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Karen Shakhnazarov: “You either make a movie or you don't make a movie”

A Director General of the Mosfilm Cinema Concern, a film director, a screenwriter, and a producer. In 1975, he graduated from the VGIK department of general stage management. During his studies, he began working at Mosfilm as an assistant director. After graduation, he became a film director of the studio. In 1998, he headed Mosfilm and, until now, he is the Director General and Chairman of the Board of the Cinema Corporate Group. In 2002, he received the title of People's Artist of the Russian Federation.

Olga Bubnova, a TV BRICS correspondent, spoke with Karen Shakhnazarov.

You headed Mosfilm in April 1998. It turns out that you have been heading the largest film company in our country for 21 years. But you work at Mosfilm much longer. You came here as a director in 1975. And what was Mosfilm like, in 1975, when you were just starting your creative career there?

It was completely different. There are two points here: of course, an atmosphere, an creative atmosphere, and there is a technological state.

The technological state of Mosfilm in Soviet times was not quite the best, frankly speaking. In terms of how everything looked like, and in terms of technology. Of course, the Soviet Mosfilm did not have a world-class technology. There were a lot of problems in this regard. With colour and with sound, with recording.

Today's Mosfilm, from this point of view, I think, is up there with any studio in the world. This is a first-class studio, in terms of technology, in terms of its appearance. But if to speak from the point of view of creativity, then, of course, that Mosfilm, the Soviet one, where I came to, was much more charming. There was a completely different atmosphere. Well, the Soviet cinema was completely different. There was a very creative atmosphere. A very lively atmosphere.

And, in general, the lack of technology was compensated, frankly, by enthusiasm, such a creative activity of all those who worked in the cinema then. This is the difference between Russian cinema and what the Soviet cinema was. Of course, modern Russian cinema, technically, is done much better than the Soviet one. But, from the point of view of creative ideas, of course, it is inferior to the Soviet cinema very much.

So, we are stronger technically but less enthusiastic?

There are less creative ideas. Technically - yes. The thing is that cinema, in general, has two components. Because, after all, cinema, unlike literature and music, is very connected with technology. The equipment is very important, the quality of cameras, the quality of sound recording, the quality of music recording. But there is a second part, a creative one. That is the presence of artistic ideas. In this sense, I would say, modern Russian cinema and Mosfilm has done a lot technological - in general, of a high level. And in no way it is inferior to any cinema. But from the point of view of artistic ideas, the Soviet cinema, of course, was much richer. Why? You can talk on this topic for a long time. But it is true!

You headed Mosfilm in a rather difficult period for the studio, probably. What changes occurred then?

I mean, were there any changes, where?

There were changes, in principle, in the country, and you fought so that Mosfilm would not become private. So that it would not be privatized, so that it would remain exactly state-owned.

Well, yes, not only me, but also the management of Mosfilm, the staff. Our position was always that Mosfilm could not be privatized or incorporated. Time has confirmed that we were right. It’s just enough to go to the Gorky studio or to the Lenfilm studio, which were incorporated, and walk through Mosfilm. And you will see the difference. Mosfilm was not incorporated; Mosfilm is a state-owned enterprise, but Mosfilm does not receive any subsidies. We are a state-owned unitary enterprise that does not receive any funding from the state. And by the way, we are doing all the renovation at our own expense. That is, we operate as a market enterprise.

But we have a state status, which allows us, to a certain extent, to protect Mosfilm from any vicissitudes of the market. But the Gorky studio and Lenfilm were incorporated. And you can go and see what state they are in. Everything is in the same condition, in which it was in Soviet times, only worse, in my opinion. I do not want to cast the first stone to the management, there are objective processes. But it is so." We defended and continue to defend now that Mosfilm should not be funded by the state, that is, the state, I think, do not have to, Mosfilm can easily earn by itself, as it is doing now, but still it keeps its state status.

You said that you defended and continue to defend. How do you manage to keep this state status? Does it happen that it is not stable?

There were such moments when someone from high ranks wanted to incorporate it. Well, we tried to defend somehow, to convince. By the way, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saved us. We wrote letters to him; he, I must say, supported us. Well, such ideas occur from time to time - let's incorporate everything, let's privatize everything.

But you cope with it, don't you?

Well, yes, for now. I do not know how God could give.

You are the only one from your course in VGIK who became a film director after graduation, and how does this happen? Where are all the other film directors? And why, in principle, does this sort of dropout occur in this field?

