Teodosia Dobriyanova talks to Fyodor Bondarchuk about his film Attraction, the role that technology plays in his creativity, and how his blockbusters are Russian in character.
Fyodor Bondarchuk is the founder and co-incorporator of Art Pictures Studio, Chairmen of the LenFilm Studio Board of Directors, and an actor with over 60 titles to his name. Simply put, as the Russian film industry goes, he’s a big deal. As a director, his historical war epics 9th Company (Russian: 9 rota) (2005) and Stalingrad (2013)—both of which are currently available to view on Netflix—turned Bondarchuk into the highest-grossing filmmaker in Russian film history.
Stalingrad, a period drama depicting the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, was the first Russian film produced for IMAX cinema, something which garnered intense controversy. But as someone with an overt affinity to Vladimir Putin, Bondarchuk seems unperturbed by criticism, until that begins to effect attitudes towards his cinema.
He visited the UK recently to promote Attraction (Russian: Prityazhenie) his second IMAX 3D production, and another spectacle about an invasion of the Motherland, only this time it’s Russia’s first extraterrestrial invasion film. Since its release in January 2017, the film has grossed over three times its budget.
I met with Bondarchuk on the opening night of Russian Film Week at London’s Science Museum to discuss the implications and themes of his new film. It’s a feverish atmosphere, as overburdened agents run around, beautiful people in elegant attires float around the vicinity, and Mr Bondarchuk composes himself in contrast as a down-to-earth and seemingly relaxed man in a grey hoodie and hat.
electric ghost: Congratulations on your latest film, Attraction. Considering the film’s subject, as well as the relatively high budget of your films, it seems easy to draw comparisons with Hollywood productions. But what do you think differentiates your films from them?
Fyodor Bondarchuk: I wouldn’t like to compare my films with Hollywood productions. There is a lot of special effects in my film—this is the only thing that puts me in the same territory as Hollywood films. I’m trying to move away from these comparisons, and I’m trying to create something that has a national Russian flavour. There was a period in the Russian film industry where they tried to copy everything Hollywood was doing, even the dialogues. Not only the pictures but the dialogues! And some of the dialogues, especially the jokes, simply don’t work for the Russian audience. It’s a totally different culture.
Well, the production value is something we could compare; my whole film would cost a couple of minutes of a Hollywood blockbuster, like a Marvel film, for example. It’s not about that, it’s about other components such as the IMAX format, sound design, etc., that you could compare. It is the body and soul that you can’t compare.
Historically, films dealing with the theme of alien invasion have often been patriotic and nationalistic in spirit. Would you say that this applies to Attraction also?
When we started the filming process, we decided that the aliens that come are not aliens from another planet, they are just different people. People from different genders, social background, sexual orientation…
“I’m very interested in any new formats, any new instruments that might come to use in the industry.”
So, ultimately, the aliens represent the Other?
Yes, the Other. Any kind of person that we would perceive as different to us.
Earlier you mentioned the IMAX format. Your previous film Stalingrad was the first Russian IMAX 3D production, and this has certainly had an impact on audiences. But in what ways do you think your films might impact the progress of the film industry in Russia, and potentially present it new perspectives?
I’m very interested in any new formats, any new instruments that might come to use in the industry. Yes, Stalingrad was the first IMAX feature in Russia; I love this format. But I didn’t shoot it in IMAX. I shot it in Stereo, with two cameras, and we had about twenty cameras on set every day. I don’t use IMAX cameras. But I’m interested in the new technology. I’m interested in VR, AR, IMAX, and THX, and all the new technology you can use as a director.
But that’s often not what the marketing people would want to hear. I remember more than eight years ago, and we were discussing marketing policies before the release of one of my films. And we were one of the first companies to split the marketing budget 50/50 to digital. Everyone said we’re crazy “digital doesn’t work.” But we won this battle, now technology advances every minute, and digital is everywhere, and the possibilities these new instruments offer are what interests me.
“The Russian viewer is quite conservative when it comes to topics of World War II, so they expected something different, something “more respectful” than a huge IMAX production.”
So when you shot Attraction, what came first to you? Did you approach the film with the idea that it will be a 3D production, or was that something that you found would work well with the story?
There are several components. First, yes, there is the story and the idea that need to fit the technical execution. But then the audience; I make mainstream cinema, and this kind of cinema has certain “rules” for what would appeal to the wide audience. It is a different territory with arthouse cinema or festival films. The rules for mainstream cinema are different. The third main component is the technical innovations that upgrade every year. So these three components make my decisions on how to film something. But first is the idea, of course. You have no idea how much criticism I faced from Russian audiences for Stalingrad. How dare I imagine Stalingrad, this sacred theme for millions of Russians, as a 3D entertainment, with so many computer manipulations and graphics… some people called it sacrilege. The Russian viewer is quite conservative when it comes to topics of World War II, so they expected something different, something “more respectful” than a huge IMAX production.
And to conclude, I guess you get this question a lot, but what were the influences that inspired you when making Attraction?
Oh, this could be anything. I’m watching everything, not only feature films, but also TV series. If we are talking about inspiration, then I would say Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey  as well as Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 . But the rest is a secret.