“Limitations foster creativity”: Alexey Fedorchenko interview

English Daily #2
Aleksey Fedorchenko's films frequently intertwine elements of fact and fiction. In his 2005 film The First on the Moon, which portrays a Soviet Moon mission from the 1930s, he employs the technique of incorporating fabricated archival scenes. Fedorchenko adopts a similar approach in Big Snakes of Ulli-Kale, embarking on a cultural film odyssey where he, as the director, appears on screen and uncovers long-lost films from more than a century ago.

In reality, all the “discovered films” that viewers will see were actually crafted by Fedorchenko himself and stylized to evoke the aesthetics of early 20th-century cinema. Fedorchenko categorizes this genre as a "documentary fairy tale," and Big Snakes of Ulli-Kale shines as a prominent exemplar of this unique artistic approach.

"I greatly appreciate this found footage genre. I believe that it lends an added sense of authenticity to the material,” says Fedorchenko. “While on one hand, I diligently document historical events and convey factual information, I also occasionally slightly deviate in order to achieve a desired dramatic effect, for example, creating the impression that I discovered these films”.

In his previous works, the director has often explored and portrayed various ethnic groups spread across Russia. However, in Big Snakes of Ulli-Kale, he ventures into uncharted territory by focusing his lens on the Caucasus region and unveiling its untold history.

According to the author: “Most films about the Caucasus rely heavily on Lermontov, Pushkin, and Tolstoy. No one delves deeper. Big Snakes of Ulli-Kale is an attempt to present an alternative and genuine historical account that extends beyond fictionalized narratives. While some may perceive it as a fairy tale, the events depicted in the film actually took place: the expulsion of Pushkin, the attitudes of Lermontov and Tolstoy towards Islam, the painter Zakharov-Chechenets…”

Big Snakes of Ulli-Kale weaves together multiple plotlines and stylistic choices. The director skillfully imparts a distinctive rhythm to the film, effectively transitioning between different historical narratives at precisely the right moments and ensuring that viewers do not become disoriented within the labyrinth of history.

"I initially planned for it to be a cohesive film," Fedorchenko continues. "However, while writing the director's script, I made the decision to divide it into nine parts. I realized that the continuous flow of factual information could risk boring the viewer. I chose to disintegrate the film according to the genres of early cinema. I studied animation, saloon cinema, and Lumiere-style documentaries. It turned into an extensive film research."

In the realm of these films-within-a-film, alongside the absurd and amusing scenes, lie the haunting and distressing revelations. Here, the imperial army mercilessly obliterates entire Chechen villages while callously executing 164 unarmed Kunt-Haji novices who preach pacifism. By exposing these blood-stained pages of history, one gains insight into the present and unearths the origins of modern-day evils. Even in times of war and separated worlds, Fedorchenko persists to work. As he himself says: “Limitations also foster creativity and urge us to find new solutions.”

Alexander Melyan