I am not the only one, but one of the few. This is a common thing that one, two, or three graduates from a course become film directors. That's good. The profession is difficult. It is, in fact, a profession in which it is rather difficult to fulfil one's potential. It is still connected with the fact that cinema is an expensive business. It is necessary to get the opportunity to make your own movie, this needs some kind of financing, it is quite difficult. And then you need to be able to organize the process. But in this sense, it is quite a risk-related profession. Usual proportions for the course are so that when one or two guys become, really become film directors, that is good. Well, and others are involved in other fields, adjacent ones, they do something. I don’t know.

So that means that the profession selects the best graduates by itself.

In general, yes, to some extent, yes. I say it is quite a hard profession. If I had once known that it was so hard, maybe I would have never become a film director. In principle, the chances of being realized in this profession are very little. What is a film director? You can be a doctor, you can be a teacher, you can be an engineer. Well, let's say you did not become an academician. But you can still do your favorite thing. You can treat people in any village. All the same, it will be the job, for which you studied.

But in cineama it’s different: either you make a movie, or you do not make it. You can not prove in another way that you are a film director and that it is your mission. That is why, if you do not make a movie, that's all, you have failed. Therefore, when I was a lecturer, I always told my students: “You must understand that you have almost no chance of being realized. If you really understand this, maybe something will work out. ” When young people come to be students, they do not know it. It always seems to everyone that he or she will succeed. But life is different.

Have you ever thought of leaving the cinema?

There was such a period when I was not very successful. After my first movie, before "We are From Jazz". I had the first movie "Dobryaki" (Good-natured) - it wasn't very well, and I wasn't a great success later. I could not find a job for a long time and start a new movie. And I had the thought that maybe I had to leave the cinema. Those were not tragic thoughts. I just understood that I failed. I had to try something else, to do it differently.

And how did you manage finally? Did something inspire you to come back?

Well, it happened that I started shooting “We are From Jazz”, and that was my second movie. And it was the first successful one. It was a great success, and I thought that it was worth slowing down. Well, and so I started to shoot further.

I found your interesting quote, it seemed to me very unusual. You said that literature for you was much higher than cinema, the cinema was "half-art". But writing was something really eternal. Why?

Well, yes, I believe that literature as art is higher. Well, first of all, the cinema, after all, the film director, of course ... But the real art, I think, in my personal opinion, is always individual. Well, strictly speaking, a writer - he is alone. He has a pen or a computer now. A composer or an artist. And cinema is still a collective creativity. Not an individual one. It depends a lot on the organization, on the team, on the people who work with you.

Because you can't make a movie alone. It is still not as subjective as literature and music. And in this sense, yes, I think it is less art. There are a lot of technologies, industrial things in it. Therefore, I believe that literature, in any case, painting, music - as art they are higher. But people love movies, what can we do about it. People love to watch. And it seems to me that for people the perception of movies is, in principle, simpler than the perception of literature.

There are some signs in literature, yes, writing. You transform these signs into some images. In general, in terms of thinking, it is necessary to strain oneself. In the cinema you are offered, you already see images, in fact, there are less efforts. It is easier. The literature is more complicated, in my opinion. Therefore, I put it higher. But, unfortunately, today people read much less and watch movies much more. So the cinema still wins.

You have said that people love movies, but they probably love them because they are simpler or brighter, more interesting?..

Well, they are easier to perceive, of course, and it is not necessary to strain oneself. But this is a bad symptom. In general, I think that this is not good. I would prefer reading people.

Well, should some balance be between reading and watching?

Yes, it should be, but what I see in fact, in my opinion, is not so. That is, people read less and less, and watch movies, TV series. But you can't do anything about it. Apparently, our civilization has come to this.

You have said about TV series, but the series also take some of the popularity. If movies and books competed before, now movies and books are competing with TV series. How much do TV series affect this big world of information today?

Apparently, they have much impact. I do not really ... I can not say that I watch TV series, very rarely. For me, it's all too long. I can not watch so long. But I see that TV series are becoming very popular. People need to fill somehow their life. A modern man does not act on his own. That is, earlier peopl acted, they had to survive somehow. A man himself was a hero. And now a man is a spectator. He fills his life, watching how heroes act there. For me, this is not a very good symptom. But again, nothing can be done about it, apparently.

You have said that cinema is a collective process. But not only collective, it is also a very creative process, which is probably difficult to be somehow limited. I heard that very strict conditions were dictated to film directors in Soviet times, you had to present a certain amount of work in stages ... Was it really like that? For example, how long did it take you to shoot "We are From Jazz"?

There were exact parameters of the technology in the Soviet cinema that you had to comply with. There is nothing like that in modern cinema, and I believe that this is not an advantage now. And there were in the Soviet cinema. If you made a movie, you had to spend three months for a director's script, two months - a preparatory period. Two and a half months - shooting. Everything was very regulated, there was a plan. In the shooting period, you had to shoot, for example, a meter per day. This is a filmstrip, we had filmstrips then. For example, you had to shoot using fifty meters thereof in the pavilion, I think, thirty or thirty-four meters of exterior. Everything was very regulated.

