Hot Docs Title ‘Ostrov – Lost Island’ Acquired by Taskovski Films (EXCLUSIVE)

Ostrov - Lost Island
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

Set on a forgotten Russian island in the Caspian Sea and playing out like a window to another world, doc feature “Ostrov – Lost Island” has been acquired for world sales by London-based Taskovski Films.

Screening at Hot Docs in the International Spectrum section, the documentary chronicles a community forced to fish illegally to feed their families, and the traditions which endure.

In “Ostrov” directors Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop are expertly invisible. Ivan, a quiet fisherman, and his wife Anna are given enough screen time to live and, spaced out among the creaking boats and sagging wallpaper, the island comes to life.

“‘Ostrov – Lost Island’ is a visually stunning, lyrical film made with a clear passion for its characters and the vast landscape they inhabit. With an exquisite sense for detail the film takes the viewer on a journey to create a wider picture of contemporary Russia with an open mind, as well as the heart,” said  Taskovski Films’ head of acquisitions/CEO Irena Taskovski.

“By taking this film into the Taskovski Films family,” she added, “we are continuing a collaboration with strong female directors and new talents who bring fresh and powerful views of modern society that resonate with worldwide audiences.”

The documentary is produced by DokLab, with editing by Orsolo Valenti and Karine Sudan. The score is composed by Marcel Vaid, with sound design by Jérôme Cuendet.

Variety spoke with directors Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop.

The inhabitants of “Ostrov” seem quite comfortable being filmed, which greatly helps immersion. Was this something natural, or did you have to work to get them comfortable around the camera?
Rodina: The most important thing that helped us was the decision just for the two of us to go [initially the group consisted of four people]. We came as a couple, as a family – Laurent and me. The islanders gradually saw that we were not just making a film – we were living our lives with them. We didn’t hide our feelings from them, we shared our personal stories (like our dramatic love story), we ate together, we drank together (and not just tea!). And it wasn’t a trick – we really relaxed psychologically in the company of these people, who became increasingly closer and special to us. You know, we probably got rid of our masks of “professionals,” too. We became just human beings to the islanders….

Can you speak to your choice to let the film play out uncrowded by any real voiceover or narration? How did you come to that decision?
Rodina: Creating the world of the island and building the dramaturgy without the help of the narrator’s voice was incredibly difficult, but at the same time, it gives the viewer more freedom to interpret. We feel that the story itself and our characters are much more interesting, deeper, more contradictory than any text we could have written. Of course, we work a lot with metaphor and symbolism. But after all, even a metaphor can be seen in different ways, unless you start explaining it too precisely.

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Ostrov – Lost Island Courtesy of Visions du Reel

How did your passion for photography inform your approach in capturing the existence of the inhabitants of “Ostrov”?
Stoop: It is less my interest in photography than the social and political aspect of the situation on “Ostrov” that interested me in this project. The atmosphere of the place, which is similar to that of Andrei Tarkovski’s film “Stalker,”obviously plays an important role, but above all it reinforces the idea of the isolation and the “mental prison” turned towards the past in which our protagonists live. With Svetlana we decided that the colors of the film are washed out, like a polaroid, to reinforce the vintage atmosphere that exists on “Ostrov.”

What was your approach to sound design and score in “Ostrov”? 
Rodina: The music for this film was composed by one of the most famous film composers, Marcel Vaid. He’s won so many awards for film music! He’s a real star. I wanted the music to have no melody and to be born from the sounds of the island itself – the noise of the sea and the sand, the sound of a boat or motorbike engine, the creaking of doors… And it was also important that the sound was distorted, as if it had been “destroyed,” like the world of the island.

We spent a lot of time searching for the right sounds. I think Marcel got really into it. He even invented a new instrument – he broke down a piano, took a deck with strings, and started making strange sounds with some strange devices. It was like a shamanic ritual! And then he put all these sounds through special computer programs that distorted the sound. It was amazing! At the same time, we worked with our incredibly talented sound designer Jerome from AleaJacta in Lausanne. He made music from the sounds we recorded on the island and then combined it all with Marcel’s compositions… Marcel was interviewed recently, and he said that working on the film was a great new experience for him, and had been a tremendous experience. It meant a lot hearing him say this.

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Ostrov – Lost Island Courtesy of Visions du Reel