The premiere of the historical action film Chervony, based on the novel of the same name by Andrii Kokotiukha, became one of the main events of this fall in our cinemas. The film’s director Zaza Buadze was born in 1962 in Kutaisi (Georgia). In 1984, he graduated from the Faculty of Oriental Studies of Tbilisi State University with a degree in Persian language and literature, and is a Farsi speaker. In 1987, he participated in a workshop held by Sergei Solovyov at the State Committee of Cinematography of the USSR. In 2003-04, Buadze took part in the Scholar Nipkow program (Berlin, Germany). He holds a Georgian passport and a Ukrainian residence permit. In Georgia, the director began with short films and documentaries, collaborated on the series Coffee and Beer. Buadze has been living in Ukraine since 2007. He is now working on Call Sign Banderas, a detective about reconnaissance soldiers serving in the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) zone. Chervony is Buadze’s first complete feature-length film to be made as a director in Ukraine.
Tell us, please, how did you come to the Ukrainian cinema?
“I am a fatalist, so I think my fate had it so. In the 1990s, I was doing everything except cinema: TV, advertising, in which I had serious career opportunities, but fortunately the turning point came when I received a scholarship from the German Ministry of Culture and went to Berlin. There I got my first contract as a scriptwriter, and made friends with Taras Tomenko who suggested that I write a script. We started working on it. In parallel, interesting things started happening in Georgia, my friend who worked for a new TV channel launched a factory of TV series for the first time in the history of the country. As a result, I co-authored five seasons of Coffee and Beer. And then, during an off-season, Tomenko asked me to come to Ukraine for a month. I still remember the date, it was April 10, 2007. He introduced me to producer Oleh Shcherbyna, who had read my script Ursus and suddenly suggested making a film after it. I thought, why not? Ursus was being edited when I received my next proposal, which was to adapt the novel Red Lotus for screen. Then the third and the fourth projects came... So, I stayed here and do not regret it.”
So how did Chervony happen?
“At first, this was to be filmed by Akhtem Seitablaiev whom I infinitely respect, but he had his own projects to do, so the producer Volodymyr Filippov and Kokotiukha – and we had already been friends for a while – offered me such an idea. I had read the novel and immediately took up the proposal, because I really liked it. I immediately perceived that it looked like a Western and could be filmed accordingly. This concept was to their liking, so we called it a deal and started to work.”
You have convincingly shown life in a forced labor camp in it. Where did you find such a location?
“We got advice, we read a lot. And at the filming stage, consultants on weapons and costumes joined historians to help us. The problem was that, according to the novel, the action takes place in Vorkuta. It is difficult to find such a location in Ukraine. But since the Gulag was a huge system, we had a choice. Our art director showed us photos and videos from Kryvyi Rih once. We went there in winter and saw red earth and guard towers. It made for impressive atmosphere. We decided that this would stand in for the Urals in our film.”
What other complications did you encounter during filming?
“I am not a novice in the cinema, but this was my first time working on a large historical action film. The script was being updated all the time. It covered the whole novel, but since the latter included flashbacks, the main difficulty was to understand what kind of movie we were filming. We had Kokotiukha summoned to the film set five times to expand or cut the script. In abandoning Chervony’s memories and flashback, we risked simplifying his character, turning him into a one-function man, who comes in as a hero and goes down as a hero. But we deliberately took this risk because, in the end, the film is not so much about a single warrior, but rather about the inevitability of the fall of Moloch and the deaths of those who worship this false god. Meanwhile, Chervony acts as the embodiment of this inevitability. However horrible and long winter might be, spring would still come. The uprising scenes were scripted in detail, and the uprising itself took us 15 nights to film in late May. By the way, only half of what we had filmed made it in the final product. Yes, it was physically difficult, but everyone was very motivated.”
Now that some time has passed, do you see something that could have been done better?
“Of course. There is always such a feeling. I was lucky as I immediately switched to a new film, no less difficult one, which deals with the ATO, I mean Call Sign Banderas. Now during the tour, I watch the film as if I see it for the first time and see all the slips and shortcomings. Still, I hope its attraction prevails.”
Did you learn some particularly impressive things when working on Chervony?
