Harvard, HBO, Oscar nomination and friendship with Portman: as an immigrant from Belarus embodies the American dream
For the first time in the history of the country, the Belarusian film was nominated for an Oscar. In the film about the failed immigration "Crystal", the main role was played by Alina Nasibullina - the wife of rapper Husky. Edition KYKY told the story of director Daria Zhuk, who has been living between Minsk and New York for more than twenty years. She spoke about the path to the Oscars, co-education with Hollywood actress Natalie Portman and work at HBO.
The film "Crystal" tells the story of a provincial girl who wants to leave to work as a DJ in Chicago, but cannot do it because of the documents, so 90's remain in Minsk, realizing that nothing will ever change in the country.
How the film got the Oscar
The “Crystal” scenario lay on Belarusfilm for a year and a half. There was no feedback, I understood that I sent the project “to the village to my grandmother”, so I asked different people at the same time if they could be interested in the film, tried to find grants - I tried a lot of options for finding financial help, and when 50-60% came up budget, decided to start shooting. Many said that it is necessary to be patient, but I just could not stand it, besides, the Belarusian team constantly urged on, asked when we would start.
I connected Belarusfilm to work in the final stages of film making, so we cooperated on our terms.
Found points of contact that were useful to both parties. For example, the film studio gave us a natural platform, some costumes and equipment, and in return received a project interest rate — any company that even partially finances the project receives a percentage.
Then, on the basis of “Belarusfilm”, an Oscar Committee was created, which considered the application from my producer Valera Dmitrochenko and put forward the film as a candidate from the country. I have always considered such awards to be far-reaching and, of course, I did not make a film to fight for an Oscar - I wanted to tell this story to the Belarusians and the people of the West. In the process of making the film, I seemed to go to war, literally just returned from it and became a normal person. Before that, I was in my own astral: at some point during the preparation of the tape, life closed for several months, I just sat in my apartment and mounted a movie. She became a Monomaniac and spoke only about this film.
I learned that Crystal was being sent to an Oscar at a festival in Karlovy Vary — the producer approached me and said that our Oscar committee agreed to send the film for a prize. Valera told the news right before the premiere, and I had an emotional bust (smiles). Such big thoughts, in principle, never fit in my head, I was used to perceive only tangible.
Before applying for class A film awards (in Karlovy Vary), following the advice of Igor Sukmanov (director of the program of the game cinema at the international film festival “Listapad” - Approx. KYKY), we showed excerpts from the still unfinished film at industrial festivals. This is a good way to express yourself, because at such shows you can discuss cooperation with a variety of people. That is, we already knew about our project. In general, a movie can be pitched even before its filming begins: to talk about its idea to agents, producers who participate in the formation of lists at various film festivals, and then send the picture personally to them. This is important, since there seems to be interest from the West to Belarus, at festivals it is given a little space in the program, but at the same time we are not so interesting to the Western world to lay out the red carpet in front of us.
Our goal now is to get into the long list (10 films) of the film award. Of course, even better in the short list of five films for which they vote. But even if the film passes the selection and falls into the top ten, many will definitely see it, and as a director I will be offered work on other projects.
The biggest prize I want to get is the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
Oscar first time
About Oscar, I have a story. Once upon a time I was friends with a man who was a member of the Academy of this award. Once again I came to him to cry on my shoulder about the fact that I wanted to make a movie, and he handed me a ticket to Oscar - he himself was there twenty times already. I remember how everyone came to the ceremony in limousines, and I walked in a black little dress on a separate red carpet for mere mortals - they make it aside from the red one - nobody believed that I had a ticket. The organizers could not even imagine that someone could come to Oscar with their feet! It was in 2002, I naturally sat on the farthest balcony and, after going through a stage of pleasant shock, I realized that I wanted to be "downstairs." The ceremony is very cool to watch, but it is even more interesting to be its immediate part.
"Caste" in Hollywood
In the world of Hollywood actors and directors there is the notion of “caste”. For example, the Oscar triumph that many see on TV is curtsy, all the most important thing happens at parties before and after the film award. New films start there, deals are made, changes in the world film industry are being thought out. I was not at these parties, but I remember how my friends very loudly rejoiced and shouted: "I got to this party!". “Hit” depends on the status, but a person’s talent also decides a lot. For example, absolutely simple Greta Gerwig was baptized last year as the main female director - I think she was the most fashionable, cool and interesting at the party (and she is).
There is another world - the industry, which revolves around the top stars. Beginning directors are always trying to find for themselves a potentially good actor who may be interested in their project and understand that participation in it will be useful for a career. There is even a series that roughly describes these processes - “Entourage”. It is about how the agent instructs the actor on the true path. The directors also have managers who help them build their careers correctly. Going this way alone is painfully difficult, if only because you have no connections. But parties after film festivals or other events can fix this moment. For example, even before the debut in Karlovy Vary, my friend at one of the parties recommended me to a good manager, and he decided to take it. We talked almost every day, he sent me variants of scenarios - at first I didn’t even believe that this was possible.
Studying at Harvard and work "to pull"
I studied at Harvard, Columbia University and was at many film receptions, but never through contact and “on the go” you can not make a movie. This is unreal. You can ask a conditional uncle million, make a movie, but never go with him to any film festival. They do not take bribes (smiles). When I worked for HBO, a girl called Lena Daney came to the channel: everyone thought that she was from the “street”, and then it turned out that her uncle was a great agent in Hollywood. But at the same time she pulled the project on his talent and courage.
The success of a person is not affected by the help of the status environment, but in principle, communication with talented people.
