Juri Rechinsky • Director of Utopia
“What I am trying to do is set up a massive experiment”
- Ukrainian filmmaker Juri Rechinsky tells Cineuropa more about Utopia, his cinematic experiment in the making, which comes in the wake of Sickfuckpeople and Ugly
Ukrainian filmmaker Juri Rechinsky participated with his latest project, Utopia, in the Eurimages Lab Project Award initiative at this year’s KVIFF Eastern Promises industry strand of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. After the documentary Sickfuckpeople and the drama Ugly [+see also:
interview: Juri Rechinsky
film profile], Rechinsky is currently pursuing a more experimental venture, and he told Cineuropa about it.
Cineuropa: How did Utopia first come about?
Juri Rechinsky: One of my first ideas was to look into what would happen if you put people from the same chaotic everyday activities and routines into an altered state of mind where all of their suppressed desires and conflicts become visible simultaneously. So I asked myself, “Why not make a cinematic experiment out of it?” I wrote a treatment in a few weeks, which was in the form of a poem. Not because I was feeling poetic, but because it was somehow the most efficient way to convey the feelings of this chorus of characters and to render the variety of disconnected locations on one single night.
I attempted something similar many years ago when I was working on an art project marking 25 years since Chernobyl. We were doing fairly long audio interviews with 25 Chernobyl survivors and witnesses over a period of three months. And funnily enough, when I sat down to edit it into one simultaneously unfolding narrative, I was really surprised at how my attention would shift from individual characters to something much vaster and more impressive in scale – the disaster itself and how it disrupted the ordinary flow of things. It was a very interesting experiment, structurally. And this really suits the idea and concept for Utopia.
Why are you calling the project Utopia when it is supposed to be a disaster film, of sorts?
It entails two separate things. Regarding the disaster, “utopia” is a form of enlightenment, and enlightenment is a disaster for the established order of things. But it is just the beginning, as I have come to understand it. Exile from social expectations is the first step on the journey to enlightenment. But if you go further, Buddhism, for example, describes different planes of consciousness on the path towards enlightenment. And some of these planes are not solely disastrous for the social order, but also for reality itself. People start seeing the true nature of things, which is – or can be called – emptiness. If you are unprepared for it, that is a hellish experience. That’s why it’s a disaster. And “utopia” because it is an attempt to find a better way to live with oneself and with the people around us, while not turning away from the disastrous and unsettling nature of human life in general.
Does Buddhism play a role in the film?
I am not trying to impose any particular philosophy or my system of beliefs, and I would not call myself a Buddhist at this point. What I am trying to do is set up a massive experiment. In this experiment, I want people to try as hard as they can to leave their normal state of mind, to take a look at their life and try to define some things for themselves. In this sense, I am not really a storyteller, but a story-provocateur. And I have a clear idea and understanding of how to put it in the shape of a film, but the essence of it heavily depends on the characters and what they will be able to bring.
Will the whole film be based on improvisation?
I previously shot some scenes in Ugly where we had some very long blocks of improvisation – of around eight virtually uninterrupted hours. And it produced some surprising results in the sense of providing authenticity and intensity, but also development. But in Utopia, we will be a little bit more radical than just doing it based on improvisation. We want to show people what the other states of mind are apart from this normal and controlled one. And we are doing so with different tools and techniques, and different people who know how to do it. We also want to diversify the cast as much as possible, which means trained actors will make up just a small proportion of those who will appear in the frame.
You will be collaborating on the project with DoP Sebastian Thaler, who lensed Ugly. You mention altered states of mind, so does this mean that the film will be somehow stylised to provide such an experience?
Adopting the point of view of people going through such an experience is really not my intention. Regarding the cinematography, I just want to capture something special in a very lively, disturbingly real, but technically quite sophisticated way, and Sebastian is the right DoP to do it. We are filming it with a beautiful camera and beautiful lenses, and we hope it will be for the big screen – if the big screens still exist. But in general, the approach is close to a documentary style.
What is the schedule for the project?
The process on this project is a little bit unconventional. We started it three years ago by writing poems, and then we received money from the Hubert Bals Fund, followed by support from the Austrian Film Institute. After that, we took a radical step in a different direction. We took the money and shot five stories out of the total 35 planned storylines. We approach each story as we would a feature-length film. We tested it, and a lot of questions have been answered: we have found out which concepts work and which do not. After this shoot, we knew exactly how to make the film, what would work and what we want to get out of it.
So we are looking for finances, and we currently have a co-production set up with Austria, Ukraine and the Netherlands. The main challenge over the last 18 months was convincing film funds and financing institutions to back our project and that this experiment would have an audience.
Are you looking for any more co-producing partners?
Yes. As a matter of fact, thanks to this Karlovy Vary industry initiative, we have already received some interesting proposals regarding a possible co-production collaboration.
And then you’re looking for international sales agents and distribution, including alternative distribution channels?
That’s right. We are looking for anyone who can deliver this experience to an audience.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.