Who is Viktor Tsoi? (2020)
Alexey Uchitel:; Kovid created enormous difficulties for filmmaking
The annual Russian Film Week USA in New York is opened on January 23 by the film “Tsoy” directed by Alexei Uchitel. All films of the program are available for streaming until January 29.
A film week in New York was jointly organized by the American Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation and the Russian film studio Rock, headed by Alexei Uchitel.
The film “Tsoi” is not a biopic about a cult Russian musician, whose posthumous fame surpassed his fame during his lifetime. This is a kind of subjective view of the director on what happened immediately after the death of Tsoi. The leader of the rock group “Kino” lived a very short life. At the age of 28, the musician died in a car accident. On August 15, 1990, on a highway in Latvia, he lost control of his Moskvich and crashed into an Ikarus bus. According to the official version, Choi fell asleep while driving..
Alexey Uchitel, 69, is a fiction and documentary film director, playwright, head of the Rock studio (St. Petersburg). He has participated in his films many times in festivals and weeks of Russian cinema in New York. Here in different years his films “The Diary of His Wife”, “Walk”, “Space as a Premonition”, “The Prisoner” and others were shown. For the last three years he has been co-organizer of the Russian Film Week..
Correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” spoke on Facebook Messenger with director Alexei Uchitel.
Oleg Sulkin: Alexey, this Week’s program includes two films with the name Teacher in the credits. Your picture about Viktor Tsoi and your son Ilya’s picture about the legendary footballer Eduard Streltsov. It seems to be called nepotism?
Alexey Uchitel: That’s not all. My father, Efim Yulievich Uchitel, was a documentary filmmaker, the founder of the dynasty. People say “nepotism” when they see how they are fussing for “their own”, punching his way. I remember how I came to Ilya to shoot his first film “Lights of a Big Village” somewhere in the area of Vyshny Volochok. Getting to the place was long and difficult. When we got there and met Ilya, he looked at me in such a way that I understood: we must leave as soon as possible. I had about the same feeling when I started working in a documentary studio, when my father was in his prime. It is very difficult to prove that you represent something by yourself. Ilya is looking for his own way. I think that in this difficult covid situation, “Streltsov” was not bad at all. (At the Golden Eagle ceremony just held in Moscow, this film, which had ten nominations, received an award for the best editing. – OS)
OS: But nepotism does not end there. If I’m not mistaken, your daughter Masha plays in the film “Choi”?
A.U .: No, you are not mistaken. Moreover, Masha plays a boy, the son of Tsoi. This will definitely be considered nepotism. But believe me, we couldn’t find the right boy. And after a long search, they chose her. To my surprise, Masha behaved very responsibly on the set, in an adult way, although we filmed long shifts, sometimes until late at night.
OS: You started your filmmaking career with documentaries about rock music – “Rock” and “The Last Hero” about Tsoi. In the new picture, you used footage from those films. Is the return to that time a manifestation of nostalgia??
A.U .: To some extent. In the video footage shot for the film “Rock” I first saw the driver of the “Ikarus”. The one who was driving the bus on the tragic day of Tsoi’s death. I remember his face. The script for the new picture was written ten years ago, but for various reasons the project was postponed. In the years after Tsoi’s death, he became more than a symbol, rather, an icon worshiped by fanatics. His fame grows every year. This phenomenon is kind of a mystery to me. In the old days, his songs seemed to me too simple compared to the songs of Grebenshchikov and Shevchuk. But these simple words contain amazing power..
OS: The real Choi is present in the film with only a few frames of the chronicle. You have populated the picture with fictional characters who are carrying the coffin with Tsoi’s body on the bus. The credits indicate that any coincidences with real faces are accidental. How do you explain such a decision?
A.U .: First, no one knows how it really was. Documentation, adherence to facts, in this case, would shackle me. Secondly, this film is a parable. I was interested in: when a famous person dies, what happens to people close to him? A common human history, understandable to a wide variety of people. In addition, there is an important scene in the film where a girl-photographer tries to shout down disco pop music with Tsoi’s song. What is Russian rock? Can he resist the vulgarity of popular culture? The question remains relevant.
OS: The figure of the driver Pavel, played by Evgeny Tsyganov, is the key figure in the film. He seems to be the main character of the road movie. How close the image of the driver is to the real figure?
A.U .: In the film, as in reality, the driver did not know anything about who died in the collision of “Moskvich” with his bus. But when this happened, his life changed dramatically. He is definitely the protagonist of the film. Before filming, the cameraman and I found him, he lives two hours from Riga. It was interesting to talk to him after so many years. In the film, he is Russian, in reality, Latvian. In the courtyard of his house we saw Ikarus. Some kind of mysticism. It turns out that he still drives the bus, even though he is over 70 years old. He did not tell us anything new about the accident, repeating the well-known version.
OS: And the love line of Pavel and the beautiful blonde police officer is based on a real story?
A.U .: Of course, this is an assumption (laughs). But it could be.
OS: After the release of the film, Tsoi’s relatives wrote a complaint to Putin, claiming that we had allegedly defamed and distorted the image of the singer. His son Alexander Tsoi filed a lawsuit. What is the current situation with legal claims against you?
A.U .: Immediately after the New Year holidays, we were informed that their claim was denied. But the very next day another lawsuit was filed. I guess there is no future for these claims. This is all nonsense. We experienced nothing but love and respect for Tsoi.
OS: Your previous film “Matilda” caused a flurry of criticism, attempts to ban, threats to distributors and even arson of cinemas. And here is a new picture, and again there is a very strong opposition. How do you deal with such stress?
A.U .: I am not alone in this situation. Until it is clearly stated at the legislative level how deeply the relatives of the film’s hero or anyone else can interfere with the artistic fabric of the picture, these situations will be repeated. In general, it is ridiculous when Tsoi’s son asks the country’s president to ban a film about his father, when we know that the then authorities banned his father’s music. This is outrageous and unpleasant. But we must resist. I am glad that many people support us.
OS: Do you have a new project?
A.U .: Alexander Terekhov is finishing the script of the film about Dmitry Shostakovich, which I really want to shoot. The other day we met with the last wife of Shostakovich, Irina Antonovna. We talked for more than two hours. You don’t need a filming permit, she told us, it’s your right. But for Dmitry Dmitrievich’s music, if we want to use it, permission must be obtained. Of course, we’ll let them read the script. They are Irina Antonovna, son of Maxim Dmitrievich and daughter of Galina Dmitrievna. I would very much like them to approve of it..
OS: It’s hard to make a movie in a pandemic?
A.U .: Highly. Our studio “Rock” shot two films last summer. One in the Crimea, the other in the Voronezh region. One picture is by the famous director Andrei Kravchuk, the other is by the debutant Eduard Zholin. Everything was on the edge. Huge difficulties, a challenge for the entire studio. Imagine a director fell ill, spent two weeks in the hospital. And what to do with the group, with the expedition, with the hotel? Conducted total testing of the entire film crew. 80 percent of judicial officers have been ill with covid. I have survived so far, although I still communicate a lot. Vaccination has begun, let’s see what happens next. I hope it will be possible to lift the state of siege.
Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Voice of America Service in New York.