Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sleepless Night

The last night has been very much a sleepless one for the Cinetrain crew. Probably not the first one for many, but this one was spent mostly on editing. True, some have enjoyed playing pool or using the banya, the facilitaties of our accommodation place, a contry club for sportsmen situated outside the city.

Methods of working are quite various, from one group to the other. From the solitary work of Jochem to the constant and peaceful team editing process of Denes' group passing by the creative crises of Iris' group or the cult of secrecy of Nikita's group, styles differ.

In the evening, we leave the peaceful city of Blagovenshenk for our final destination: Vladivostok!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dreams are my reality

In the afternoon, some films of the participants have been presented at the Cultural Center of the city, a building under the influence of Frank Gehry. Iris' documentary, Summer Child, whose action takes place both in Russia and Finland, gets its first Russian audience. An interesting Q&A follows the screening of the films.

Iris' group (with Natasha and Dimitris) is hardly seeking for dreams of train passengers since we left Moscow. Below are interesting samples of dreams collected on the Trans-Siberian. Sweet dreams!

“Once I had a dream about Heaven's Jerusalem. It is written in the bible that everything is gonna be made of gold in heaven. I had this dream that everything around was so golden and beautiful. God was riding a coach led by horses, but I haven’t seen God himself. And there was a merry round there as well. It was so beautiful, so romantic.”

“I was walking around. And my ex-boss was there as well. We had a conversation. I don’t remember what it was about. But he was standing, his body naked just covered by a fur coat.”

“A bad dream happened to my son a year ago. He waked up and told me: 'Mama, I really had a bad dream'. Like there was a river and he was inside. The river was taking him away. I told him: 'Lesha, you should not watch all these soap operas and video games. That’s why you are having these kinds of dreams.”

“Dreams, you know by yourself. The nice ones, you forget them quickly; but the weird ones, they stay. It is a very weird dream I have lately. Do you know this singer, Aziza? I never met her in my life. But I had a dream that I had sex with her. Imagine! What is it for? She came on my car in a dream. Why Aziza? I am not a fan of her, never listened to her music. We were talking, and she said: 'I want you to be mine'.”

“I came there incognito, knocked on the door. In the place I was living before. And my ex-wife was there. She was not glad to see me. First thing she said was not hello. She said: 'Denis, you are older now.' I replied: 'I agree, let me see my son'.
I was looking for a woman to love. And I found her. I thought that it was everything for me. Eight years together and after that, in a moment, we hated each other. I know that everybody was jealous of our love. All my friends were. But what did it lead to? I am almost thirty. And you know, now I am like a fire, I get angry very quickly. I am angry when I take the tramway and somebody hits me with his shoulder. Do you believe me? I want to strangle him. He or she, it doesn’t matter.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Welcoming orchestra on Amour

Our arrival in Blagovenshenk is truly impressive. The municipality's orchestra welcomes us in music. Children are holding a large banner and women in folkloric costumes are singing and offering us a bread of friendship. On top of that three TV channels are present. We have to pinch ourselves to be sure it's for real. The vice-mayor gives a welcoming speech, and we are rapidly led to a luxury coach.

Just on the other side of the river Amour, the buildings of the Chinese twin city of Blagovenshenk can be seen. Though the city and its inhabitants look far less Asian than the ones of Ulan-Ude, we get a special treat for dinner with a Chinese feast. This makes a considerable change in our ordinary diet. The chef has prepared for us spicy minced beef, fried shrimps, spring rolls, fish wrapped in aluminium foils, sautéed vegetables, caramelised pork ribs, etc. Surprisingly, the restaurant even has bottles of Barbaresco, a good Italian wine from Piemonte. After the banya at the lake Baikal, the Chinese feast in Blagovenshenk is another decisive moment to keep the morale of troops up. Now everybody is ready for editing...

Monday, September 8, 2008

War & Alcohol

Most of the groups spend the journey on the train editing their films. We all find ourselves at the wagon-restaurant, the only one with functioning electricity sockets. Every five minutes, the provodnitsas try to kick us out. We have to keep ordering to get some more precious minutes of electricity, even though no other customer is coming besides us. Every five minutes, we also have to ask them to lower the music (not very practical when editing a film), but every five minutes, they pump up again the volume to the maximum. It might look like a game between us, but more surely the provodnitsas behave like they were at home and we were bothering them.

In one compartment, an incident occurs. Several of us are threatened by a very aggressive drunken guy. The worse is that the guy got (God knows how) the pass to all the compartments. He came visiting us in the middle of the night even though our door was locked. He even opened the door of the toilets when someone was inside. To make it even more scary, we cannot even complain to the provodnik since he's a friend of the guy! After calling the head of the train and threatening the drunken man to be kicked out at the next station, everything slowly gets back to normal.

Later on the provodnik excuses himself in the name of his friend. He insists though that we should rather pity him: his friend just returned from two years at war, and that's apparently why he was behaving like that.

Sometimes this blog may sound like a series of negative clichés about Russia: the violence of human relationships, the Soviet mentality of the employees, the widespread alcoholism, etc. These are however striking features largely and commonly felt by all participants. Probably, by travelling on train and interviewing people we face very rapidly and directly the symptoms of the country. There's a strong feeling of Russia being a country very much at war or in war. Not only in the classical understanding of the word, but also a societal war. Something quite awkward for young Europeans.

Surprisingly, none of the participants decided to tackle the issue of the war in Georgia even though this war makes the headlines of both international and Russian news exactly at the time of our project, and very much deals with the theme of the European border.

Still we constantly meet with young soldiers, men returning from war (not necessarily Georgia), veterans, or people who have a relative at war. And the war has eventually infiltrated documentaries which were not at first place dealing with it. It's not by mere chance that Monica has found two characters very closely connected with the war in Chechenya, that Iris has collected a couple of dreams of people at war, or that the Moscovite children filmed by Denes were playing a simile-real war in the woods.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Folk song

Jochem's group (with Marton and Guillaume) has been collecting plenty of songs and music off and on the train. Before the films gets its final shape, here is a picture of two women singing a traditional folk song about the Baikal Lake.

Off the Trans-Siberian

We are leaving the beloved Ulan-Ude to get back on the train. Getting back on the train feels like returning 'home sweet home'. Still stays in the cities are being too short. Actually, we almost lost two participants here who fell in love with local beauties...

As we decided to explore the city of Blagovenshensk, at the exact border with China on the Amour river, we are from now on not exactly following the Transsiberian line. Because of tiredness, little tensions within the groups appear quite frequently. In the same time still, as about all the groups know what their films will be about, participants are more open to discuss on topics not directly related to their films. And travels on train in Russia allows very much long passionate discussions...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Halfway Through

We are now going through the traditional phase of getting a bit down which characterises the halfway through any workshop. Minds and bodies are getting tired. Living constantly in a group – no matter how nice the people are – needs permanent extra efforts and contradicts with the full expression of each one's individuality. For this reason and others (some groups want to film the fireworks of the city's celebrations), it gets difficult to arrange the second session of 'rushes discussion'.

The main surprise comes from Monica's group, which has completely changed the scope of its documentary. From a rather experimental and intimate film on the experience of travelling it became a crossed portrait of two men met on the train, both being connected – very differently though – to the war in Chechenya.