[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
The disintegration of a country and the impact of war are viewed up-close in Masha Novikova‘s doc “Three Comrades.” Islam, Ramzan, and Rusian were lifelong friends in Chechnya whose passions were rock-and-roll and the Soviet occupation of their country. When war breaks out in 1994, Novika uses footage shot by Ramzan, along with interviews of family and friends, to create a moving and thrilling portrait of innocent people caught in the bloody conflict. “Three Comrades” previously screened at IDFA before coming to Sundance’s World Documentary competition.
Please introduce yourself.
I was born in 1956 in Moscow, in former Soviet Union. That was also the place where I grew up. When I became 32, I went to the Netherlands. In Russia I studied Russian and literature, later I started to work as a teacher.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
In Russia I didn’t have any education in film. Only while in Holland did I start film classes. I did several courses by Stefan Majakovsky. I worked as an executive producer in the former Soviet Union countries for different Dutch filmmakers. But I always wanted to make a film myself. I started out with my own mini-dv camera and editing equipment, and started to make small portraits for local Dutch television. I was making money as a executive producer at that time, and in my spare time trying to make something myself.
I kept working with the same filmmakers. Any time we were in Russia together, we came back with ideas for new films. So that continued for a while, then I did several co-productions. When working with Jos de Putter I had to film with my mini-DV camera in Chechnya, because the crew wasn’t allowed the access into the country. This film, “Three Comrades“, is the first one I really did on my own. At this moment I am editing my new film which we shot in Uzbekistan in September.
How did you finance your own film?
The film was financed by Dutch television (VPRO, Tegenlicht), and for a part by my own company Novikova&dochters (NOVDOC).
How the initial idea for your film come about?
The idea to make this film came up during all the conversations I had with Islam Bashirov, whom I met in the Netherlands. I really wanted to make a film about the two wars in Chechenya, told through the eyes of ordinary people. I was already looking for archive material. When I saw the footage of Ramzan Mezhidov, and heard all these stories about the friendship of these young men in Chechenya, I knew it was a film I wanted to make. When I met the two widows, Aminat and Liza, I was absolutely sure it would be a strong film. They are both beautiful, strong, intelligent women.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the movie?
In the beginning while I was still doing the research, I didn’t have any money and didn’t had any commitment from a broadcasting company. I told everything I wanted to film to Jos de Putter, who I filmed in Grozny and did the interviews for his film “Dance, Grozny, Dance!“, in 2002. He became very enthusiastic and brought me in contact with Dutch broadcast company VPRO. Amnesty International, especially Rob de Brouwer, were also very supportive from the very start. During the shooting of the film, I was so impressed by my characters. These people are 10 years younger than me and they already have suffered – their husbands and family killed – in a war that was conducted by Russians, my own people.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
I want as many people as possible to see what really happens in Chechnya, and what a war does with people in general.
Describe being accepted into Sundance.
I heard from my editor, Sdjan Fink, that Sundance is the best festival you can imagine. So when I received the invitation I was very happy to tell him the news. Independent film is for me very important, because I was born in the country where independent film did not exist, and now it is forbidden again.
What are some of your favorite films of the last year?
My favorite films in the latest year were: “Road to Gauntanomo“, by Michael Winterbottom and “Voices of Bam“, by Aljona van der Horst.
What are your New Years resolutions?
One of my New Years resolutions is that there will finally be democracy in Russia, that Chodorkovski will be released from jail, and that there will be no more political murders. And I hope the same for America as for Russia: that the people will not allow anymore wars.
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