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Interview with Karen Georgievich Shakhnazarov

Karen Georgievich Shakhnazarov is the leading Russian filmmaker, producer and screenwriter, and the director of “Mosfilm”, the most prominent film studio in Russia. Shakhnazarov’s films, the recipients of prizes at the world’s most prestigious film festivals and forums, are celebrated among both Russian and foreign spectators.

Mr. Shakhnazarov holds many distinctions, awards and accolades. He is distinguished with the ultimate honorary titles in Russia: he is a People’s Artist of the Russian Federation (2002), and an Honored Artist of the Russian Federation (1997).

In 1988, Mr. Shakhnazarov won the valued Vasilev Brothers State Award for his feature film “The Messenger Boy”. Mr. Shakhnazarov is the recipient of such thought-after Russian awards as the 2003 Russian Federation State award for the film “Star”, the 1986 Leninist Young Communist League award for the advancement of a musical comedy genre in his movies “We Are From Jazz” and “Winter Evening in Gagry”, and the 1982 B. Polevoj literary award for his novel “The Messenger Boy”. In 2005, Mr. Shakhnazarov won the Jerusalem International Movie Festival Achievement Award, and an award for his contribution in the art of global cinematography at Ischia Global Film and Music Festival in Italy. Among other prizes in Shakhnazarov’s extensive collection, there are European Science Fiction Association award for best film (1989), and the Belgrad International Film Festival grand prize (1991).

In 2005, Mr. Shakhnazarov was honored by “Darin” Russian Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship National Award for his outstanding achievements in effective management and administration of cultural and art institutions. Mr. Shakhnazarov is a member of the Board of the Cinematographers’ Union, a member of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Russia, a member of the collegium of the Ministry of Culture of The Russian Federation, a member of the Board of the Russian Film Academy, and European Film Academy, and a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.

Karen Georgievich presented his new work “Ward # 6” (2009) at the Festival of Russian Culture in Tokyo. This film brought him the “Golden Eagle” annual award in the Best Film Director category. (“Golden Eagle” is the Russian Oscar). Also, Shakhnazarov`s “Ward No.6” has been selected to represent Russia in the Best Foreign Film nomination at the Academy Awards. Mr. Shakhnazarov kindly agreed to be interviewed by Natalia Yurkanova.

Karen Georgievich, your new film “Ward # 6” leaves the viewer under impression that space and time are relative categories. What is Time in your opinion and what is included in this concept?

-It is a hard question….which cannot be answered off hand, is there Time at all, the entire humanity has been contemplating time, and nobody has come up with a definite answer so far, it is a relative and human concept.

What death, the issue spotlighted in Ward # 6, the film we just saw, means to you?

-This is also a very hard question, impossible to expand in an interview… this is too serious an issue, it can be approached only in the works of art.

What film impressed you the most?

-There are scores of them, too many to mention them all. If anything, I was most affected by the creative work of Fellini and Buñuel.

I would like to find out how you work with actors, what do you begin with? What do you tell them if they have a hard time doing something?

-You know, the matter of auditions is very important to me, in the first place, it is so very important to find an actor who fits into the concept and matches the character. If I find an actor like this, working with him or her is fairly simple, because the actor himself feels what is needed and he or she does not require a complex rehearsal phase. For me, the selection is more crucial than further work with an actor.

Do you apply the “I don’t believe” rule in your work?

-Yes, of course. I apply it and I test everything with this very rule; I can say “You play untruthfully, I don’t believe it”. It remains a very important rule for me. When I work, it is necessary for me that the actors play truthfully and the viewers believe the created characters. Of course, such notion as “I don’t believe” plays a very important role in my work.

What do you learn from shooting a film?

-In different ways, every film is a new experience; they teach me a lot… I shot 13 films and every one of them taught me a great deal and gave me know-how and sophistication in filmmaking.

When you finish a screenplay, do you have to change something in it in comparison with the scope of the film?

-Sure, as a rule it changes significantly. In general, usually I am always one of the screenplay authors, so something is always added, transformed, something is taken away, some scenes are expanded or rewritten.

Can you describe the process of shooting, any curious incidents?

-This is a very common question (laughs...) Both something funny and something tragic always happens during shooting, it is all like in true life. Shooting is like life, everything happens…

What in your opinion can make a human being happy?

-Health…No doubt about it.

What, in your opinion, makes up a current concept of “the hero of our times”?

-Oh I don’t know…Does our time have a hero at all and who is it? (laughs…)

Would you reveal your creative projects?

-I plan on a new shooting in the near future, but for now I’d rather not share my plans and talk about them, am afraid of a jinx (laughs…)

I would like to recommend to all Tokyoites our new Mosfilm site, where the golden collection of Soviet and Russian films can be viewed. The site’s address is www.mosfilm.ru

And also, I want to wish everyone wellbeing!

Thank you so much for the conversation!

-Thank you too!

You can listen to the radio interview here: www.yuna-japan.jp

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