“We are often criticized for not having enough dirt and brutality, for showing prisoners as not really unhappy. My response is that when preparing for the filming, we went through veritable mountains of data, including photos. I saw dozens of photos of UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) soldiers taken in the Gulag barracks. They posed for the photographer. The very fact that they posed is incredible, and besides, all of them wore embroidered shirts and were clean. At first I was surprised, and then I realized: they considered themselves prisoners of war. All were sentenced as guilty of high treason according to Article 58 of the Soviet Russian Penal Code, but they were well aware that they did not betray any homeland, were now in a foreign territory, and still were serving with an army. They were tough people and behaved accordingly. They feared looking like goners more than death itself. They had embroidered shirts, and nobody dared to rob them of these shirts. So we did not invent anything.”
What do you want to achieve in your screen work?
“I consider myself a narrator. I came to the cinema from literature, realizing that I liked to tell stories in a visual way. So, for me, the greatest pleasure is to tell a fascinating story. I do not want to deal with my psychological issues at the expense of the viewer. Until the world catastrophe happens, people will need stories. This is how we are.”
Did Ukrainian or Georgian film schools affect you in any way?
“I have always tried to get away from the influence of the Georgian film school. Otar Iosseliani, for instance, has been generating waves of epigonism, but I feel myself closer to the famed British director David Lean. The same applies to the Ukrainian poetic cinema. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Sergei Parajanov have already happened, so why should they be imitated? Freeing oneself from their influence is difficult, but necessary. In this sense, the 1990s became a watershed: after a complete collapse, a new generation arose on the ruins. I tried to look at the world through the eyes of my son, who was born in 1990, and realized that I do not like moralization, parable-like narration, but I want to see stories that cause emotions and motivate. Schools no longer exist. There are just individual people. I was fortunate to work at the Mediterranean Institute with three projects and learn from the best European filmmakers, so I know what I am talking about.”
You already mentioned your new films. Could you tell us a bit more about them?
“Now we have Call Sign Banderas in post-production, in the edition stage, and we hope it will be released in the spring. As for the cycle about Chervony, the original novel consists of three parts. Recently, our prequel project won the pitching competition at the State Film Agency, and it is based on the novel’s first two chapters. Accordingly, one of the main themes of the new film will be the formation of the hero from 1936 to 1945, from a student to an UPA ensign. What is his purpose, how does he realize his mission, how is his character being tested? This is a drama, there are not only battle scenes in it, although there will be as much as five of them. For example, one battle episode features combat between Chervony’s detachment and the rear guard of Sydir Kovpak’s army. Yet dramatic motifs are more clear, because the story centers on a teacher and his two disciples; on how the seeds that we have sown are sprouting.
“And after all this, we will turn to the cycle A Lawyer from Lviv. This is a detective work, and it shows an impressive epoch. It is set in Austria-Hungary in 1908 and features period imagery and style. I really want to play with it.”
So you are trying to make entertaining movies, are not you?
“What are we doing today? We are engaged in new myth-making. New myths are absolutely necessary for this country. New blood is needed in culture, new coordinate systems. Meanwhile, culture always has some basic codes, including its pantheon of heroes. It is obviously lacking in Ukraine. We do not hide that Chervony is our first attempt, and Banderas is us working in the same direction. The protagonist of A Lawyer from Lviv is a character from the European Belle Epoque – a detective, an intellectual, a patriot, an adventurer, an exile from tsarist Russia, who finds himself in Lviv, where spy games are ongoing which involve intelligence services of several countries. Such a character, too, is clearly lacking in our ‘pantheon.’”
It turns out that you are making not only entertaining, but also “manly” films...
“They are rather boyish ones. Why not? I like it. I remember how I once went to watch The New Centurions in the winter with my younger brother and my father. This was the last show that day. We were returning home through the park. Some hooligans started bothering us. Now, Dad was not an athlete, but he defended us so well that they fled. That evening, for me, was a fundamental experience. The film, where heroes follow their own code of honor, and this episode in the park – both still live in me. However, during our tour with Chervony Kokotiukha also claimed that it was a manly movie, but two women approached us in Chernivtsi and said: ‘What kind of a manly movie is this? This is a love movie.’ Also, women have been making up half of the film’s audience on every occasion. I think that so-called manly films are most pleasing for female audiences. Because there are always brave people in them, and what is the hero’s motivation in them? To get his woman like him. It is only that Chervony’s woman is Ukraine.”
So where should our cinema move?
“The Georgian cinema has no other option than to develop into a festival art, because there is no market, there is no big industry there. In Ukraine, we simply have to have a real film industry. So we have to develop all niches, using the genre cinema as a backbone. Right now, there are three Ukrainian films in cinemas – the historical action film Chervony, the comedy Dzidzio Contrabass and the art house drama Black Level. For me, this is a confirmation that we are moving in the right direction.”