Posted April 17, 2011 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in Features
 
 

Director Alexei Popogrebsky


How I Ended This Summer, a stark thriller and winner of the last year’s London Film Festival Award is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.

How I
Ended This Summer, a stark thriller and winner of the last year’s London Film
Festival Award is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Dan Clay caught up with director Alexei
Popogrebsky, one of Russia’s premier filmmakers, and asked him about casting,
polar bear attacks and shooting at the end of the world.

Why
did you choose Sergei Puskepalis and Grigory Dobrygin for the leading roles in
this film?

Well,
Sergei has the very special gift of projecting an intense authenticity that is
taken to the next level in the movie and I saw Grigory Dobrygin in a video of a
student play. I sensed his eagerness, his inner strength and a special
connection with his protagonist. Everything you see him doing in the movie he
did for real, including plunging into the Arctic Ocean or climbing cliffs. The
fact that he was born in Kamchatka, which is even farther East than our
location, was an unexpected surprise.

What
made you choose Chukotka as the setting for How I Ended This Summer?

We
did some research and found the Valkarkai polar station on the northernmost tip
of Chukotka. If you look at the map, it is literally the end of the world. We
went there for location scouting in 2007 and fell in love with the place. When
I was showing it on the map to Sergey Puskepalis, he looked at it and then
stated matter-of-factly: ‘I lived near there for nine years’. Thanks to that,
Sergei, who plays the seasoned polar meteorologist, fitted in completely with
the local workers from the very start.

You
filmed at a real polar station. What was it like shooting the movie in such a
harsh environment?

The
place where we filmed and lived for three months is still a working weather
station. To get there from the nearest town, you need to ride for about five
hours on a caterpillar transporter across the tundra; there is no road. That
place is for real and polar bears are a fact of life there. From the very start
we made it a rule that no one should venture beyond the station limits alone. Soon
polar bear sightings became an almost daily occurrence, and I, for instance,
had a one-to-one encounter with a bear that I fondly remember as the most
terrifying experience of my life.

Really?
What happened when you came face to face with it?

You could say nature gave
me a reality check. I was staying alone overnight in a hunting cabin about 11
km away from our base, and in the morning went to get some fresh water when I
spotted three polar bears in the distance; a big female bear with two grown-up
cubs. I had read that if you meet a bear it is best to confidently hold ground.
However I preferred not to test this hypothesis! I looked behind and saw the
bears rapidly coming my way so I ran for life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt
this sort of primitive, nauseating fear before. I locked myself in the cabin
and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive by boat and luckily the bears
were gone by that time. I don’t think they actually intended to eat me – I
guess the mother was giving the cubs a lesson that if something runs away from
you, you go for it.

After
that, do you prefer shooting outdoors in real-life locations to studio work
then?

My
first film, Koktebel, co-directed with Boris Khlebnikov, was mostly shot on
location. The second film, Simple Things was an urban chamber piece, shot
mostly in existing interiors. I am now developing a project to be filmed
entirely in a constructed set in a studio. It will be a 3D film involving a
certain degree of manipulation of reality. At this point, working in the
artificial space of a studio and creating your own reality appears to me a
greater challenge than shooting in the wilderness.

What
research did you undertake to get the setting, characters and scenery just
right?

It
all stemmed from my childhood fascination with polar exploration. Even before I
became involved in filmmaking, I read dozens of non-fiction books on the
subject. But traveling to Chukotka in 2007 and spending two weeks at the same
station you see in the film, meant I was able to watch the routine and talk to
people who have spent years in such an environment. That was invaluable.

What
do you think this film says about the Russian man, young and old?

The
characters in the film are very much Russian and there are a lot of particular
nuances about them which reflects their background. However, I feel that at its
core, the story could happen in any culture, provided you have two very
different people facing each other in isolation from the rest of the world. And
the clash of ethos between old-school manual work – of actually physically
dealing with the elements – and the modern automated, computer-assisted,
remotely-controlled approach can be witnessed in many areas of life and
cultures.

Your
last film “Simple Things” was a dark comedy. What made you choose a drama this
time?

I
don’t really make an intentional choice of a story. I write my own scripts, and
each time the idea takes a few years to shape up. I think it is the plot that
has some poignancy for me that eventually stays and develops into a script.
However, I definitely want to make a different film every time.

You’ve
used Sergei in both films as a leading man. What does he bring to your films?

I
met Sergei on the set of Koktebel, and wrote Simple Things with him in mind. By the time
we were finishing shooting I already told him I would write a script where he
will have the part of a seasoned polar meteorologist. I think Sergei brings a
wealth of life experience into his portrayal of the characters, real experience
one can’t gain through any sort research. As a director himself, he perfectly
understands the key to performance, a Stanislavski “I” centered approach in the
given circumstances. And he has a great gift of believability and presence
being his own self in the given circumstances on the screen I feel.

What’s
in the pipeline next for you?

Apart
from my 3D film in production, I have also worked on a project sponsored by
Wrigleys, where each director had to play around the concept of a black
envelope containing a Polaroid shot of the protagonist. I decided to shoot my
segment in 3D (all others are 2D) as preparation for the forthcoming feature.

How I Ended This Summer Trailer

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Marcia Degia - Publisher

 
Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.