SEven for a gut decision, most people need a bit of time. Documentary filmmaker Stanislaw Mucha had five minutes on one day in 2018 to make a relatively far-reaching decision. He was standing in the very far north of Russia in front of three people who were on duty at a weather station in the town of Khodovarikha.
He wanted to talk to them to see if they could be good protagonists, but the helicopter pilot who took him there was already pushing. A polar storm threatened, the stay had to be shortened. “We were essentially silent for five minutes,” Mucha recalls the day he decided to make the film, now called Weathermaker.
The protagonists are Vladimir, Alexander and Sascha. Alexander and Sascha are a couple, Wladimir is the veteran, somehow the three have to get along in a very small space. This is not without tension. Mucha also knew from the start that the place has an impact on the people who work here, because he originally wanted to shoot with another man in the “leading role”. “But he went crazy. When I wanted to meet him for a preliminary talk, he was just exchanged. He was a wreck of a human.”
Stanislaw Mucha has worked his way relatively systematically to these limits of civilization. In 2001 he became acquainted with “Absolut Warhola”, for which he visited the region where Andy Warhol came from, in the border triangle between Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.
The ability to make people talk
In 2014 he released a film about the Black Sea (“Tristia”), which could already be read as a study of post-Soviet sensitivities. “Kolyma – Road of Bones” (2017) was an exploration of regions in the far east of Russia, where Stalinist terror almost seems to belong to short-term memory – or to this bodily memory that Mucha is so good at, that people have in diverse ways way to speak. Usually they don’t have to say that much.
The trail leading to Khodovarikha was found in Kolyma. Those who serve here embark on something like a “voluntary labor camp.” A lot of data accumulates every day, which is transmitted to a remote control center with the radio device (“root 15 to root 11”). Actually, there should also be Internet, via satellite, but it doesn’t really work, another detail that makes Khodovaricha seem like an enchanted place. Outside you get lost in the vastness, inside on the ward you crowd together. How can a film be made when there is hardly any space even for the characters in front of the camera?
“We reduced the team to the extreme, three people, an assistant, the cameraman and I, we didn’t want to be more, there shouldn’t have been a majority on our side.” Assistant a bit of privacy, behind a makeshift wall “the cameraman and I snored at each other,” says Mucha.
When one hears the fates of Sascha, Alexander and Vladimir, one cannot help but wonder how representative they are of Vladimir Putin’s Russia – or perhaps even a little bit of the “Homo sovieticus” whose stubborn persistence has amazed so many historians. “What we definitely noticed is how much they are fed with ideology and the old days even in this place on a daily basis. TV actually only shows war films or musicals that are set during the war.”
Everything had already been said
Over the years, Mucha has learned to understand today’s Russia better and, looking back, he is almost astonished at how clearly everything had already been said before he even paid attention: “When we were shooting on the Black Sea, it was constantly said that Russia was the Ukraine will swallow that Khrushchev made a huge mistake when he ceded Crimea to Ukraine. But Ukraine doesn’t even exist, as we’ve been assured time and again.”
Mucha sees his “weather makers” as an example of how difficult it is for people in Russia to talk to each other. He sees a society characterized by silence and secrecy, and tells a story that he only hints at in the film: a man out of envy reveals the solution to a crime novel that he is reading and, out of anger, is stabbed to death.
“We in the so-called West think of Gorbachev as a historical hero. A lot of people in Russia see it the other way around: the decay began with Gorbachev.” For Mucha, the projects have recently turned out to be a bit like a matryoshka figure: if you pull out one, it immediately contains another. He would now basically be moving on up north, he would have a finished concept for a film whose story he stumbled across because a pilot got lost on a research.
“But that won’t be possible for a long time now,” says Mucha, who has had a lot of luck and skill with delicate filming permits. Maybe because all of his films are almost comedies, despite their tough themes.
With Russia now absent as both a location and a subject, Mucha has decided to go further East. He also registers the alternative to capitalism that is looming there, consequently he will shoot his next film in China. Can you already say what it will be about in the near future? “In China, I’m interested in tea,” he answers evasively. We will be surprised again by the next Matryoshka figure in Stanislaw Mucha’s work.