As an Indie Filmmaker, Irina wrote, produced and directed two full length documentary films. Her debut doc feature Miss Gulag, produced in association with Neihausen-Yatskova Films on a beauty pageant in a Russian prison for women, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007 (available on Amazon Prime). Miss Gulag received positive reviews from critics and audiences, broadcasted on BBC, Canadian CBC Documentary Channel, distributed educationally, and won several awards, such as Best Debut Feature at the Moscow International Human Rights Film Festival and the Saratov Film Festival. It was also screened at various international film festivals, such as Berlin, Sheffield, Silverdocs, Seattle, Morelia, Vienna, ZagrebDox and Warsaw. The film was praised for its humanistic and compassionate portrayal of the women, as well as its insight into contemporary Russian society.
Her second documentary Anything You Lose, an insightful portrayal of infertility journey, won funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and test-screened at the Barbican Theater in London, as part of the International Fertility Festival in 2019, to audience acclaim.
Your project takes a part in our festival.
What is your project about?
Anything You Lose is a cinema verité experience spanning 7 years of my reproductive treatments, packed in 64 minutes of riveting documentary footage highlighting the pivotal moments of the journey and sharing the eye-opening insights and realizations uncovered along the way.
What were your requirements for actors to take a part of your film?
The film is a documentary, all characters are real participants of the events, and all scenes were filmed as the narrative unfolded in the moment, nothing is staged or repeated.
How did you communicate with the cameraman?
In my opinion, the most important skill a documentary filmmaker can have is patience, to be able to feel the moment and keep rolling the camera past the routine bits of life, in hopes of catching glimpses of true human nature in changing circumstances. The project had several cameramen in various locations, plus it was recorded over the span of 7 years, so people and places have changed, while the approach remained the same; containing the moment, catching everything that transpires without calling attention to the camera.
What locations did you choose for your project? And why?
Anything You Lose was shot on location in Mumbai, India, in Manhattan, New York, and in Westhampton, Long Island. These were the places where we lived with my husband, and where the medical and media advice have led us. Specifically, regarding India, we chose to go there because of the overwhelming evidence in documentary films, like Google baby (2009), Made in India (2010), House of Surrogates BBC series (2013) and numerous print publications, that India was the booming point of business for successful surrogacy.
Why should distributors buy your film?
Everyone who watches the film says that they would like to show it to their younger siblings, or in schools and colleges. People with children find a new appreciation for their kids. My personal intention in making of this film was to share the hard-earned experience and wisdom gathered through personal mistakes and misconceptions, so others do not have to follow in those footsteps, to spare some needless suffering and heightened expectations. But most importantly, to talk about the essence of what it is to be alive and thriving.
What expression elements did you use in your
project? How would you characterize your work?
It’s cinema verité, so many times I’ve heard a comment that it feels like fiction, but not because it is hard to believe. The main character’s inner thought process is revealed through the device of voice-over, anchoring a level of intimacy that is not customary in documentaries. I also very much enjoy various visual quotes and references that allow to escape linear storytelling for a moment and relate a feeling, hint at a memory in the same way how it is sometimes perceived in real life. I also use presence in nature as a way of taking pauses in between relentless human striving of the ego.
At what festivals have you had success? Has
the film already premiered? If so, where?
The film took 14 years to make; 7 years of filming and another 7 years of digesting and processing the lesson contained in the story. The subject matter is still largely a societal taboo wrought with complications, but a 64 min cutdown version created in 2023 garnered 3 Awards in 3 categories at the first showing. Anything You Lose received Award of Excellence in the category of Documentary Feature, Award of Excellence in the category of Viewer Impact: Content / Message Delivery, and Award of Excellence in the category of Reality Programming from IndieFEST Film Awards. Documentaries Without Borders Film Festival bestowed a Merit in Human Spirit Award. The North American Premiere took place in Los Angeles, CA on October 7, 2023 (Awareness Film Festival), followed by the East Coast Premiere in New York City on November 5, 2023 (The Big Apple Film Festival). The film is slated to premier in Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and Anika, Sweden, among other invites and considerations.
What motivated you to become a filmmaker?
When I was 6 years old, I sat in my room looking out of the window at the downtown Moscow historical old courtyard. Suddenly, I noticed a man running across the rooftop of a house across the yard, balancing on the ledge. He ran to the middle of the roof, stopped, took out a gun and pointed it to the right, then to the left, and then directly at me. I slowly slid below the windowsill for safety and hid there till my parents found me and sent me playing outside in the courtyard.
I stayed close to my building entrance, concerned about the gunman. There, a beautiful blond lady approached me and asked if I saw the film crew. The film crew! At that moment, a thousand bells rang in my head. I was spellbound and hooked for life.
Which movies are your favorites? And why?
I have a 5-pack of all-time favorite films, and they are Cabaret with Liza Minelli, All That Jazz by Bob Fosse, Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick, and Sound and Fury, a cinema verité documentary by Josh Aronson. Each of these films is uniquely different, but each illustrates a peak performance of the human spirit in dire circumstances. I am enchanted by Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces book, and find the hero’s journey in this multitude of characters, be it a romantic cabaret singer stuck in Nazi Germany, a Broadway director searching for beauty and eternity, a young southern hustler with a heart of gold surviving New York City, a married woman unable to turn down true love, and challenged kids striving to grow and learn everything about this world, regardless of the circumstances. I love when films appeal to the capacity of human spirit to survive, thrive and get enlightened.
What topics do you like to deal with in your work?
I like to work with female archetype. Myself being a woman, I look at life mostly through the prism of human conscience, without dividing it into male and female aspects. But that is not how the society at large operates. I like female dare devil characters. These women transcend the limitations of the traditional gender roles, inspiring action, valor, love and admiration, transcendence, moving along development and progress. My first film, Miss GULAG (2007), delved into the world of a beauty pageant held in a Siberian prison for women in post-soviet Russia, and also speaks on this theme.
What genre do you like to shoot and why?
Cinema Verité is my favorite shooting style because life is much stranger than fiction. Particularly now, when special effects and filters can enhance any storytelling, I look for the authentic core in character. In recent years I have been leaning more towards documentaries as a truer and more satisfying form of cinematic art.
What projects do you plan to shoot in the future?
I have a dream project I would love to embark on, given the chance and the right circumstances. It is a documentary on life and work of a remarkable Russian poet and chansonnier Igor Talkov, who was assassinated under unexplained circumstances in 1991. His life story is reflective of the country’s history, and his creativity embodied both fearless social criticism and a strong love for his country.
How has COVID affected your film life?
I’m grateful for the time of social distancing. Although it was very hard for me to get adjusted to the new reality, the months of isolation pointed at the areas of my life that had been previously neglected and had to be addressed. As a result, I strengthened my family ties and learned a great deal about showing up for loved ones. Covid-19 was an instrumental break I needed to take from my personal narrative to get objective about other timelines and scenarios present on the planet, granting me that coveted objectivity that allowed to create the final cutdown of the film.
What do you do if you're not thinking about
a movie? What are your hobbies?
I am afraid of this question. When I was young, I didn’t like the weekends because I felt that they were boring. I am a very active mind; I am relaxing when I have a purpose. But I do love animals and nature, and find a great source of energy and strength in admiration of our beautiful living planet.
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