Russian director Aleksandr Melnik discusses inspiration behind Arctic epic “The Territory”

Aleksandr Melnik is a Russian filmmaker and producer whose productions under the Andreyevski Flag Film Company include “The Lighthouse” (Maria Saakyan) and “The Mongol” (Sergey Bodrov Senior). In 2008 he released his first film as a production director – a live-action entitled “Zovaya Zemlya.”

SineScreen caught up with Melnik about his latest film as a director, “The Territory” (2015), which recently won “Best Artistic Contribution for Cinematography” at the World Premieres Film Festival Philippines earlier this year.

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Can you tell us a little about the historical context of The Territory.?

The Territory narrates the events of 1950-1960s (usually referred to as “The Thaw”) in the north-eastern part of Russia. At the time it was still USSR. World War II has just ended, Stalin’s rule was over and the country was recovering after the war. It was also the time when we sent the first man to space. Sciences were developing rapidly. Literature, poetry, music, cinema – everything was full of enormous positivity.

What was your inspiration for this film?

I fell in love with Oleg Kuvaev’s novel “The Territory” since I first read it in 1978, and have loved it since. This novel was extremely popular in the USSR. When I was given the chance to work with this material, I agreed immediately.  The film’s end includes several elements that are not from the novel, but rather what I borrowed from Kuvaev’s unfinished texts, from his letters and notebooks.  However, I did not want to alter the plot completely, I simply thought it was important to rethink Kuvaev’s work from contemporary perspective.

All our life is an inspiration. When we were filming in Taymyr and Chukotka, the nature itself was the greatest source of inspiration. If you mean cinema – then I really love David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962),  Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990), Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975), and of course, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966). As for literature, I would name Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, and Leonid Leonov.  Thankfully, there is plenty of inspiring work in this world.

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As a former geologist yourself, who do you identify with most among the characters?

Perhaps I have something in common with Chinkov, the main character, as I got older. All the characters, not just Chinkov, search for life’s meanings, love, friendship, integrity, wisdom…But I think that I am more like Baklakov – a lot of enthusiasm, at times running ahead of reason.

How did you decide to become a film director considering you had a very different profession before?

My son Anton was a producer for Sergei Bodrov’s Sr. film MongolMongol, by the way, was nominated for Oscar as the best foreign film (2007, Kazakhstan). When they were filming it in China, I went there as well.  The filming process captivated me… and it turned out that I had a lot of ideas of my own and so I decided to bring them to life.

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What was the hardest obstacle that was encountered in the making of this film? What do you hope that The Territory will bring to contemporary audiences?

It was really difficult working in the field.  We lived in tents on Plato Putorano, about 250 km from Norilsk. There were mosquitoes in the summer, and cold and blizzards in the winter.  But what an amazing scenery! All these difficulties became secondary when we saw the results on film. Maybe after watching this film this viewer will want to try working in harsh Arctic environment. Some will run away three days later, but some will dedicate their lives to this.  I really want the audience to see the beauty of Russia and to fall in love with it. Fall in love with this country of amazing, honest, kind, selfless and beautiful people.

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