Alexei Paluyan: To nominate “Lessons of Persian” from Belarus for “Oscar” – how to send Filip Kirkorov to “Eurovision”

Alexei Paluyan
Alexei Paluyan

While the official application from Belarus for the Oscar – the film “Farsi Lessons” by Hollywood director of Ukrainian origin Vadim Perelman – scandalously leaves the Oscar race without qualifying in the category of “Best Foreign Language Film”, in another category our compatriot easily passes the “access threshold” to the competition.

“Lake of Joy” by Belarusian Alexei Paluyan , a film based on the novel of the same name by Belarusian writer Viktor Martinovich , this week received a qualification in the category “Best Feature Short Film”. How did the film get into the league of “big cinema” without any support from the Belarusian side? contacted the Belarusian cinematographer, who now lives in Germany, to congratulate him on his success and ask about the peculiarities of the national and foreign film industries.

Backstage from the movie “Lake of Joy”. Photo by Alexandra Kanonchenko provided by Alexei Paluyan.

– Alexey, congratulations on your qualifications. But still, what country will the Lake of Joy represent in the Oscar race?

– The fact is that our film competes in the nomination “Best Feature Short Film“. In this category, the picture is not distinguished by a particular country. The film can qualify for the nomination, thanks to winning prestigious film festivals accredited by the American Film Academy. In our case, we won the Grand Prix in Los Angeles, at the International Short Film Festival, which has a special Oscar license, and thus got into the competition.

– It turns out that the film “Lake of Joy” represents itself at the “Oscars”, so to speak?

– That’s right. But let me remind you that the tape was made in cooperation with three countries – Germany, Belarus and Spain. At this stage, the producing countries are not taken into account, but if our picture is shortlisted, then it will already mark the main producer who has made the greatest contribution to the creation.

“And who is he?” Probably Germany?

– Legally, yes. At least, it’s too early to order, but I will, of course, lobby Belarus (laughs).

– Alexei, just a couple of weeks ago, the media actively discussed the scandal with the disqualification of the film “Lessons of Persian”, which was nominated for the competition from Belarus. According to American film academics, there was not much Belarusian in the Belarusian application. What is your opinion on this?

– I was 97 percent sure that everything would be so. In general, I did not understand why the Belarusian National Oscar Committee nominated this project for an Oscar. Yes, there is a participation of Belarusians in the film, but who owns the main rights to the picture? Which countries’ money is invested in production? What does the director have to do with Belarus? If you answer these questions, it immediately becomes clear that Vadim Perelman’s film is not the candidate who can represent Belarus in the American Film Awards. In my opinion, to nominate “Lessons of Persia” from Belarus for the “Oscar” was something like sending to “Eurovision” Philip Kirkorov. Loud, but no relation to the national culture of Belarus.

Backstage shooting of the movie “Lake of Joy”. Photo by Alexandra Kanonchenko provided by Alexei Paluyan.

– Well, I guess you shouldn’t complain about such sending.

– Of course, we can laugh at it, but in the world it is not done. If Belarus invested zero cents in the production of “Lessons of Persian”, what rights does it have to the film? When our technical companies worked on the tape, Belarusian locations were involved, let’s be honest, it’s a service, but no more.

– Well, won’t the same story with “Lake of Joy” be repeated, if – let’s imagine the best – the film will be shortlisted? At this point, as you say, it’s not that important, but what’s next? As far as I know, the main funds were invested in the film by the German project participants.

– Yes, but the director is Belarusian, the actors are Belarusians. The language of the picture is Belarusian. Place of action and shooting – Belarus. The film is based on a novel by a Belarusian writer. And, perhaps most importantly, when it comes to money, I also invested in the project, and considerable, I note – almost half. I am the producer of the film. All together it allows me to say that one of the countries of production of the “Lake of Joy” is Belarus. But you are right: not a penny has been invested in this picture by Belarusian state institutions.

– Alexei, we are now coming up with an interesting topic. I remember how many years ago a Belarusian publication organized a round table entitled “When will Belarusian cinema win an Oscar?” on the problems of Belarusian cinema. The title of the discussion, frankly, caused a wave of embarrassment among filmmakers and critics, but now the situation is not so utopian. But, naturally, the question arises: what should the Belarusian director do to get to the Oscar race? Why did you start looking for money for your short film in Germany and not in Belarus? Please tell us about your case.

– I have, as you say, the case is really bizarre. In short, he is like this: I went to study in Germany, because I did not see in Belarus the opportunity to get a good film education. He entered the Kassel Art Academy to the Ukrainian director Yana Druz . Only after six years of training, a series of short films, in 2017 began to look for funds to produce “Lake of Joy” in German film funds. Got them by winning a big contest. He took a picture. And then we went with her a long festival way to finally get into the long list of “Oscars”. Here’s to you and the whole case, as you say.

Backstage shooting of the movie “Lake of Joy”. Photo by Alexandra Kanonchenko provided by Alexei Paluyan.

