It sounds inconceivable that the first high quality footage to come out of the Chernobyl nuclear accident site was shot by a crew of Spaniards. But that’s exactly how “Graffiti,” Participant Media’s Oscar entry for live-action short, got made.
The notorious nuclear disaster occurred in the now-abandoned town of Pripyat, Ukraine, which was the perfect setting for the post-apocalyptic drama about a man who fills his days tagging walls with graffiti and discovers he might not be as alone as he thought. Empty pools, dilapidated ferris wheels, and hollowed out Brutalist buildings provide a stunning backdrop for the messages he exchanges with a companion he never sees.
In a behind-the-scenes feature, Spanish director Lluis Quilez (“Out of the Dark”) explains how the intrepid crew surmounted understandable reservations to document the bleak and snowy town. “Pripyat was a reference when I created the story. It was a place I was fascinated by, I had seen photos. I found it had a special magic that was unique in the world,” said Quilez.
“The first impression when we learned we were going to shoot in Chernobyl was like, ‘wait, where are we going?'” said director of photography Isaac Vila. Armed with face masks and led by a local guide and radiation counters, the crew passed through a few areas that were over the recommended level of exposure.
But the thrill of getting the shot outweighed Vila’s concerns. “The idea was to be the first ones to shoot there with a high-definition camera and anamorphic lenses,” Vila explains. “No one had done this before… You can find some videos online, but they use small cameras. We were the first to shoot there with such a camera.”
With an Oscar nomination in their sights, the risks just might pay off. Just last weekend, “Graffiti” won the José María Forqué award in Spain, adding to a growing list of awards, including Best Short from both the Woodstock Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Watch the stunning behind-the-scenes feature: