EDA Awards @ IDFA 2015 Filmmaker Interview: Beata Bubenets on CHECHEN

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beata bubenetsChechen, one of ten films nominated for the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary at IDFA 2015. Filmmaker Beata Bubenets follows a young volunteer soldier, Ruslan Arsajev, during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. After protecting demonstrators in Kiev, he goes to Donbass region, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting against government troops. Providing a new view of the effects of war, Chechen is an intimate portrait of a mercenary who’s engagement in hostilities counters his own peaceful nature and search for love. IDFA’s notes on Chechen are included below. Read what Beata Bubenets has to say about her subject and making the film.

AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Beata Bubenets: When the revolution in Ukraine started I couldn’t stay at home in Russia. I just felt that I must be there because of my internal state. On Maidan, I met the veterans of Afghan war. They were based in a separate tent and were responsible for the defense of Maidan. I decided to make a film about people for whom to be at war is better than to be in a peaceful daily condition, who are not adapted for the peaceful life. The main character of my film, Ruslan, was one of these Afghan veterans, but he wasn’t Ukrainian he was a Russian citizen, a Chechen. That’s why initially I didn’t want to make film about him. It was more consistent for the main character of the film about Ukrainian revolution to be Ukrainian – not Chechen. But Ruslan had a very interesting personality and great life drama. And I chose him in spite of his biography – because of his drama. And then after the Russian intervention in Crimea and after beginning of the Donbass War it became clear that my intuitive choice wasn’t random.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

BB: First of all it was an incredible experience. The most important historical events unfolded before my eyes, I was a direct witness of all crucial moments because I always was in the epicenter. When Maidan revolution started nobody could imagine that occupation of Crimea would happen and after that the Donbass War would start. Due to many Ukrainian friends and my Russian passport I had a unique opportunity to see the conflict from both sides. But the most important experience for me was observation of the spiritual trial of my main character, who felt restless and lost, not adapted to civilian life, without motherland and peace. And it was a miracle for me that he gets a chance to have a peaceful life.

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AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

BB: Chechen is my first film after finishing my studies at the Documentary School of Marina Razbezhkina. I made it completely myself: camera, editing, direction. And I worked without producers and budget. It was the most difficult. I had a video camera and a computer – so I could film and edit. But I always needed money for transportation, hotels, food and other costs during filming and for post production – after. I couldn’t have a good editor. But it was very important for me to finish film and I did it against all odds. I think it a great victory, that my film participates in the competition on IDFA. Especially I was convinced about this after watching other films of the festival. All of them were made with great support from the big production companies. Unfortunately in Russia the film-industry is not well developed like here – especially if you want to make independent films. We don’t have industry – only government supporting. That’s why young talented directors in Russia don’t often have the opportunity to realize their talent. It was a very interesting experience for me to become acquainted with industry production of documentary films here.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges? Gaining trust? Filming conditions? Making a coherent story or creating impact through edited juxtapositions?

BB: As I said the most difficult for me was organize filming without a budget, I always needed to take other job to continue filming. Another challenge was associated with the specifics of filming during war. You are always at risk to be killed, kidnapped or captured. Once I was captured by the Ukrainian military because they took me for a Russian spy. Fortunately I have many Ukrainian friends who saved me. And finally I had difficulties with editing. I had a lot of unique material from different places and situations, but I couldn’t use all in my film. It was difficult to watch the film with “fresh” eyes, because I made the film without an editor

AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process? If so, please let us know how. If not, please let us know your thoughts about this question.

BB: Of course being a female director has advantages and disadvantages. And being a female director on war – in the male world – has specific features. Men at war, most of them felt like heroes and sought to demonstrate their masculinity by giving protection and care to me as a woman. It gave me advantages to film them up close without overcoming trust issues. Male directors usually must prove that they are cool and brutal enough to earn the trust – and I as a woman shouldn’t do it. But it was a disadvantage on other hand – because I couldn’t be independent from men. I always needed male protection to feel safe.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future? Do you have specific career goals? A ten year plan? What sorts of “ideal world” opportunities would make it possible for you to succeed?

BB: I would like to make films. I hope I will. My immediate plans are to become acquainted with the industry production of documentary films to learn how it works and have opportunity to make films.

AWFJ: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

BB: I am lucky that I studied at the Marina Razbezhkina’s Documentary Film School. I think it is one of the best documentary schools in the world. I had an opportunity to verify this after watching films in different world festivals. Marina Razbezhkina and my classmates inspire me to make free, independent, sensual and emotional films.

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

BB: Just do their work against all odds.

IDFA’s Notes on Chechen: Ruslan Arsajev has seen quite a few wars already. He’s a born fighter, he says, scion of a long line of Chechen fighters. One of his brothers was once a member of the Chechen government; another took part in an infamous plane hijacking in 2001. Arsajev, who refers to himself simply as “Chechen,” can generally be found where there’s trouble and strife. If given the choice, he prefers to fight against the Russians. Director Beata Bubenets followed Arsajev during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. As a volunteer soldier, he protected the demonstrators in Kiev before going east to the Donbass region, where pro-Russian separatists were fighting against government troops. Chechen is an intimate observation of this strange, displaced mercenary, whose soft side comes out in his constant search for true love. Bubenets and her camera are on hand at some significant historical moments. She manages to distill the Ukrainian crisis down to the individual human scale, while at the same time showing how big it is. She does this for example by capturing the discussions on the streets, in which the gulf between the pro-Russian inhabitants of Ukraine and their opponents seems insurmountable.

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