Today our guest is the world-renown director and producer Alexander Rodnyansky!
A winner of a myriad of awards and honors, he has worked on such fantastic projects as West-East, Driver for Vera, Elena, Stalingrad, Leviathan, among numerous others. Many of his films are known in the West, and his work has earned him a Golden Globe and three nominations for Academy Awards, including for Leviathan. He has adapted some of our screenplays into Inhabited Island, and the series The White Guard, which became the film of the year in Russia.
For years, we have been good friends and creative partners.
Rodnyansky graduated from the directing division of the Kiev Theatrical Institute under Felix Sobolev, and began his career at the Kiev Science Film studio. It was a peak time for the studio, and they operated on a high level internationally: it was a time of experiments and successes. During this period, Sergey saw for the first time the work of the young Rodnyansky, a short film about the park bridge on the shores of the Dnyepr, Kiev’s main river. The beautiful bridge is called “Lover’s Bridge”, and was built in 1910 by Eugene Paton. Rodnyansky compared Paton’s plans and calculations and found that they hold up well to modern scientific and architectural standards. The film, accompanied by Mozart’s Small Night Serenade, became a mix of science and poetry. It was a hymn to beauty and happiness. Thirty years have passed, but Sergey still remembers the aura of this small film, which turned out to be Alexander Rodnyansky’s first.
Afterwards, we worked happily with the director on several projects, such as the movie Green Card, Stolen Happiness, The White Guard, and the film adaption of Inhabited Island, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. Currently, Rodnyansky lives for art and travels around the planet. We greeted him recently in Los Angeles, where he came from Toronto to represent his latest project, The Duelist. We met on the ocean shore, and conversed about fantasy.
Alexander Rodnyansky is sharp and intuitive, an extraordinary expert on fantasy in all its forms. Nobody has interviewed him about fantasy before, so here’s something exclusive.
Sergey: How do you define fantasy? How do you see it? This one is a tricky question.
Alexander: It doesn’t seem devious to me. Fantasy is nothing more than a convenient platform and space for solving the main issue of literature — and art as a whole — the issue of reflecting key human conflicts and relationships. It places characters in an unusual, extreme and unexpectedly curious situation for the opportunity to tell enthralling human stories. I don’t look at fantasy as a way of somehow predicting the future. That is a curious challenge within itself, but for me it is secondary. I don’t look at fantasy through a futuristic lens. It is a genre of literature that allows us to remove a person from the boundaries of our world, and thus expose their conflicts and interpersonal relationships.
S: Who are your favorites in fantasy? Authors, works?
A: I am quite a literary omnivore, but there are a few authors, very different ones, that I have loved and will love for a long time, starting with those whose work I grew up with. Of course, these are the Strugatsky brothers. I belong to the generation that read the 25-volume collection of fantasy, and one of the tomes was dedicated to the Strugatsky brothers, their Monday starts on Saturday and It’s Hard to Be a God. After that, I read everything they wrote. I have always loved Bradbury, but it is such a romantic, insanely talented and stylistically diverse fantasy, almost a collection of essays. I loved his world of a melancholic future, which really represents the moods of every person in life’s episodes. I always loved gothic fantasy, as in the combination of the gothic novel and elements of an imagined world which we call fantasy. That is why I was a big fan of Martin. Before him, I closely followed Ursula Le Guinn and Sapkovsky. It was always curious to me. Once, the incredible Ilya Erenburg said that he likes paintings that don’t resemble photography, and photography that does not resemble paintings. Similarly, I love fantasy that is nothing like other genres. I love it for its uniqueness, for that which cannot be achieved in other genres, for the combination of polar opposites: made-up universes, genuine and real characters, human relationships. That’s what I like.
S: Very interesting! How do you think that relates to fantasy in film and TV shows? What kinds of new ideas can come up?
A: Fantasy has been victorious on the big screen, because the big screen demands attractions and worlds in which the viewers can immerse themselves. It’s an escapist necessity, the intense desire to run away. The farther, the better, because the viewer does not enjoy the reality around them. So, fantasy does exist in large numbers on the screen, but the issue is the limited amount of stories. It is limited firstly by graphic novels and old comics from an era where the myths and principal characters were first created. Big Hollywood studios prefer not to take risks and to work with something that inspires trust and relation. The only thing they do in a new way is combining different comic characters in one film. Avengers has six heroes, Iron Man has some more, which didn’t exist on paper. There’s not a lot of space for new material, but the demand of a large-scale cinematic event on the big screen is there, so fantasy has some great opportunities.
As for television, I’m afraid things are more complicated, strangely enough. Except, perhaps, the genres of fantasy that allow for extremely realistic characters and the circumstances they are in. That is, it could be anywhere as long as the characters are convincing, inspire understanding, because the nature of taking in television is more documentary, it is like a window to the neighbor’s yard or their living room. However, because the audience is not sure that what is going on at the neighbors’ obeys the laws of nature, one can tell stories of any kind, including fantasy. The number of shows that have been created and revered recently goes to show that fantasy is enjoying a great period both for TV and film. For example, the recent show Stranger Things, as well as Game of Thrones. Basically, everything that is popular in modern television, with a few exceptions, is fantasy, or at least requires a colossal element of an imagined reality — what is called today “augmented reality”.
S: What about video games? Could they be art?
A: Games became art a long time ago, because they have several areas, in which an artist can express themself. First of all, a hand-made, new visual universe that represents a huge amount of work from designers, that has no precedent in the past. It also reflects the efforts of writers that create the numerous stories that lay the groundwork for the game. But the key advantage of games as opposed to traditional genres is the interactive element, as in the opportunity for the player to influence the course of events and feel like a character. In this sense, I enjoy primarily immersive world games as opposed to the popular shooters. I like Assassin’s Creed only because it was created by about 500 artists, rendering each detail of the world. For example, one the the Assassin’s Creed games is set in the world of Rome and Florence at the beginning of the 16th century, perfectly detailed with streets, houses, alleys, bridges and so on. The reconstruction of reality is reminiscent of a time machine, and the same goes for other such games.
I’m not an avid player, I don’t have time to play “tanks” and most other games, but I do notice them and own a company that works in games. The company is fairly successful, and I have the opportunity to see what is popular and what is not. Of course, today’s games are nothing more than stepping stones. There will be one, two or three steps more where other genres will start including an interactive element. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will in the relatively near future. How one feels about games, including myself, is not relevant. It is the natural evolution in what we call the classic way to tell a story, immersing players into a worlds with the possibility to live out the story.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!