And how can the process, in which there is so much human factor, be regulated?

Well, it can be - in general, it must be regulated. That's why I say, this is not literature - in literature you cannot, you write, and it costs nothing. And in the cinema, every shooting day is a lot of money. You can't just let it all hang out. Therefore, I do not see anything wrong with that. But - you must be able to. Therefore, you must be able to make a movie that you had in mind, and at the same time to keep within budget, there is a lot of bookkeeping in the cinema.

And did you have any situations when, I don’t know, because of some kind of nonsense, several shooting days went wrong.

Of course, plenty of such situations. First, sometimes someone was drunk, for example. Quite for no reason at all, I had to postpone the shift, because that person could not just say a word. So there were such cases. Well, a lot of such cases, of course.

Are you a strict film director?

Yes, probably enough, I get. I do not know, whether I am strict or not strict, but, probably, I am ... hard enough. You have to get what you want on the screen. And as I say, this is not an individual matter. When you write again or draw a picture, well, you are, after all, alone, you are on your own. And there are a lot of people here on whom it depends. You must somehow convince or sometimes force them. Somehow persuade them to do exactly what you want. That is a fairly complex process. You must be able to subordinate everything to the message that you want to send.

I am now talking to you now and see, even through glasses, how your eyes glitter when you are talking about the cinema. But I have recently read that when the Moscow Film Festival was, a cassette with Rome film by Fellini came into your hands, and you watched it again and again. But you are saying that such a “passionate love” for cinema has somehow passed away for you. Why? Did your feelings fade away, as they fade away between a man and a woman? Or is this some kind of creative rethinking of the profession?

I think that if I saw something like that, which made such an impression on me, like Fellini’s movies, I would probably react the same way. But, unfortunately, for a long time I have not seen anything that made the same impression on me as movies made at that time. Now, by the way, some of his movies are no longer so interesting. But still, there are some his movies that I watch with a sinking heart. I think that, in general, cinema and not only ours, is in crisis. I do not see such movies. You can watch less of them.

And what is this modern crisis in the cinema due to?

Hard to say. Probably, a philosopher must be asked. But for me it is obvious that there is one. And it is the same all over the world. So I have recently flown by plane and rewatched the "Scent of a Woman" with Al Pacino. Well, this is the movie. It has gripped my attention, and that's about it, and there is no doubt. Al Pacino, of course, acts amazingly there. Well, here you are, you know. But the movie, too, it is about twenty. Although, it is just awesome. I don’t know.

I'm afraid to ask this question, but - what feelings do you watch your own movies with?

Well, I do not really watch them. I do not rewatch them, because for me my movies go away. Sometimes I see them on TV, and I don't even match them with me. They live some kind of their own lives. Of course, if I watch, I always want to change something. But you cannot change anything in the movie ... That's why I don't go back to my movies.

And how does this usually happen? You make a movie, then it is cut in the editing control room, and you watch it during the editing process and then watch it once more - during the first performance, for example. Right?

In my opinion, any movie has two states. First is when it is being made, and it is not known to anyone except you, the people with whom you work. And then, a new life of the movie begins, it sometimes happens at the first performance, when the movie is watched by the audience. And this life may be completely different. Because people come, everyone has his own experience, everyone has his own opinion. The movie seems to be filled with the meanings of other people. And they see something in it, sometimes something that you didn’t even suspect. And you do not have to resist it. Movies have their own lives, to some extent they are like living beings. It feels like they are absorbing. The longer the movie is on, that is, it is still watched and will be watched even in twenty years, it means that there is something in it.

Did it happen that you reedited the movie that had been already finished?

Yes, it did. I did, I think, what is called a foreign word "remix", I did the "Ischeznuvshaya Imperiya" (Disappeared Empire). I did that, in fact, to be shown on TV. I had to make it a little shorter, to change a little. Well, and we made cuts and added music. We called it all "Lubov v SSSR" (Love in the USSR). But, in principle, it was the same movie.

That is, no meaning has changed there.

No, its meaning has changed some way. The previous one was, perhaps, more clever. And this one is more sensual. It was just about love.

What is talent? How to determine whether a person is talented or not? For example, as for Elizaveta Boyarskaya, you have said that this actress is a profound talent. But many viewers criticized her Anna Karenina. So how to understand whether a person is talented, where is this “profound talent”?

