As he accepted, together with director-producer Alexander Veledinsky, the grand prix of the Odesa International Film Festival on the stage of the Opera Theater for The Geographer Drank His Globe Away, producer Valery Todorovsky said that he was happy to receive the prize precisely in this city. Odesa was not only his cradle literally, but also the artistic cradle of his father who recently departed this life – the wonderful, wise and talented Pyotr Todorovsky.
Valery Todorovsky is a successful scriptwriter by profession, a brilliant director by vocation, a fortunate and insightful producer by the demand of the times. He has proudly carried the name of his father since the very beginning of his artistic career and is a self-sufficient artistic unit.
There is no need to search for laudatory epithets to define the nature of his talent. To a large audience of his viewers, it will suffice to mention his films. He literally burst onto the film stage with Lyubov. Later, he went through The Country of Deaf, told the wondrous story of The Lover and literally “bore” Stilyagi (Hipsters) for many years.
I have known Valery for a long time now and have talked about his works on many occasions, but this time, when he came to the Odesa Film Festival, I wanted our conversation to focus on the personal memories of Pyotr Todorovsky. Valery quite reservedly said that he was not ready for that and that he needed time to reflect on everything.
Valery, I am very happy to see you and very happy about your new work. Congratulations! I know that the film script was ready a long time ago and that you wanted to direct The Geographer on your own.
Why didn’t it happen?
“There was a project; I loved the story and wanted to make this film. I even gathered a group of people and even went to Perm. But at some point I caught myself feeling that I seemed to have lived through that already. I had a feeling that I had once made this film. There was a danger that if I started doing it, then – how can I put it – by some kind of inertia I would have to continue it, just because I had already started it. And I knew it wouldn’t be right. Now the film was already in production, so we had to find a director in this situation, and a good one at that, because we couldn’t give this story to the first comer, as you understand. And then there was an excellent idea to invite Sasha Veledinsky, who became enthusiastic, came and made a good film. I am happy that everything happened exactly like it did. I shouldn’t have directed this film, because it was, strange as it may seem, perhaps not exactly my film.”
Veledinsky does not often make films, but he uses, for example, a totally different set of film tools than you do.
So why as a producer you chose him? What was the drawing point?
“Let me tell you that it is a hopeless situation if you try to find your alter ego. This means that either you won’t find anyone, or you will find a bad, very bad version. The task was not to find a person who would be closest to me but who knew how to make films about people. Because The Geographer is a story about people and is largely based on characters, relationships, and the work of actors.”
And it is an acting film.
“Indeed. In fact, there are few people who know how to make such films. So the most important thing for me was not Sasha’s views on life, which may differ from mine, but the fact that he tries to speak about people in his works. He is, no doubt, precisely this kind of director.”
To me, the original, a book by Alexei Ivanov, was much less interesting than the dialogues in the film. Were there any conflicts with the author in this area?
“There were no conflicts whatsoever. The thing is that Ivanov, in my opinion, is a very serious author and is a quite complicated person in that he is not happy with just about everything. However, he came to Moscow very recently and watched the film several weeks ago. Everyone was somewhat fearful of this visit, because they understood: this is a person who would not conceal his dissatisfaction. He would come and, if he didn’t like the film, he would tell everyone, and the holiday would be somewhat spoiled. But I can say we were lucky, because he liked the film. He also liked, among other things, the changes that had been made. The book was written in 1996, almost 20 years ago. Now we made a contemporary film about today’s realities. It was impossible to do so without any changes in this situation. But we managed to avoid any conflicts and offenses.”
You very rarely work on your own. I mean that you direct film infrequently but always successfully. Is it because you don’t feel or see any worthy material or have nothing to speak about?
“No, the thing is that I don’t have any, say, theory about it. I make films when everything works out. You know, you have to have an idea, then a script you love and want to base your film on, and you should have no doubts. Money should be found for this script, because we all understand: there is no film without money. And when all these things fall into place, I direct a film. For example, the script of Hipsters was written in 1998-99.”
Indeed, I know there was a long period of waiting.
