But eventually you will get to a point of realisation that the sky is not the limit. You are the limit. Your personality, your creativity, your talent is limited and you could have all the knowledge and craftsmanship in the world – it wouldn’t help you feel less stuck most of the time, it wouldn’t help you make a better movie. You realize that you are not a genius. You are just another guy trying to make it in a place where a lot of talented people couldn’t. This self confrontation is harder than any objective efort you are ready to make in order to fulfill your dream. And this is what makes it hard to keep going. 

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

The most important lesson is that there are no most important lessons. There is no single thing that would make you or your movie great. It is about many small choices that you make along the way that make the difference in combination. You just have to be true to yourself for better and for worse.  For example: I’m a nice guy (I think so, not everybody would agree with this statement). I’m not someone who can take a bunch of people and force my will upon them. I’m better at inspiring people than in demanding discipline. And I used to think that it was a downfall for a director. But then I realized that I just have to be aware of this trait and work only with certain kinds of people – motivated, intelligent, good hearted. It can be limiting. My movies will never be as well pre-configured and thought through as the Coen Brothers films, because I just love when people feel free to suddenly surprise me with an idea. Even if it is an improvised one . If I’m hired to work on a big budget movie and part of the cast and crew are attached to the project I could fail in getting my vision across. But this is who I am. I will fail and succeed as me and not as anybody else. For now I am working only with the people that inspire me and I feel that I can inspire them. But it is not by any means the most important lesson. Just one of thousands.    

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Production is hard. We had very little money for a production at this scale. Most of the money was private or crowdfunding. People involved in the project were professionals that were our friends so they came with a very low price tag or even for free. Because we were 3 writers/directors Sivan Malca, Orit Nahary Tzipkin and myself, each one of us recruited all the help he/she could get. Otherwise this project couldn’t be done.  Moreover we invested all our budget into production and all the post production was done by me alone. I edited, did some compositing, color corrections and grading, motion graphic design, and even the sound design and mix. I am by no means a professional sound designer, I took a course online and tried to do my best under the circumstances. When I listen to the sound design now, I feel that it could have been much better if we had the funds for hiring a real professional.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

I think that the hardest artistic choice was the choice to write about a real person. Our main character is based on the life of Sivan’s father who passed away 2 years before the making of the series. It is realy difficult at times to navigate between the memory of the person and the need for certain dramatic elements in a fiction story. You have to stay true to the person that he was on one side, but on the other side you have to understand that real life and a story about real life are not the same thing. So you have to adjust, but not by too much and this path is one that can be quite difficult to figure out.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Yes, I’m a collaborator otherwise I would become a writer, and I would sit at my home office and write stories without trying to make them into a movie. I think that any good relationship is based on sincerity and the interest in what the other person has to say. Collaboration is a kind of relationship between people. You have to choose the people that can inspire you, and you can inspire them. And then you just have to be true to each other. That’s it.   

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I don’t think that anybody knows what audiences want, especially not the audiences. The dramatic effect is based on the frustration of the spectator. As a spectator, you want the hero to be safe, but there is nothing you can do about the danger he is in. This puts you in a state of slight frustration and makes you emotional about the outcome of the danger. So if I would try to please you, I would try to remove the element of frustration, and then you could not enjoy the movie at all. I think that a filmmaker doesn’t have to worry about what audiences want, but it is better if he/she is aware of where his/her artistic choices are placing the audience. A film is a language, and as in any communication it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what the other person understands from it. So you better be aware of the syntax, semantics and the context of your choices. It is not a technical thing, it is kind of intuitive. 

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Film festivals are a great way to show your work and see the work of others. It is a place where you come to be inspired, to find your community. It is a place that can promote your work and eventually your career. I think film festivals are great but they have to return to the offline format ASAP. 

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

The avant-garde cannot exist without the mainstream. An avant-garde artist who wants to subvert the expectations of the audience needs the mainstream artist to create the expectations in the first place. So I think there is a place for every kind, you just have to choose what is your personal path in the world of art.