– Sounds good. But didn’t you have the desire to cooperate with the Belarusfilm studio at the very beginning of the work on the film, or, say, the intention to try to win the competition of the Ministry of Culture to finance the project?

– Honestly, I have tried and still try to stay away from our film institutions. The policy of our state in relation to cinema seems to me completely doubtful. Like, “let’s gather tractors now,” and the same approach to movies. “Let’s make some pictures for the bird.” The effort to make money and the desire to make ideological films are what I see in that politics. Two in one. I do not fit in either the first or the second option. It seems to me that the state vision of the short film is the following: “You still can’t earn money, it’s a movie for kids.” As for ideology, the very name of Viktar Martsinovich in the captions suggests that there will be no ideology needed by the state. Although the story we shot, as you know, touched viewers around the world.

But as for “Belarusfilm”, we rented children’s costumes from them during the shooting of “Lake of Joy”. That’s right, by the way.


– It is interesting that your project was supported by the State German Film Fund. I’m sorry, I’ll allow myself a question like this: why do they need it? The director is Belarusian, the story is about Belarus, so what is he studying in Germany? ..

– This is the approach of Germany. They support interesting projects with international potential because they understand that it is a question of their reputation. They invest in this way not only in your project, but in your film and business. Plus, it is a matter of values, their cultural policy, according to which, everyone has a chance at self-realization. And one more point: in modern German cinema there is a shortage of screenwriters. There are a couple of good authors, the same Maren Ade , Andres Dressen , Fatih Akin and perhaps everything (I’m talking about real art now). Leaves Herzog , Wenders , Schlondorf , Kluge, a large generation of German filmmakers, understood what to think about the future. They therefore support projects in which they see potential, even if their authors are in a sense, emigrants like me.

– What about the Berlin Film School: Christian Petzold, Angela Chanel?

– It seems to me that they cannot be compared with the Duke, Wenders. Anyway, in my opinion. It seems to me that the Germans themselves understand that they need a new look, so they went through co-production. They are interested in new authors, support them. Although I have a Belarusian passport, I feel that they see me as their own.

“Aren’t you your own here?”

– For certain people – their own. But not for the state. I can’t imagine how it is possible for us to make a decent movie. We do not have a film fund that would be engaged in financing and real lobbying of Belarusian cinema, which would look for the youngest Belarusian authors, develop some projects jointly with other countries. One would think that we have hundreds of outstanding directors, screenwriters, Belarusian cinema is flourishing, and every year we launch a dozen projects with Europe. We do not have the appropriate legislation to do international projects. Only we can catch the “tail” of Russia.

– What about “Farsi Lessons”?

– As with “Lessons of Persian”. So, of course, I was very lucky that in Germany they believed in me, and I think they were allowed to make Belarusian films for their money, let’s call a spade a spade. Moreover, now with the “Lake of Joy” within the Oscar period decided to work one famous and good PR agency “Jason Jason PR”. For two years in a row, the films they worked with won Oscars for Best Short Film. It is very nice that they offered us cooperation. However, their work is not cheap. But as soon as the German film fund learned that “Lake of Joy” had qualified for the “Oscar”, the next day I got a call from the German film fund and offered support to pay for the services of a PR agency for the Oscar race. After all, there is an understanding of how the industry works.

Backstage shooting of the movie “Lake of Joy”. Photo by Alexandra Kanonchenko provided by Alexei Paluyan.

– By the way, has anyone addressed you from the Belarusian side?

– Now we have received an offer to re-rent the tape. Thanks for that. But, to be honest, the situation surprised me a lot at first. No one wrote a letter or message. Naturally, no one is interested in the reputation of Belarusian cinema! Daria, are you asking about how the Belarusian director will win an Oscar? No way! We, young directors, are all on our own. We survive and act on our own. Yes, to summarize, it seems to me that the Belarusian society lives independently. People are separate, the state is separate. Yes, nothing will happen to the Belarusian cinematography, as to the industry, until professionals come to it. Perhaps this is the case with all areas.

– What do you plan to do next?

– I will focus on well-known examples – the same Roman Polanski , who, being a Polish director, lived most of his life in France, Pavel Pavlikowski . I will continue to look for money in Germany to make a film about Belarus. By the way, I am now working on the script for my new feature film, and there is already funding for the project from the German side.

– By the way, I heard that your new documentary “Courage”, which you shot in 2019, and in 2020, is ready. Is that so?

– Moreover, it is not just ready, but already selected for the program of one of the major film festivals. It remains to wait literally a week when I get the right to say which film forum we are talking about.

– What is it, can you find out?

– It is about three independent artists, creators who live in Belarus and find their way of life in the Belarusian conditions. But it is essentially about the spirit of freedom and dignity that lives in these people. The spirit of dignity that awoke in Belarusian society last year. I was in Belarus in August and September 2020, and managed to film the August events. They became the culmination of “Courage”.

Returning to your question: can you imagine the Ministry of Culture of Belarus giving me money for this film? Would you nominate him for an Oscar?

I guess the answers are known to everyone.