I recently watched the wonderful film “Maya” about the life of hip-hop stars MIA. It describes how an immigrant girl from Sri Lanka started the way of a pop star in London thanks to her friend who was already a star. I am sure that when there is a mentor by whom you can navigate, it becomes easier to believe that success is not so far. New York is good because people who hypnotize you with their images through the screen, very often walk with you along the same streets. You understand that for the sake of their success and popularity, a huge promotion machine works, often splashing our eyes. And they themselves - the same simple people, like all of us, so you can get to know them.
For example, my ex-boyfriend is now dating Winona Ryder. I myself studied at Harvard with Natalie Portman, only I was an economist, and she was a psychologist. We were both interested in art, so we had mutual friends. I really respect Natalie for her movie roles, but in real life this woman seemed to me even a little boring, calm, mundane in the good sense of the word. I understand that this impression was preserved due to the fact that originally this person had high expectations, dictated by her popularity.
Of course, it would be much more difficult for me to implement a project without established links. For example, a girl who helped get a grant from Germany studied with me in film school. I met one of the American producers at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2009.
But I can say with confidence that connections are only decided when a person has talent.
Work on HBO, what is it
I graduated from Harvard, I really wanted to be creative, but the diploma was written “Economics”, and there was no money for personal projects. To earn extra money, but to be as close as possible to the film industry, I sent a resume to HBO. She worked as a Business development, came into contact with distribution - a sad experience for the director.
Sat on the same floor with the CEO of the company, so often saw the star guests. I remember that once Harvey Weinstein, who had not slept at all in his dirty clothes, literally collapsed in appearance and tried to change his clothes before meeting in the toilet. Perhaps the most wonderful and quite cinematic moment of all six years of work experience is a trip in one elevator to the CEO of the channel Richard Pleler. I just could not stand it and started telling him about myself, that I want to do movies. Very typical situation.
He calmly offered to make an appointment with him. A little later, I came to the meeting and was extremely pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of this person. He literally opened my eyes, gave instructions, although it would seem, why should he do it. He treated me with great respect, and after the “consultation” he introduced me to his secretary as the future head of HBO. I understood that it was a big flattery, but, nevertheless, it was very pleasant to hear it. Most importantly, he spoke with me on an equal footing. Probably, largely because of this trait Richard is still the head of this company - he is the inspiration.
In parallel with the work on HBO, I shot an independent movie. She produced three documentaries about the group Gogol Bordello, the poet Anna Akhmatova and the musician Dmitry Shostakovich. Sometimes the entire vacation spent on the set. When my migration situation improved - the channel sponsored a residence permit in America - I left. HBO is a company with a trouble-free business model, where projects pay for themselves even before entering the screens, but at the same time it is very bureaucratic, where it is difficult to climb the career ladder or change the profile. I wanted to retrain as a producer when I was still working on the channel, but I realized that it was easier for me to leave and return in a new status.
About the roots
I have never left my roots. But I am not perceived as an American — I will never become her. Although I can already call myself a director from New York - in this city, it seems, there are no indigenous people at all, everyone came from somewhere, a very multi-national city. I love him very much, I love America less. I had the experience of living in California, in the middle west of America - it was uncomfortable everywhere, only in New York is good, but Belarus still attracts back. Every time I come to Minsk, I feel how from a hysterical wave I get into a calm, measured one. In this city, time seems to be flowing more slowly, and I like it. Just recently, I asked my husband if he would like to come here from New York for a while. But, unfortunately, this is still unrealistic. The director is an unstable profession, you finish the project and again you find yourself in a state of moral and financial instability. And if they offer something interesting, you pack up a suitcase and go, even to China.
People either do not ask anything about Belarus in America, or ask general questions that are difficult to answer - such as how our country differs from others. Recently, I have faced another problem - because of the titanic changes in Russia, I am often defined as a Russian woman. We have to explain that it is not so, that Belarus is another country, where everything is different, people have different characters. It seems to me that the imperialism “I am from a big country and everything is possible for me” is not inherent to the Belarusians, rather we think that everything is impossible for us, because we are from a small country. In addition, we are much more loyal and more flexible than the Russians.
How can a Belarusian get to Harvard
Simply. But I had a long way to go to Harvard. At first I graduated from an external Minsk school, then I left on an exchange basis to study in an American school. Later she returned to Belarus, finished her studies at a local school and decided to go to study at a women's college. In 18 years I got into an American village, from which I had to drive about three hours by car to the city. From despair, I read a lot of books, and then I became friends with two girls, a Ukrainian and a Cossack.
Together we came to the decision that we need to get out of this swamp. I scheduled an escape to Harvard.
To go there, you need to get recommendations from teachers, fill out questionnaires and pass tests. As far as I remember, this can be done even in Minsk. Examinations at Harvard, it seemed to me, even easier than in Belarusian universities - they have no questions about erudition, such as when a castle was built. With the help of texts, they want to find out how much you can think critically. I admit, I tested badly. For me, at that time this system “to choose a or b” was unusual, I just wanted to go to the blackboard and orally answer.
After testing, you must pass an interview with a person who graduated from Harvard. When all this is done, you can send documents. I was taken to the third course for a full scholarship. American University taught American Puritan philosophy - to set a high bar for yourself, to achieve goals, to endlessly love work and be persistent: if you want something, rest on one point and work.
It seems to me that if I did not go there, I would not dare to go to the cinema, I would remain in a comfortable environment. As in Belarusian schools, we were taught: “Keep your head down”. I still remember how a teacher of Russian crossed out the pronoun "I" in her writings and forced Belinsky to rewrite. At Harvard, on the contrary, they asked what we thought, taught not to close with quotations, but to be ourselves.
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