Nearly 50 years after directing his debut feature, “The First Teacher,” Russian maestro Andrei Konchalovsky returns to the Venice Film Festival competition for the fifth time as director with “The Postman’s White Nights.”
No stranger to major film fest red carpets, Konchalovsky first saw the Venice spotlight as a screenwriter on legendary Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood,” which won the Venice Gold Lion in 1962.
He also was a screenwriter on Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” (1966) which competed at Cannes, as did Konchalovsky’s “Siberiade,” which scored the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes in 1979.
But despite all of the accolades and the decades of filmmaking experience under his belt, on the phone from Moscow Konchalovsky sounds as energized and excited about filmmaking as if he were just starting out, which, he explains, isn’t too far from the truth.
“It’s not easy to talk about, but I can try to explain this new film’s process by saying it’s a film that we made without a script, but also without improvisation. I wanted to try and make a different kind of film than the ones I’ve made in the past. I wanted to try to write with the camera.”
Konchalovsky, working with Russian cinematographer Aleksander Simonov, known for his work with late Russian filmmaker Aleksei Balabanov, described the practical needs of making a film on a limited budget.
“I didn’t want to return to my past. I wanted to make a film for myself and digital filmmaking makes it possible to use the camera the same way a writer would use a pen and paper. There are extraordinary creative advantages to this kind of filmmaking.”
He estimates he spent more than eight months in casting, scouting locations and other forms of research.
“We shot with multiple hidden cameras and we found ways to provoke our actors, some of which were aware of the process and others who weren’t,” Konchalovsky said. “We really wrote the script in the editing room where we found image, symbols, the connective tissue that pulls the story together.
“There are things that happen spontaneously, things you could never direct in the traditional way and digital cinematography makes it possible to capture these moments.
“Something new comes out of this process and it’s very exciting for me. It also frees me to share it with audiences and I hope they also can find this exciting, but no one has to worry about it too much if they don’t!”