VIFF 2018 Interview: VOLCANO director Roman Bondarchuk

“This is a story about Lukas, an interpreter for a military checkpoint inspection tour, who gets lost near a remote Ukrainian town. This is also portrait of deserted land, during a very dramatic moment of history in my country; of new provincial order, where people live their own lives, some of them even without any documents or connection to the state. Living in the city, it is hard to imagine a magical place like this, where people still see mirages, with local feudals, private security groups on watermelon fields and checkpoints in the middle of nowhere exists.” Director Roman Bondarchuk on VOLCANO which screens at the 2018 edition of VIFF.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes, this will be my first time in Vancouver and second time in Canada! My previous film, a documentary called UKRANIAN SHERIFFS was screened at Hot Docs, in Toronto. And sure, I am coming to present my film and looking forward to discuss it with audience afterwards.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I was always interested in mechanics. We had a typing machine at home, so from the age of seven I started to type. First just to discover it’s mechanism, but slowly I switched to diaries and then to short stories. At the age of nine I won a literature competition and children’s magazine published my book. Then I was fascinated of how video camera works. My parents bought me a HI-8 camera, I quit school and joined a small experimental video production studio called Totem. We produced video art and ads for local shops and factories.

In the 1990’s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we all were poor and shops paid us with goods from toothpaste to sausages or sugar. Then I enrolled to the film school in Kyiv. The competition was tough, but as far as I already had quite strong experimental films to show, they accepted me. My teacher was Yuri Illenko, one of the founders of Ukrainian poetic cinema, cinematographer of Sergey Parajanov’s masterpieces.

After graduation I discovered that my country produces from two to three fiction films per year and decided to make documentaries as they are much easier to finance. UKRANIAN SHERIFFS was my first full length documentary about the remote village on the south of Ukraine where people had no access to police and elected the strongest and the smartest guys among themselves to keep public order. The film won jury prize at IDFA in Amsterdam, had successful festival and distribution career and finally was selected as Ukrainian submission to Oscars Academy Awards in 2016.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

The core characters of VOLCANO are based on grandmother and uncle of my wife and co-author Dar’ya Averchenko. In 2008, on our way to the seaside, we drove to Berislav to visit Darya’s uncle Vova. The day before he had seen a story on TV about a man who dug out bones of a German soldier and sold them for a large sum of money. He also knew we worked together with some German film producers for another project and said that the only thing he needed was a metal detector and connections in Germany. He desperately tried to find himself something to do, otherwise he would go mad. Thanks to uncle Vova and his fantastic projects I started to understand the surrealism of that land. So, I started to make notes for this script ten years ago.

In preparations we spent most of the time looking for locations. Vova’s house was one of the last places we found, it’s in the very remote district, and there’s practically no road that leads there. We wanted to have the range and the width of Vova’s soul: unfulfilled plans to become wealthy and have a big family. There are many houses like this one over there, but in the one we filmed, you can feel a potential future. Then we had rehearsals at the locations, and watched in awe how a baroque amalgam of genres and meanings was being born.

Another challenge was that I wanted the locals to play local characters. They talk differently, move differently. The casting took place three months before the shooting. We walked around factories, clubs, fields and watermelon plantations. Some people were afraid that their daughters were not actually cast for a movie, but for trafficking to Turkey. And this one time we had to film a shepherd for a scene. There was this wonderful man with a cane and a grey beard. But his wife chased our casting director Tetiana away every time, because she was afraid that she was attracted to her husband.

Post-production was completed in Germany at Arri Media studio. The most complicated shot to produce was underwater world with two our characters sinking. First drafts looked like they were shot in Caribbean sea, but slowly, using real photographs, museum archives and video references from real reservoir we achieved absolutely realistic image.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? Coffee?

I don’t need stimulation to make films when I feel fascination about place, character or story. I drink coffee without sugar. Sometimes drink wine. But while shooting Volcano we all agreed not to drink wine as our hotel was located in winery and risks to exceed the limits where too high.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

It was impossible to dig the hole in the middle of the sunflower field with excavator as the ground was too hard. We hired eight gravediggers to make it. Another challenge was the scene with the “molecular glue”. Two of our main actors rehearsed the sale of the glue in the middle of the market. And actual customers started coming up to them and asking about the price. We made a scene in which random passers-by bought out nearly all props. When we wanted to do another take and asked the customers to give the “glue” back, people just ran off, because they didn’t believe it was a film shooting. One man shouted “I have been looking for this glue since 1995, and I’m not giving anything to anyone!” After that, the whole town reeked of plastic which was melted on gas stoves, according to the instructions on the package, but it turned out that our prop makers didn’t find the actual glue and used fake plastic.

Watching the film in the hall full of audience and opportunity to feel their emotions – is my best reward.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

From the very beginning together with DP Vadym Ilkov we decided that the means must be very simple. We only filmed with the tripod or carried the camera on the shoulder. We followed the environment and looked what it had to offer and what it had to say. Main camera was RED EPIC with Ultra Prime lenses. Very efficient use of light to keep the documentary-like feeling. For night exteriors we used a photo camera Sony Alpha 7s as it has extreme sensibility and you don’t need to create faked-blue “American Night”. Vadym is a very good documentary filmmaker himself, so we reached understanding from our first meeting.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Vancouver?

I am curious about humor in the film and if it fully works for Canadian audience. We have different backgrounds but also very much in common, I believe.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

From Vancouver I am travelling to Chicago, then to Pingyao in China, Cottbus in Germany, Malatya in Turkey, Rabat in Morocco then Goa, India and more after that with 30 festivals in total. And we are working on theatrical release here, in Ukraine.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

Shut up! Stop texting! Move faster! But while film is running you can say it only to yourself.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Practice is the most important thing, I believe.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?

Fellini’s AMARCORD.


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