«A Siege Diary» press conference report
On October 2, 2020, the press conference on the film «A Siege Diary» by the Russian director Andrey Zaytsev took place. The film is part of the 42nd Moscow International Film Festival's Main Competition. Director Andrey Zaytsev, actress Olga Ozollapina, actor Sergey Dreyden, director of photography Irina Uralskaya and MTS media business section's vice president Igor Mishin took part in the press conference.
The film tells the story of the first and the hardest winter in the Leningrad siege. That winter saw a lot of people die. February 1942, severe frost, minus 30 degrees, extreme hunger, no water supply or electricity, no public transport as the city was snowed in and paralyzed. Young woman Olga is walking across the whole city to see her father. She has just buried her husband and is sure that she will soon die of hunger herself. She wants to see her dad for the last time, say goodbye and ask for his forgiveness.
«The script was written 10 years ago. I came up with the idea after reading «The siege book». It was staggering, I was shocked. And realized that I didn't know anything about the siege. When I read the memoirs, listened to survivors' interviews, I understood that I never saw anything about the 1941-42 Leningrad, the hardest period of the siege. Never, not on film, not in old newsreel footage. And I realized that I would like to tell the story of the siege from the point of view of the survivors, basing on their memory, try to pass their feelings and thoughts on. It is one thing to read the survivors’ stories, and quite another to see it all on screen. We tried to recreate the city under siege in our film,» Andrey Zaytsev said.
That is why a sort of newsreel, documentary-like footage was chosen as the main visual medium in the film's language. Irina Uralskaya, the film's director of photography, mostly works in documentary film herself.
«Our goals were authenticity and invisibility. As the film's DOP, I had to dissolve in feelings without doing anything that would stand out. I had to be invisible and genuine to the most of my ability. There were quite a few issues techonology-wise that we had to overcome, and at the same time we had to not give away our little tricks. I think it worked, and you don't really see a DOP there which is good,» Irina Uralskaya said.
Olga Ozollapina, who worked with Zaytsev on his previous picture «14+», and Sergey Dreyden starred as main characters.
«I have known Olya for some time, we understand each other very well, and are comfortable working together. As for the role of the father, I saw Sergey at once, because to see this person, one can surely walk across the whole sieged city, through suffering and pain. I just didn’t imagine any other actor in his place, first and foremost due to his personal qualities,» Zaytsev said.
Sergey Dreyden thanked the director for having chosen him without any casting. For him, the work on «A Siege Diary» became «an expedition to himself». Olga Ozollapina, who had the most production days — 80, devoted herself to the picture to the full, leaving her child in Moscow for the entire shoot.
«It’s an acting feat, a huge achievement. Every day, she had to play someone who is not ready to live. And she had to have those eyes each day. In addition, there was difficult clothing, winter, lack of snow. Her costume was very heavy, she had to pull herself together for her eyes not to give her away. We had over 80 production days, and it means she had to be a person who feels she is going to die soon, for 80 days. I don’t think that many actors are up for such deep immersion,» Zaytsev said.
Olga Ozollapina admitted that it was hard for her to prepare for shooting. She didn't know anything about the siege, so she read memoirs and watched archival footage before the shooting.
«But when you watch and read for five minutes, you are silent for 30 more, because it is simply unbelievable. I collected some materials, glued them onto the wall in my room to have all this as a background, and towards the evening, I would forget everything because my mind couldn’t take it in. And then I dived deep, like a submarine, for three months, and then emerged again,» the actress said.
«A Siege Diary» will be released on January 27, the day of lifting of the siege. «MTS Media» company will act as the release partner.
«A Siege Diary» is an honest picture about one of the most tragic ordeals our country has ever seen. Andrey Zaytsev talks about it with great pain, sincere desire to tell the truth and to keep the memory of those who had to go through those fiendish ordeals, in our fast-changing world. It is essential to introduce as many viewers as possible to this film, so we decided to support its release,» Igor Mishin said.