Jord den Hollander & Jeroen Slot
How did get to know the Novgorod theater?
Between 2001 and 2006 I was living in Moscow and was working as photographer. In 2006, shortly before moving back to United States, I was shooting an assignment for Vogue magazine Russia. They had invited fashion guru Andre Leon Tally to come to Russia and I had to photograph him on his travels. They got him a private jet. We flew around Russia and spent a few days in Novgorod the Great. There, I photographed Tally in front of kremlins and many churches.
On a day when Tally was too tired to work, I went around Novgorod myself. I drove in search of historical monuments to photograph. Suddenly the car made a turn and there was this incredible, otherworldly structure. That’s basically how my relationship with the building started.
When did you decide that it was a good topic for a film?
It didn’t really happen right away. Initially, I didn’t want to do anything with the building. One day I proposed a Swedish journalist, with whom I previously worked on Moscow City Guide, to make a similar guide, but this time for a small for a provincial Russian town, like Novgorod the Great. She agreed. Three month later we met in St Petersburg and went to Novgorod. The theater suddenly snapped back in front of us, and it was the only thing we were both interested in Novgorod. I took a lot of pictures of both, exterior and interior of the building.
In the end the Swedish journalist didn’t write a thing. Half a year later I realized that the project would simply disappear if I didn’t do something. At that time, I also discovered that the architect wasn’t the Russian rock star Andrei Makarevich like everyone thought. As a result of my interviews with real architect of the building, Vladimir Somov, I wrote a story and later self-published a book with pictures. In 2009, I applied for a grant to make a film about the theater. Luckily, I got it, and in summer 2010 I went to Novgorod and Moscow. I shot the film in one month and two weeks.
You have used a very personal approach to tell the story. That works really well.
I tried many ways. The editing of the project took years. It was of the hardest things I ever accomplished. Making a film about a building is really not easy. Not that I ever thought it would be.
Did you work with a script?
It didn’t have a script. The story I wrote earlier was the research foundation for the film. The film is not like the story I wrote. That is more about discovery. In the film, I go back to my meeting with the Somov in 2008/2009. He stated that art is made for the individuals, not for the ignorant masses. I was appalled by his elitist attitude. In the film I bring up that subject of the integration of the building in Novgorod, whether it belongs there or not and who it was built for. It all came out of his response.
Were you surprised to find the architect in the state he was in? He isn’t like the archetypical architect who lives in a posh house surrounded by design furniture. This architect looks more like a 19th century Russian writer.
I remember meeting him for the very first time in a metro station in Moscow. He was like a hippie dude. He had his hair tied back in a ponytail and was wearing Birkenstocks. Under his arm he carried a tattered folder with his drawings. I could see right away that he wasn’t coming from any posh environment. He looked like a poor man. I didn’t see his place until I went to visit him. He’s quite a character.
He certainly wasn’t working for his fame or acclaim. But he is a very ambitious man though. He is a totally self-centered, typical egoistical artist. He says he never cared about money and in the end, he paid the price. Even in the soviet days there were maverick architects. They were very expensive and sought-after. He obviously wasn’t. He was a functionary architect, working for a company that was designing theaters all over Soviet Union.
In the film, the theater is disliked by the people of Novgorod. Only the drunks, punks and skaters hang out at the theater. Do you see them as the real connoisseurs in Novgorod?
I was torn. In the film, I took a position, that young people’s activities around the theater was something negative, in a sense. The initial idea of the theater designed to improve the cultural climate in Novgorod, was diminished by the kids who were skateboarding and sniffing glue. At the same time, I thought that their presence near the building was really great. If I were their age that is exactly where I would hang out. The place is just cool. It proves that Somov’s theater building carries a very special energy, unlike any other architectural structures in Novgorod.
The film is not so much an anthem to this building. No architecture exists in a vacuum. It’s more an analyses of the society that surrounds the building and lets it fall apart.
Now that you’ve been working for so many years on this film, do you want to make more films about buildings? No. I’m very scared to approach anything that has to do with architecture. It’s just so difficult. To make a film about an architect is a no brainer. But the building, and the plight of the building as a metaphor of the society, no. I think that from now on I will with more humanitarian subject matters.Deel dit item