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On January 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the Oscars. In the category “Best Documentary Short Film” there is a picture “Exit” by Maxim and Evgeny Arbugaev, a brother and sister who made a film on the shores of the Chukchi Sea. The main character is biologist Maxim Chakilev, who visits this place every year and observes for several months how climate change affects the walrus population. Meduza spoke with Maxim Arbugaev about how the film was received in Yakutia and Hollywood.
– How was the film nominated for an Oscar, because Russian officials said that Russian cinema does not need an Oscar?
We started submitting the film to festivals around mid-February 2022. In February, “Exit” was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, and it was a good start for the world premiere. In Berlin, we did not receive anything from the awards, but all the same, the participation itself was prestigious. Then other festivals followed – for example, the Canadian Hot Docs, several short film festivals. We won several awards there, which are qualified by the Film Academy. [как значимые] And so they got into the Oscars longlist. Already in December, we received the AFI Grand Prix (American Film Institute Prize), as well as the IDA (International Documentary Award). These awards, it seems to me, largely influenced getting into the Oscar shortlist.
How unexpected was being shortlisted for you? Or after winning at film festivals, did you understand that this would happen?
— It was a big surprise. Of course, internally we believed in the nomination, these are normal human feelings – to believe in the best. But me and Zhenya [Арбугаева, соавтор фильма] psychologically set ourselves up not to be upset – even if we don’t pass, then in small steps we still approached a significant event in the film industry by making this movie.
– This is the only Russian film at the Oscars, right?
– There is a film “Navalny”, but this is an American production. We have a joint production of Great Britain and Russia. So yes.
— By the way, have you watched a film about Navalny?
Not yet, but of course I want to see it.
– Yakut cinema has long become a well-known phenomenon in the world, why did it happen? Not every region of any country, I mean not only Russia, can boast of such a thing.
— Yakutia is a very interesting place for filmmakers. This is a huge field with many interesting people, ideas, events, a very original land. The authors of the Yakut cinema talk about themselves, about their experiences, this is indie cinema, which is especially interesting.
— What Yakut directors do you like?
— I work with my favorite director. I consider Munkuev a very strong director and screenwriter. This summer we shot the film “Summer Will End”, it is now at the editing stage. I appreciate the work of Dmitry Davydov, they are very original.
– Horror is very noticeable in Yakut cinema. Have you used this tradition?
“If it happened, it wasn’t intentional. It is difficult to create an atmosphere of horror in documentary films – this is reality. We felt it and wanted to convey this atmosphere. But it turned out that the film was terrible – the roar of the walruses that surround the scientist’s house, the same strong roar of the waves, the creak of the tree … All this referred to horror, somehow this atmosphere reminded me of the film “Lighthouse” [Роберта Эггерса].
But it seems to me that the problem that we are raising is more terrible. Climate change, which is inevitably underway and gaining momentum, concerns us all, every country, the whole world.
– In Yakutia itself – a very cold region, is this problem felt?
– It is felt, it is. The ice is melting heavily in the Arctic seas, if you look at the ice maps of the past – even the 1970-1980s – and compare them with the maps of our time, you can see how much the ice field has decreased in the Arctic regions.
— The topic of the film was prompted by Chukchi hunters whom you filmed for one of your projects. They showed you the “exit” of the walruses, their remains. Do they understand the problem of warming?
– Of course, they understand this – they live in these conditions, they monitor the climate. They see how new types of plants appear, find new types of fish that are not typical for this part of the sea. The insidiousness of warming is that it comes gradually and a person adapts – for him this is not always pronounced. But, in general, the people who live and work there understand and feel this problem.
— Have you been contacted by international environmental organizations? Maybe they suggested some topics?
— Ecology was one of the main focuses in our work with Zhenya — we collaborated in this direction with both National Geographic and Time. We are open to such topics. Right now I can’t tell you specifically, but there are plans for collaborations on similar topics. These are topics related to the relationship between man and nature, the topics of the Arctic.
– At what point did the environmental theme affect you?
This topic has always been of concern. But we are taking a broader view – not only on climate change or even ecology in general. My sister and I are from the Arctic, we were born in the village of Tiksi. It was always interesting for us to talk about the relationship between man and nature. My film was shot together with Christian Fry, there was no ecology theme as such, it is more a story of people who extract mammoth tusks. The human being is always at the center of our stories.
– How easy was it to find a common language with the hero of the “Exit” – Maxim Chakilev? This is a hermit scientist, and here he let you into his life for three months. You and him were at a very short distance – to be honest, in the first minutes of the film I had the feeling that this was a feature film, and the walruses were made using computer graphics.
– We found a common language quickly enough, the shooting went very comfortably – there was a good atmosphere in his house. We are still on friendly terms. Just yesterday he arrived in Moscow, and we were together when we heard the news about the nomination.
– How did Maxim react to the Oscar nomination? It turns out that he became a star? Has anything changed in his life since the release of the film?
— He is glad that people all over the world got acquainted with his work, mission. For example, his mother did not see how he works, what he does – she looked, she was pleased, his friends looked. He liked the movie himself. There are also advances in his work, but I will not talk about them yet, so as not to jinx it.
How was the film received in Yakutia?
– We did a show [в Якутии], it went well, even my relatives came. As for the feedback from other people, cinematographers – I did not receive them. There has not yet been an official response either to the film or to the nomination – neither from the republican, nor from the federal authorities. But we don’t really expect it – this is the master’s business.
— When can we expect your first feature film?
This year, probably in the summer. No wonder it’s called “Summer’s End”.