Garry Bardin is a Russian animation director whose films brought up generations of soviet children. His “Baba Jaga” and “Vodyanoi” from the “Letuchyi korabl” (“The flying ship”) animation film are known almost to everybody who was born in the USSR. However, the artist has always been in opposition to the government. When he left for the Cannes Film Festival to receive the Golden Palm, two KGB (Committee for State Security) agents escorted him.

Opinion has talked with the artist before the first night of his new animated cartoon in Odessa to learn and hear the other side –the other cultural space. A Russian director told us about international animation, the Sentsov case and cultural relationship between two states.

Mr. Bardin, you’ve come to Odessa to present your animated cartoon “Bolero 2017.” This is your anniversary 25-th work. You’ve said that this film is “your social response to the developments in Russia.” What does it mean?

Almost no one has seen this film. As my previous work, it’s about freedom.

I put the question in this film: where do bydlo (lowbrow, chavs, trailer trash) come from?

Why don’t we become a civil society? Why are we still stuck in being just population of the country and electorate when they want us to? I’ve tried to come with metaphors and I believe I’ve managed to do that. Will the audience make out the metaphors – we’ll see.

You started to fundraise money for the film a year ago. The sum may seem fantastic – 7 million rubbles (113 000 $), but you’ve managed to fundraise it quite fast. As far as I know, it’s your third work (“Three melodies” and “Listening to Beethoven.” The latter, by the way, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival) created via fundraising. What gave you that idea?

Once I missed the deadline with “Three melodies”, and I had to go hat in hand to Mr. Medinsky [Volodymir Medinsky is a Minister of Culture in the RF – Ed.] and beg his pardon because I was bound with them by the agreement. I came to the Minister’s office and was welcomed by his deputy whom I’d known very well, but now I don’t want to know him at all. I said, “Slava, I can’t keep up, I’m fundraising money and I’m not planning to pay for any penalties.” He said to me, “We’re not going to demand money from you, don’t worry,” and when I was already leaving, he asked to provide a report which explains the reasons of the delay and proofs that I had been ill. I did all that, but the Minister didn’t accept me again. His assistant whispered to me, “He’s going for a holiday.” In a week I was informed that I had been fined for 200 000 rubles (3200 $). I asked my son for a help, he is a master for me – also a director. I said that I’m not satisfied with such an attitude to a director by the Minister. My son posted this story on Facebook. And to their credit, people fundraised 600 000 rubles in a night.

I asked big businesses for support, but their principle is “keep your beloved closely”, I mean money. Businessmen can only promise. A young friend of mine advised me to consider crowdfunding.  “” platform has helped me as well. I am a gambling man so I easily dived into this. Every morning I jumped out of the bed to check how much we had got. It was the first film when late director Eldar Ryazanov, and Vitya Shenderovich, and “Quartet E” and the “Moral code” band with Lesha Kortnev addressed to a future viewer. They told them what a good person I am and how they can help me. And people began to send their money. In the conditions of crisis and poverty, it may sound inappropriate but a friend of mine told me, “You’ve been working hard for them all your life, let them now help you.” Thus, my viewers have helped me to finance my three films.

These functions are more of a producer than of a director, indeed.

I had to take it on me, but my publicity has helped me. You see, crowdfunding is a challenge for young people, nobody knows them. As for me, I have some background, films that audience know. And people funding my projects realize that I wouldn’t do a bad product even if I wanted. I said to my son that I was embarrassed to be a beggar. He answered, “Dad, if I had done it, it wouldn’t have worked out for me. Are you gonna wait for a limo or a cab will do?”

Do you think art should be sponsored by the government or by personal investments?

To let people make personal investments in art we should have a Law on Patronage of the arts. It has been being lobbied for 20 years but with no success. They’re afraid to lose control of kickbacks. Once I asked Mr. Putin, “When will there be a Patronage Law? Why does a rich man have to give me money and feel embarrassed for that? They must be praised and supported. These people shouldn’t be incognito.” He answered, “I know them. If we only let them, they’ll give and take huge kickbacks.” I said that I know kind of other people, hinting that he has bad friends. A patronage should exist in our country. The Ministry of Culture plays role of an economical censor – it gives money only to the projects, which don’t contradict to the Minister’s beliefs.

Is the situation that disturbing?

Extremely. Vitaliy Manskiy [a Russian director of Ukrainian origin, a president of the Russian Film Festival “Artdocfest”, who is now experiencing problems with Russian government – Ed.]had to emigrate to Riga. It is awful. Mr. Medinsky said that he would give not a dime for his projects. It is his personal revenge. Kostya Raikin delivered a speech at the Theatre Workers Meeting [Kostyantyn Raikin – the head of the Moscow Satyricon theatre went up against censorship in the art – Ed] – and his theatre was stopped to be built.

Now he has to rent a premises for his performances, which costs 35 000 rubbles (560 $) a day. He can’t pay his actors the money he used to, and they leave. They have family and children. A tough situation.

When the government finance art, there is a question: what will we get back? There is a worrying that an artist would have to make servile projects or, worse still, a propaganda. What’s the situation in Russia? Can you see it in Ukraine?

You have a stronger freedom of speech, but you also have a propaganda. But a person can’t be killed for his or her speech in Ukraine. [In March 2014, Mr. Bardin signed the “We are with you” letter to support Ukraine – Ed.]

Meanwhile, Oleg Sentsov keeps starving in the Russian penal colony…

I’ve signed the support letter but I’ve done it more for myself. For not to feel embarrassed that I kept silent while others did. But what is the use? They don’t hear us, they don’t want to hear us. It is insane. To put to prison for an intention? Without any evidential basis? It’s terrible. [Garry Bardin has joined #FreeOlegSentsov and made a video to support Oleg Sentsov – Ed.]

Almost every Ukrainian who is older than 30 has grown up on your and the other artists’ and directors’. Today in Ukraine it’s inappropriate to watch or show anything connected with the USSR, moreover, we’re experiencing the decommunisation process right now. Ukrainians have dramatically refused of the soviet culture, we don’t even watch the “Ironiya sudby” film (“Twist of fate” – a soviet New Year film. It used to be a tradition to watch this film on every New Year Eve in all former soviet countries.) What do you think about that?

In my opinion, it’s too much. There should be some rational strategy on a national self-identification. We’ve had a common history, we’ve sung the same songs at parties. Those were song from our soviet films. We’ve lived a big life together. These connections are not to tear.

Our states are burning bridges now – Ukrainian artists don’t come to Ukraine and vice versa. What is your idea of the conflict: should we have a dialogue or just leave everything as it is?

It should be our joint idea in contrary to the Russian government actions. They played the card and involved people in that, when volunteers from Russia came here, – it is worse than a nightmare. It is incomprehensible for me as for a Kyivan as well. I wish they didn’t make a visa regime. The point is my sister lives in Kyiv, my parents’ graves are in Kyiv.  I don’t understand this situation. I’m not a politician, nor am I a prophet, but we should improve our relationship. This war will be long in our memories. The world will also remember for long what Russia has done.

The administration should be changed, wounds should be healed…

We’ve had such a division within a Russian intelligentsia as well. When your friends support the other side. They said, “Crimea is ours.” I was shocked by that. The intelligentsia has given in to pressure of the propaganda, not speaking about other people…

Let’s come back to your work. What is a modern animation lack for? In the world and in Russia particularly.

Everything has been commercialized. As for me, I like original animation.

In a perfect world, you can sell a high art. We should strive to that. If we strive to a high salary, we will fall to the bottom. Common people aren’t thinkers. They just want to eat popcorn and giggle. I saw a comment to one of my films, “ROFL.’  I don’t want to make them giggle. I want to make them think. But they tend to watch films aimlessly. They even don’t watch them, just want something to be on their monitors. I looked through your channels yesterday, and it’s like I hadn’t left Russia – everybody wants only to giggle.” This tendency is disturbing. Triviality and soullessness have won over us. Lazy viewers don’t want to learn and think. They want to consume a ready-to-eat product without any their move needed.

Why is it so?

Modern technologies are very advanced now! People could create great things due to it but they are scarce of ideas. That’s why they try to repeat a success of old animation: they do new episodes of “Nu, pogodi!” (“Just hold on!”), “Prostokvashino”, “Popugai Kesha” (“Kesha the Parrot”) (these cartoons were extremely popular in the USSR and are still loved) – it means that they’re dramatically lack for ideas. There isn’t an institution of writers. Directors write by themselves, but not everyone has a talent to both write and direct. For example, new episodes of “Prostokvashino”: they set heroes to the XXI century but it doesn’t concern their relationship. There’s no flow of original films now.

Do you have a new project after “Bolero-2017”?

I have an idea, but unless I receive a film distribution certificate for “Bolero”, I can’t think about another project. I’m afraid this film will contradict to the Minister’s intentions. I can’t predict governors’ reactions and actions.

What is more valuable for you: the Golden Palm for “Vykrutasy” (“FIORITURES”), a job offer from Disney or an eternal success of the “Letuchyi korabl” (“The flying ship”)?

Once I was presenting “Chucha” film in France. They called it “the first screening.” I thought it was called so because the screening was at 10 a.m. But then a bus with 3-year old children came. It was the first screening in their life. I got very scary – I was presenting the whole cinematography for them – since Lumière brothers and so on. I was responsible for their love to cinema. Then a small girl came up to me and said, “I am 2, 5 years old, and it’s my first time at cinema, but if the second time is the same then I adore cinema.” It was the highest rate for me.

Interview by Kostiantyn Rul

Photo by Maryna Bandeliuk

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