Olya Sova: What does this film mean to you, and how did it come about?
Alexander Gorchilin: This film came about almost by accident, since I am not a director – I am an actor by profession. I’ve never specifically aspired to be a director.
As if by magic I got a call from a producer, who offered the chance to make a film, and I met up with writer Valery Pecheikin and in three days we came up with a draft script.
We received funding from the Ministry of Culture and then took a long time rethinking everything. I was 24 when this all happened. I decided to make a film about things which worried me at the time: the problem of self-identification, understanding who I am and what I can do, whether I’m good or bad, what I want and what I don’t, and what to do when you’re in Russia and don’t really want to do something, because circumstances smother any initiatives and desires.
I told Valery a few stories from my past. For example, the suicide of the boy at the beginning of the film: this was sort of like the starting point of the story, because it was a real event that happened a few houses away from me. At the time we all thought that everything would be fine, and in the morning I read on Facebook that the boy was no longer alive. I considered whether, if my friend and I had got a call from a someone who said that he was getting rowdy, if we hadn’t shrugged it off and thought, well, he’ll sober up and everything will be fine, and had instead gone over and tried to do something, would it have happened or not?
OS: Many are calling your film a 'generational manifesto'.
AG: That’s nothing more than PR. This is not the case. It’s not a manifesto, I think it's just an observation.
Here we have an environment in which, somehow, only a select few people are trying to overcome it, overthrow it, and change something about it
OS: Nevertheless, the protagonists in the film have lived their entire adult life under Putin. How politicised are they? How much do they care about everything that happens in their country?
AG: As we see in the film, just like most guys, they don't directly think about it that way. Politics concerns them, but they probably do not understand how strongly these things are interconnected and why they are as they are. Because they are in such an environment, and who makes the environment as it is? The government, the current government. Here we have an environment in which, somehow, only a select few people are trying to overcome it, overthrow it, and change something about it. And all the others just exist.
OS: Your main actors on the film, yourself and Pecheikin, are the creative heart of the Gogol Centre under the leadership of Kirill Serebrennikov [the Russian filmmaker who directed Gorchilin in The Student, and who was controversially arrested in 2017].
AG: Kirill means everything to me. That is, he’s my master – I studied with him at the institute, at the Moscow Art Theatre School. The Gogol Centre is my job, it’s the place where every day we compose something new and worry that we might all get arrested. But we’re not really worried, of course, we don’t care. We do try to talk about the urgent problems of today.
OS: Can you tell us what’s happening with Kirill Serebrennikov now?
AG: This all began two years ago. Kirill was taken away from the film set. We were shooting the film Leto in St. Petersburg, and in the morning all the actors and crew were gathered on set. Everyone was in costume and make-up. They were all ready to go out and shoot, but the director wasn’t there.
People started looked for him - he wasn’t in his hotel. They asked at reception where he had gone, and then they looked at CCTV footage and saw that the night before some people had entered his room in St. Petersburg, handcuffed him, taken him out into the street and put him in a car, and had then driven him all through the night to Moscow. That’s how their psychological tactics work.
In the morning he was taken immediately to court and accused of allegedly embezzling state funds.
A year later, he was put under house arrest for two and a half years. He was allowed outside for two hours a day, just by his house, he couldn’t meet anyone, and during all of this he staged Nureyev at the Bolshoi Theatre for the Moscow Ballet, all while under house arrest. He staged the play Baroque in the Gogol Centre and edited Leto, amongst other things. All this without leaving house arrest, under video surveillance.
He wasn’t imprisoned in the end but was still forced to pay out millions for the alleged embezzlement, which had never happened. This is the environment we live in. We went to court, where I was a witness. I sat in the investigative committee and was interrogated.
So that’s it. But I very much hope that some changes will take place in Belarus now, and if Belarussians win their war with Lukashenko, then possibly that wave will reach us. But we’re such a big country, and so many people are in the dark because they still watch TV and are the victims of propaganda, and they lack critical thinking; they simply have no other information: they think that everything is as it should be.
There have been no rallies in Moscow for a very long time. And it seems that none are planned. Even now, with Navalny’s poisoning, no one’s taken to the streets. Even though everyone understands perfectly well that he was poisoned by someone from there.
OS: Do you want to send a message to British audience?
AG: I can only wish our British audience a pleasant viewing experience and wish them a happy and good life during this challenging time. I don't know how difficult it is there, but let's remember that the main thing is not cinema, the main thing is that we all remain human and live happily ever after with each other.