Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Navigating The Road Movie: The Overlook Interviews Documentary Director Dmitrii Kalashnikov

The Road Movie is not quite like any documentary we've seen. It's equal parts direct cinema, found footage, and unflinching YouTube realness. And it's coming to San Francisco's Roxie Theatre at the end of this week! 

While the premise seems simple enough, there was also a lot to unpack after watching this 67 minute roller coaster. So we got in touch with the film's director Dmitrii Kalashnikov to get some insight.

Huntress: What inspired you to make The Road Movie? Did you pull inspiration from anything you've seen, either online or otherwise?

Dmirtrii: Actually just the idea of making a film from YouTube videos inspired me. Dominic Gagnon films in particular. I'd never thought that one can use that material to create a film before. 

And also dash cam videos inspired me, because I understood that they're far more than just "entertaining" crazy videos. There're some unique qualities that make them perfect for documentary cinema.

Huntress: What was the process of selecting the videos in your movie like? How did you find and get permission to use those clips?

Dmirtrii: I was doing The Road Movie for about a year and nearly all this time I was constantly searching for new material. So, I've seen tons of videos and it's really hard to count the exact number. The most interesting footage which I thought could be in film I downloaded, and I had about 1300 videos on my computer. I had dozens of rough cuts in the attempt to organize all these chaotic material in a right way.

When I started to search I was watching everything with the word "dash cam" in the title. After that I started to search for special categories, like natural disasters, fights, animals, weapons, chases, speed racing, etc. When I decided to do a year cycle structure (winter-summer-autumn-winter) and some groups of night episodes between seasons, I started to be more precise in the search. And also emotions and the mood of the footage was really important to me in the process. For example at some moment I was searching for insanely funny night episode in summer or beginning of autumn.

Huntress: Were you more focused on building a narrative or keeping a pace?

Dmirtrii: I suppose I was more focused on keeping a pace. Let me explain that a bit.

I believe that dash cam video is a kind of a pure "fly on the wall" concept. There is no one controlling the camera. The driver puts it on the dashboard or windscreen before he starts to drive and then doesn't think of it, unless something extraordinary happens. And everything is happening by chance - even such things as lighting, composition of the frame, rhythm, etc.

Drivers and passengers usually don't think about the camera, and that's why they act in a most natural way you can record.

Because of those features I decided not to use narrative and even tried to be invisible as a director. It was important for me to save the purity of the material and that's why I didn't edit within episodes.

But the film needs some kind of structure. And I came up with the a season cycle (from winter to winter) and idea to concentrate on the emotional impact of the videos. During the whole film I try to navigate the audience balancing between laughter and horror changing the amplitude of that emotions.

Huntress: Between the dash cam craziness and the "Stop a Douchebag" movement, YouTube paints a particularly hostile picture of drivers in Russia. Have you found these portraits to be mostly true or exceptional instances? What have your experiences been like on the road?

Dmirtrii: I can't say that Russian drivers are much more insane than drivers from other countries or that crazy stuff is happening more often in Russia. We have more dash cams in Russia than anywhere else, so more different things are recorded and uploaded on YouTube. I think we don't have enough footage from other countries to compare and analyze.

As for my own perception - I feel that what you can see on the web is mostly exceptional. Luckily, I've never been to any of these situations and I don't know a lot of people who were.

We have bad roads - it's true. It affects the style of driving in a way. But we are not usually as crazy as you see on the web. My driving experience is mostly positive.

Huntress: Why are there so many dash cams in Russia?

Dmirtrii: I think the main reason is that people feel safer on the road using these cameras. When some kind of accident happens on the road the driver can prove his innocence with dash cam video. Maybe not in the court but surely for other participants of the accident. And furthermore some people may be afraid to lie and accuse you of what you haven't done if they know that there is a video of an accident. Also it can be kind of helpful in cases of police corruption or other unlawful behavior on the road.

Huntress: What was your experience in film before making The Road Movie? Do you plan on making a narrative feature in the future?

Dmirtrii: I've graduated from St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television with an MA in documentary directing. I did one short documentary "Film about Love" and one mid-length documentary "Waiting for the Show".

I'm interested in different kind of projects, in narrative feature as well. I don't have a good idea for it at the moment, but when I'll get it - I'll try to do the film. I'm also interested in animation and combination of documentary and animation. Web-docs is also something that I want to try.

Huntress: Have you watched The Road Movie with an audience? What were the reactions like?

Dmirtrii: The film was premiered at IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) in the end of 2016 and during the next year was screened on about 30 festivals around the world. I had a chance to visit some of them, watch the film with the audience and then discuss it. Usually the reactions are quite the same everywhere. During the film audience is totally engaged in the process, nearly being on the edges of the seats. People laugh a lot, sometimes scream and close their eyes. The film is full of emotions and I believe that it should be seen on a huge screen with a big audience. 

Huntress: What kind of bonus features would you want to include when The Road Movie gets a release? 

Dmirtrii: There will be video interview with me on a DVD release in which I explain the process of making this film in more details, give some context. And maybe there will be two of my previous films.

To give you a visual taste of what you're in for with The Road Movie, here's the trailer.

Along with countless articles about the film, you can also keep up with The Road Movie by following it on Facebook
And all of you bay area locals should come out to the Roxie Theatre and see this film unfold on the big screen! RSVP at their event page and bring a friend!


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