“The script gathered dust for 12 years. But not because I didn’t want to make this film or lost enthusiasm. The original title was Bugi na kostiakh (Boogie on Bones). The problem was that there were countless unresolved issues. For example, music. It was to be a musical, but how would you make a musical on this topic? And I thought, deliberated, talked with people, produced ideas… And then there was a question of money and everything else… So I make films when I see that everything seems to be in place and it can be done. Unfortunately, it does not happen very often, perhaps.”
Pyotr Todorovsky, your wonderful father, gave his last interview in Khanty-Mansiysk at the Spirit of Fire festival. He was full of energy, played the guitar, performed and was a member of the jury. In the interview, he said he had many scripts, a lot of written things, and numerous ideas. Unfortunately, he departed without being able to put many of these things into practice. Are you making use of his artistic archive?
“My father and I have always been very different people, i.e., he would never, perhaps, make some of the films I would happily direct, and the other way around.”
This is only natural.
“Right. I have read everything that is in written form, and I believe a moment will come when I give it some thought. However, first, this moment has not come yet, and I don’t have the task of somehow making quick use of the things my father wrote or created. I need to somehow look around and grasp things. My mother, who is a producer, is now working on one of his scripts that has been discussed in the past years. She is looking for a director for this project, and I hope things will work out and she will make a film. In contrast, I don’t know yet; I haven’t thought about it, because he died only a short time ago, not enough to start arranging his archive, reading his works and making decisions. I’m not ready yet…”
Nevertheless, when you chose your profession, you did it for a reason. Was your father the decisive influence?
“No. In reality, we did not have any special contradictions with him. We were simply different. I grew up in this city, Odesa, where we are now, and we lived across the street from the film studio. My father was a film director (also a cameraman when I was little, and then a director). Everyone who came to our home were filmmakers. Of course, at the time when I was maturing, I was immersed in this spirit, these talks and did not think about anything else. Of course, he is the person who had the biggest impact on me in my life. And I know what I have from what source, what I absorbed from him, and these things are in my films. I know it with absolute certainty. I have no doubt that my father’s films have not been considered and understood completely.”
If you don’t mind, I would like to ask one more question about your father, which is very important to me. I know that he was much worried about his film Rio-Rita, which received mixed reviews. In my opinion, it is the continuation of the story about the war which he told throughout his life. In your opinion, what prevents people from understanding precisely this kind of stories about war – tough, frank, and open?
“You know, first of all, it should be honestly said that Rio-Rita was not the only film like that. When he made Encore, Once More Encore!, another film about the war – even though there is no war in it, everything is about the war there – I remember he received a huge number of letters from outraged veterans. They wrote that it was not true and what he did was evil slander, etc. It is in human nature that everyone wants to be nice, everyone wants to see heroic exploits and positive examples on the screen and everyone wants to be proud. As soon as someone says: Wait a minute, there are things that should not be objects of pride and instead should be, perhaps, reasons for shame, people often yell “No!”, close their eyes and ears and demand to be shown the things they are proud of. In addition, the state’s apparatus is also contributing to this: the state instills, in various ways, in young minds the idea that this is a heroic story, that we must follow the example of our grandparents, etc. Naturally, when Rio-Rita was released, it caused quite a stir, because we want to be proud and you tell us the shameful pages of this whole story. On the other hand, it is normal. The bitter truth was hard to accept at all times. It is hard for people to swallow a bitter pill – they want something sweet. But true artists usually produce bitter pills, and they pay the price in that the public, viewers, and someone else may reject them.”
Aleksandr Proshkin once gave me a very good definition: today the government order is to make films about “the white-teethed war.”
“Of course, this is what the government order is, and he put it very aptly. I am saying that this topic of patriotism, pride, etc. which is being cultivated from the top is also being cultivated from the bottom.”
What will we be able to see from Valery Todorovsky in the near future?
“You may see a new film in autumn, one which I have already completed. It is a series and a very unusual at that.”
On the Russia TV Channel?
“No, the First Channel, Konstantin Ernst. And this is a series I have wanted to make for a long time. It is very unlike everything else called series. I did it as an auteur work, a very personal work. You will see the rest on the screen. It is called Ottepel (Thaw) and it is about my father and his friends.”