I think that the reason why many viewers, especially female ones, criticized Boyarskaya, does not refer to the cinema talent. There are different motives. Especially for women. I think she is extraordinarily talented. Just a big actress. And what is talent, well, by the way, in this case ... There was an English writer, Chesterton, a very good writer, he wrote detectives. A good writer, I do not know how well he is now known in Russia. He had a very interesting, and it seems to me, an exact phrase, he wrote: “How does talent differ from genius?” He wrote so: “Talent hits targets that everyone sees but cannot hit, and genius hits targets that no one sees.”

And it is true, it is really so ... Talent is a person, an artist, who really hits some targets that everyone seems but cannot hit. But he can. And really, a genius is something like that, he sometimes hits targets that no one sees. That is, some time later, people understand - oh, here, here it is. This is the target. I think, it's right. But I do not mean, as you, certain last names, like Boyarskaya, I am not talking about it now. I said about Boyarskaya that she, in my opinion, was very talented. I think, just an outstanding actress.

In principle, talking about the work on the Anna Karenina movie. When this movie was created, did you screen-test many actresses for the main role?

Yes, there were large screen-tests. Well, I also screen-tested Lisa, there were probably six or seven screen-tests. I shot her, I tried different scenes. But it was in her that I felt what I wanted to make a movie of, and she felt it. In Tolstoy’s novel, there is, of course, an element of a melodrama, and some read a melodrama there. But, in fact, it is not a melodrama. Generally speaking, this is a psychological, a very deep drama about passion. About the nature of passion. Not even love, but passion. And Lisa felt it. And I just wanted to show it in my movie. In fact, Lev Nikolayevich, I think, wrote his novel about this.

And how difficult it was to find a partner so that he would look so organically on the screen?

Well, and this is again, Maksim Matveyev. Very long, I shot him several times. Some people think it made any difference to me. Because they are married. It does not make any difference. For good artists, it doesn't matter at all. Believe me. And for me it did not matter. And I knew that if the artist was real, then for them - a husband or a wife, a brother and a sister, a mother and a son, I don’t know, a father and a daughter, it doesn’t matter, absolutely.

Affinity does not work here at all. Therefore, those who believe that I somehow had this in mind are wrong, I was absolutely not interested in it. Simply, he was really one of those artists whom I tested, and there were also a lot of them. He suited me the most for what I wanted to do. And for what he had to do in the movie.

I'm just not about affinity, not about relative relations. Who did you chose first? Did you look for a partner for Anna Karenina?

Lisa, of course. Well, in general, it went in parallel, although the film version of my movie is called “The History of Vronsky.” And, in general, the drama is built in such a way that it is the story of Vronsky, so, in fact, I have a hero – Vronsky. In fact, the story goes on his behalf. But all the realities - all the same, after all, she remains. For example, in the movie, because I made both the series and the movie, in general, he is definitely the main character. But still, first of all, I was looking for her. By the way, there were scenes where she acted with other actors. When during screen-tests, in the same place, naturally, there were scenes where was with Vronsky. And she acted with other actors. That is why, no, it all happened at about the same time.

By the way, about the series. So, to make a serial from “Anna Karenina” - Were those commercial motives, or is it some kind of creative urge?

No, I was first ordered series. It was an order, in fact, of the Russian television, Russia-1. They offered me to do exactly the series. I agreed in principle, but I made a condition that I wanted to do a film version too. Therefore, it was originally a series. They didn’t really need a film version. And I wanted to have a film version, because the movie for me is something more important.

And are there any unrealized ideas or scripts now that lie in the table? Any projects?

Well, there are some projects, but everything that I had in mind, I actually shot. I don't have, you know, some kind of a "chest" from where I take out things. There are some projects in the process, there are ideas, but for now I am not ready to voice them.

I hope that soon we will see some of your new projects or movies. We will wait, yes. Finally, can you name three of your most favorite movies? Or do they change from year to year?

My movies?

As a viewer, you come home and think: “I want to watch a good movie today”. What whould you watch?

I haven't watched movies like that for a long time, I must say. I really liked movies by Fellini, I still like some of them. Some of them - less. Not all, even they, stand the time. But still there are just awesome movies of his, such as “Road”, for example. "Road", I think, in general, is an amazing movie. Therefore, I do not know. It is difficult, yes, to name them, because some of them are still changing.

If you mean, what I would like to watch now, yes, by and large, I don't want anything. But it can happen. When I flew by airplane, I wanted to watch the "Scent of a Woman" again. And I really did not regret it, did not regret it at all. I understood that it was a great movie in all respects. First of all, the script is wonderful, Al Pacino is wonderful. It can be emotional. In principle, there are very, very interesting movies. Movies by Bönuel, and our movies by Stein, Kalatozov. But there is nothing I want to watch again - no. Nothing comes to my mind. But it can change in half an hour.

Thank you very much! We will wait for new projects and new movies - movies that we will want to watch again and again.