From Russia with hate


Nathan Hall

lens writer

Recently much ink has been spilled concerning the common folk “becoming the media,” with various pundits heralding the oncoming Digital Revolution. Digital movies, however, still look amateurish. One notable exception to this rule is Victory Square, a gorgeous new documentary by local director Lisa Davitch that will be shown at the U Film Society’s International Film Festival.

Victory Square was shot over a period of five years in Minsk, Belarus on Mini Digital video, the technology billed as Hollywood’s savior (or threat, depending whose hands the camera is in). The story involves Tania and Nastia, a mother and daughter whose relationship is eventually destroyed by their unsavory mates. Headstrong Nastia falls for a married Jewish gangster, while Tania moves back in with her abusive ex-husband, a failed poet/actor. Simaltaneously hillarious and heartbreaking, the documentary provides a fascinating look into the day-to-day existence of ordinary people in Belarus, a troubled country struggling to transition from a subsidized arts community under Russian communism to a capitalist marketplace dominated by bloody mob rule. Although Tania is related to a famous Russian actress, her family must now scramble to make ends meet like everyone else in the shaky new economy.

Minnetonka resident Liza Davitch is box office manager at the U Film Society as well as a Minneapolis College of Art and Design graduate. Davitch took full advantage of being the first exchange student for the International Alliance of Women In Arts to shoot Tokens: Enduring Marks Of Chernobyl, a disturbing account of the massive toll the nuclear disaster took on the women of Belarus.

“I was introduced to Nastia during the making of Tokens,” explained Liza in a recent interview. “It was truly quite remarkable how she just let me stay at her house and fed me, no questions asked.” The kitchen scenes are perhaps the most telling scenes of the film, as the two women struggle to communicate while preparing the meal.

How did using Mini DV affect Liza’s film? “A friend of mine once said that filmmakers write fiction and attempt to shape into real life for their audiences, whereas documentary producers take reality and (somewhat) fictionalize it for audiences. Life is somewhat boring so you have to omit things, insert transitions. It’s not real life. My films blur that line, we even re-shot one scene. But crews cost money and that leads to precautions and that’s when you inevitably sacrifice the emotion of your subject.”

Film Festival schedule: