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BERLINALE 2020 Competition

Ilya Khrzhanovskiy • Director of DAU. Natasha

“You cannot exploit people in this way, because it's not a voyeuristic Big Brother show”


- BERLINALE 2020: We chatted to Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, who co-directed the competition title DAU. Natasha with Jekaterina Oertel

Ilya Khrzhanovskiy  • Director of DAU. Natasha
(© Phenomen Film)

Playing in competition at the 70th Berlin Film Festival, DAU. Natasha [+see also:
film review
interview: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy
film profile
is the first feature from the extraordinary – and, for some, controversial – DAU project to play at a film festival. Directors Ilya Khrzhanovskiy and Jekaterina Oertel have sparked controversy because the production of the films within the DAU project involved a cast of hundreds of people living in an elaborate recreation of a Soviet institute for more than two years. Cineuropa talked to Khrzhanovskiy in Berlin, wondering whether he exploited them or not.

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Cineuropa: Do you see DAU. Natasha as a film or as part of an elaborate art project?
Ilya Khrzhanovskiy:
You know, because this product is talking about the quantum world, it depends on the observer's position; you can see it as an art project, and it is an art project where we created a huge installation with a long-duration performance. On the other hand, it's a movie because there are stories. We filmed it only when we knew what we wanted to film; we didn't just film thousands of hours of footage without any purpose. We discussed every possible aspect of things with the actors – even if these people aren't professionals, they're actors because they're playing. They stay inside an artificial world and inside our kind of agreement about what we're doing.

When the project was being made, you were being criticised for exploiting people. Did you read about those criticisms?
Of course, of course. But for me, it's an understandable and sometimes strange reaction. Partly, I think this reaction came about because, for many years, we didn't make any comments about the project. I didn't do any interviews for almost ten or 11 years. I think the people who participated are heroes for me, in a way. I say “heroes” because they invested time and emotion in trying to create something together, and you cannot exploit people in this way, because it's not a voyeuristic Big Brother show. They were consciously preparing, spending time in this kind of environment. When the shoot came around, there were defined blocks when we would be filming, and at that point they should have known that they couldn’t stand with their backs to the camera. You know some rules, and you follow those rules. You know that sometimes, some people will come up to you and will change your microphones, and so on. The most interesting thing is that people from very different social groups and with very different visions of life came together to tell a story about this universe.

Why was Natasha the first protagonist of your first feature film?
I think we just wanted to start with Natasha, and it was a common decision together with Berlinale director Carlo Chatrian. And it's DAU. Natasha and DAU. Degeneration [+see also:
film profile
, two movies, and he thought – and I agree with him – that these two films are right for Berlin and the Berlinale because it's also a place with a certain history, and a certain situation and tradition. I think with this combination, it's a perfect fit.

How many films are there to come, and will Natasha be in them?
Another five movies are in the editing room now and will emerge soon. They tell stories about the universe, and in some of the movies, Natasha exists as well – sometimes just for a couple of seconds, sometimes like a background character. The films are all just different points of view on this universe.

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