Making a promotional film first…
It all started when I travelled to Perm to visit my sister, Hannah-Louise and my brother in law, Hamish. They had recently taken up an opportunity to manage a charity called Love’s Bridge, which supports underprivileged children – including homeless children and teenagers.
Once we had raised a small budget, me and cinematographer Nicolas Doldinger travelled to Perm to document the work of the charity. We took a budget airline via Kaliningrad to Moscow and then caught the Trans-Siberian to Perm.
The footage we captured showed exactly how the charity go out to look for children at the railway station, in the sewers and abandoned buildings. We also spent time with the teenagers living in basement of a block of flats – the same group who later helped make A Russian Fairytale possible.
Once finished, it successfully raised funds and awareness about Love’s Bridge. It also gave me the idea of returning to make a much more detailed film focusing on the homeless teenagers and giving them a voice to tell their story to a much larger audience. Footage of their life in the basements of Perm and their interviews were put together to produce a trailer. Together with a documentary treatment and website we went to work to raise enough money to return to Perm – this time to make a feature film.
Raising money to make a documentary
Raising money is no easy feat, even when you’re in newspaper articles, on the radio or talking at conferences. I had been receiving regular updates about the teenagers I’d hoped to follow. One had gone missing, two were in prison and one had died of an illness. It was extremely clear that this group who had been so close since childhood were gradually disbanding, due to illness, prison terms or, just as common – death. Most of them had HIV and many had tuberculosis, hepatitis and other complications with their liver or kidneys due to substance abuse.
Many had run away from broken homes during the economic crisis of 1998 and managed to survive numerous beatings by police, stints in the psychiatric hospitals and state orphanages to tell their tale. They all had remarkable stories. I felt that as one died, a story was lost and a small piece of history was forgotten about. It was therefore of paramount importance to get back to Perm as soon as possible.
A year later, whilst taking Russian classes, I approached Julian Gallant – the director of Pushkin House, with my idea about making a documentary in Perm and stressed the importance of doing it soon. With much enthusiasm, Julian offered Pushkin House’s help. We decided to organise a fundraising event in which I would show footage of the teenagers, a detailed explanation about how the film would be made and how we aimed to create a cinematic experience. My sister and brother in law were also there on behalf of Love’s Bridge and we explained how the film could work towards raising awareness for charities working in Russia.
The evening was a success and inspired many to help us through with our project. We raised enough money to immediately buy visas, flights and the rest of the necessary filming equipment. The budget was extremely tight but thanks to the kindness of the charity workers in Perm we had a place to stay, translators and also a volunteer sound operator from London, Dasha Redkina.