In September 2019, the documentary “Novaya” by Askold Kurov won the first Willy Brandt Documentary Award for Freedom and Human Rights (awarded by the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin in cooperation with the “Bundeskanzler-Willy-Brandt-Stiftung”). Now his outstanding film is available online.
We interviewed him for you:
HRFFB: Why did you become a documentary film maker?
KUROV: It happened rather strangely. In my childhood my main interest and hobby was theatre and I dreamed of an acting career. However, this did not work out - I failed several times when I tried to apply to theatre schools. Perhaps this was my destiny. For quite a long time, I could not decide on a profession. I tried a bunch of different activities, some exotic, like music teacher in a kindergarten, bell ringer in the church or packaging designer. And then one night I had a dream where I saw myself as a director making a movie. When I woke up, I was absolutely happy and realized that this is exactly what I want to do.
HRFFB: What was the subject of your first film and how did you find it?
KUROV: It was my adopted son Dima. I met him in an orphanage when he was 6 years old and became his godfather. One day he told me the story of his large, but dysfunctional family: alcoholic parents and five children. When Dima was 4 years old, his father killed his mother right in front of him. So, Dima was sent to an orphanage. After he grew up, graduated from school and served in the army, he decided to find his brothers and sisters and his father, who by that time was released from prison. I accompanied him and shot this reunion. which became the film “September, 25”.
HRFFB: In your film NOVAYA you show how far the measures to suppress free coverage go. Are you sometimes afraid that you might be in danger because of your work?
KUROV: Yes, sometimes I find myself in unsafe situations and I feel scared. But this is nothing compared to the danger that Novaya Gazeta journalists face almost every day. They undertake the most complex investigations that often concern senior Russian government officials. In the room where daily meetings of the newspaper’s employees are held, portraits of the murdered Novaya journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, hang on the wall. This constantly reminds them of the price sometimes paid for truth and their professional obligation. It motivates them to continue their work.
HRFFB: What fascinated you most about the editorial team of Novaya Gazeta?
KUROV: Honor, courage and the love of life.
HRFFB: At the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin you won the Willy Brandt Documentary Award for Freedom and Human Rights to support your next project – can you already tell us what you are working on?
KUROV: It will be another story about Oleg Sentsov. Sentsov is the Ukrainian film director and civil rights activist from Crimea, whom the Russian authorities arrested in 2014 on false charges of terrorism and sentenced to 20 years in prison. (In 2017, I made a film about this named “The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov”).
In 2018, while trapped in the Russian colony at the North Pole, Oleg, with the help of his colleagues and via his lawyer, supervised the filming of his new film, which is set in Ukraine. My film will talk about this process.
HRFFB: What is your personal favorite documentary and which documentary film maker inspires you most?
KUROV: “Salesman” by the Maysles brothers
“The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On” by Kazuo Hara
“Loss Is to Be Expected” by Ulrich Seidl
“Til Madness Do Us Part” by Wang Bing
“The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer
HRFFB: In times of self-isolation we all need some positivity – therefore one last question: What is a good piece of music to lighten your mood?
KUROV: Sounds of nature.