Sergei Loznitsa: ‘I have the right to be an idealist’

Anastasia Grishchenko's picture
Sergei Loznitsa: ‘I have the right to be an idealist’

Endless static shots. Fearless and perfectly composed. Never any portrait. No voice-overs, no music, no interview. Except Ukrainians singing their national anthem with conviction and passion. Folk songs, protest poetry and anti-government speeches as a soundtrack. ‘Small people’ as leading actors. People who rebel against iniquity and arbitrariness of authorities. Script is a history. Civil unrest that eventually blows president Yanukovich out of the country. The setting is Independence Square in Kiev called Maidan. At first the gathering has a carnival feel. Joyful and easy-going. But then authority starts its repression. Revolt turns to revolution. Maidan becomes a storm of fire and water. Here, Maidan is not only a historical venue but also an artistic act, universal image. A lesson.

There is no feature film. It’s the personification of what cinema is all about: showing the world. Of course, the director shows the world the way he sees it. Trying to reveal civil protest’s nature Loznitsa shot from the inside the protester’s encampment. Thanks to this approach his film becomes a mighty documentary. Impassive and indifferent. But only partly impartial. Of course it’s difficult to be unbiased being inside the barricade. For instance, we do not see provocateurs or the nationalist militants that were in the camp. The point of view which is followed by Europe and USA not Russia. But the truth is always somewhere in between.

In this case this film is considered to be a magnificent piece of art rather than  the full chronology of events we can rely on. No wonder that Loznitsa said his inspiration for Maidan came from the cult, silent film ‘Strike’ by Eisenstein, the Soviet director best know for ‘The Battleship Potemkin’.

Anastasia Grishchenko spoke with Ukrainian director Sergey Loznitsa about his third film to appear at Cannes.

AG: What was your first impression when you arrived in Kiev for shooting?

SL: When I got to Kiev in December I realised immidiately that Yanukovich is not the president of Ukraine anymore. He lost all respect of the people. It was clear that  this regime was going to end soon and no force is capable of keeping the ruler in power. No force can resist the will of the thousands and hundreed of thousands of people who express thier desire for a change.  Even I grew up in Kiev and I know the city very well I was really impressed by the changes I observed.

AG: When did you decide to make a film?

SL: I decided to go immidiately after I finished my obligations. I was working on a different film and had an opportunity to go after I finished it. I understood very well that there was an historical event that had to be documented.

AG: How dangerous it was to be there?

SL: Of course, it was a present sensation of danger, but at the same time when I got to Maidan I was very impressed by this feeling of safety, the feeling of being at the right place. And then afterwards Sergey Stefan, our cameraman, was shooting. I believe that during his work he found himself in very dangerous situations.  

AG: When you first arrived in Maidan in December did you expect that events would develop the way they did?

SL: Yes. I could predict everything from the very beginning. I know that things would develop this way. By the rules of drama. I had a felling that some forces were responsible for it. Maybe there were people’s forces? I did not know exactly who managed this. But I felt that the power of people was there, very forceful and very present. I saw people, the protestants who were not going to go away until they achieve what they wanted. On the other side there were the authorities who did not have desire for a change. So it was clear from the very beginning that the conflict would expand.

AG: Was it difficult to find a producer when you have no script at all?  No rough idea about how its going to be at the end.

SL:  Usually when I go to a producer and ask for support, Im 100 per cent confident that I have a project. In this particular case I did not know how it would develop and I did not even know if I had a film. It takes a while to receive a response from a producer and in our case we didn't have any time for it. So, up until 23rd of March 2014 the film was financed by me and our small company based in the Netherlands. And then I got a support of the Netherlands film fund. It enabled us to finish the film and do post production which is the most costly part. From this point of view its a no-budget film.  

AG: What equipment did you use in such difficult conditions? 

SL: I used a simple Sony camera, and Sergey Stefan used Canon, also very simple. I was amazed by the digital image, by the quality. It turned out that its possible to obtain quality and images by digital camera.

AG: Why did you choose a static camera when you shot the movie?

SL: It had nothing to do with danger. Every time I start making films I write out a set of rules according to which I work.  The film was going to be about people. I did not want to have several protagonists, they would not explain anything. This dictates composition, community of plan and its duration. That’s why I need a long static camera to show people. Then there is a question how to develop the drama of the film. There is a great example that exists in Russian cinema culture with great masses people in action. It is called ‘Strike ‘ by Eizenstein. He was my teacher. Then I just followed the events. It was the way I built the film. Every new scene shows a new stage of development of the story.

AG: There is no political figure, no mention of the Right Wing. It's clear that you deliberately kept it out of the story. Why?

SL: When I was in Maidan I had heard very little about the Right Wing. Yes, we heard about it from other sources, but it had very little to do with what was actually happening in Maidan. When it comes to politicians I had an impression that they weren't running the show.Their presence wasn't a sort of paramount significance.  

There were moments during the Maidan campaigns when people didn't agree with what politicians said. So they started beeping and forced them out of the stage. A few days later a politician came back with proposals he heard form the people. So I had an impression that politicians weren't making decisions and leading this movement.  Politicians stay behind people. Actually there were a lot of civil organisations called Maidan headquarters. You do not know their members, but there were active in running Maidan.

AG: Eisenstein film ended with a debacle of factory workers, with a shooting of protesters. Your film ends with the funeral. One might think that it's your attitude to the story, that it's a funeral of the whole event. How do you feel about it?

SL: The film ends with the memorial ceremony honoring the victims, fighters who died in Maidan. It’s about memory and about saying farewell to the people who gave their lives for Maidan. I think it’s very important to preserve this memory. In our country it’s very common to have monuments for unknown soldiers. I believe that things will change if our heroes have names.

AG: Your film can also be considered as a warning. 

SL: I hope so. In my opinion there was one main politician, the people of Ukraine, who joined their efforts,  their will, their power in order to make change. The active phase of Maidan started when people lost their patience. It wasn’t possible to go on for hundreds of days with nothing happening, with no change. So it started getting more serious. No matter who leads Ukraine now. The  Main politicians are the people of Ukraine. They will always be beside, ready to show that they can make change. It’s already the second Maidan. They gain more experience and become even much stronger and more organized. I may sound idealistic, a person who sees everything in a slightly rosy light, but as an artist I have the right to be an idealist.


Text by Anastasia Grishchenko, Cannes

Photos by Katerina Slipchenko