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A Journey through Childhood, the Essence of Raisins, and Other Films from HSE University

A still from Natalia Potemkina's ‘The Essence of Raisins’

A still from Natalia Potemkina's ‘The Essence of Raisins’
© Natalia Potemkina

One documentary and six animations created by HSE Art and Design School students were shortlisted at this year's St. Anna’s Festival. The annual Young Cinema Forum attracts the attention of aspiring film professionals from all regions of Russia, as well as the CIS, Europe and America. Students of the HSE Art and Design School told the News Service about the ideas behind their works, which were selected by the professional jury, and what it was like to work on them.

128 films out of 414 entries made it into the programme of this year’s St. Anna’s Student and Debut Film Festival’s. The films spanned all categories — features, documentaries, and animation. The latter category included just 18 animated films, six of which were created by students of the HSE Art and Design School. Beginning April 16, all the works by HSE University students will be available for viewing in Moscow cinemas. For the first time the festival will also feature the film ‘The Essence of Raisins’ by third-year ‘Animation and Illustration’ student Natalia Potemkina.

Natalia Potemkina
Photo courtesy of Natalia Potemkina

‘At the beginning of the third year, we were tasked with creating an informational video on any topic. Out of a large field of possibilities, I chose to tell the viewer about something small and unremarkable, but with potential,’ says Natalia. ‘I also started buying raisins instead of sweets at the store. They turned out to be so delicious that it just encouraged me to explore their qualities.’

To tell viewers about the hidden benefits raisins contain, in the student's opinion, beneath their unattractive skin, Natalia conducted a whole study: she talked to dried fruit suppliers and collected information herself. ‘The idea is reinforced by the fact that the dried grape begins (only in my video) to possess intelligence a and will to take over the world,’ she says. ‘In terms of challenging aspects of the work process, they were related to presenting dry facts to the viewer in a more interesting and enticing way. My supervisor Lyubov Hobotova helped me a lot in this by providing me with the necessary tools to capture the viewer's attention.’

Natalia says that St Anne’s is her first festival, so she sees it as a new and interesting experience that can help her advance in the business she loves. ‘When I found out about it, I was like, “Really?!” It made me very happy to see my classmates next to me!’

A total of six animated films by students from the HSE Art and Design School were shortlisted at the Saint Anna’s Festival:

 ‘Neighbours’ by Oh Hae Un and Aleksandra Netunaeva;

 ‘Dogs Smell of the Sea’ by Anastasia Lisovets;

 ‘Passengers’ by Alisa Vasilyeva and Ilona Enmanova;

 ‘Fortress’ by Masha Mayorova;

 ‘The Essence of Raisins’ by Natalia Potemkina;

 ‘Come out of the Room’ by Nigina Rakhmatullaeva.

Second-year ‘Cinema and Video Art’ student Mikhail Semyonov’s non-fiction film ‘My Name’ was also included in the competition programme of the Young Filmmakers’ Forum. ‘My name is the house where my childhood feelings, fears, and memories live — my “self”. I left me and forgot my name, but I really want to remember it,’ Mikhail says about the concept of the film. ‘This film is a journey through intuitive and random associations through the places of my childhood and an attempt to find myself in them.’

Childhood can be a lot of things. For me, it’s a house in a countryside that no longer exists. And the longer it’s gone, the sooner I forget my name, my self

The student made a solitary journey alone with a camera to a village in the Yaroslavl region, filming everything he came across along the way. This footage, along with shots of places that have an appropriate association with the film’s concept, made it to the final cut.

‘There are no complicated scenes in my documentary. It’s just a documentation of a kind of cinematic vision,’ says Mikhail. ‘I wasn't really expecting anything from participating in the festival, but I suppose it's just a very personal, auteur film. It has a certain language, it's interesting to understand, my curators talked about this, they even compared me to the documentary director Viktor Kossakovsky, which was very flattering. Nevertheless, I had no expectations of the festival, and the fact that I made the shortlist was certainly a pleasant shock.’

Mikhail also noted that his programme’s curator model is exactly what once attracted him to HSE University. ‘I chose the HSE Art and Design School because I realised that freedom and independence from one’s master is very important to me. I am more interested in developing my own language, my own artistic techniques, my own cinematography, and getting constant feedback. I also like the fact that our profile provides a theoretical basis. We have a course called “Theory and Philosophy of Modern Art”, which is very cool: I can develop my techniques based on theory.’

Anton Bilzho, filmmaker, screenwriter, and lecturer at the HSE Art and Design School, creative advisor of Mikhail Semyonov

Anton Bilzho, filmmaker, screenwriter, and lecturer at the HSE Art and Design School, creative advisor of Mikhail Semyonov

St. Anna’s is a wonderful festival where thousands of works are submitted. I myself once won the Grand Prix there (in 2012 for ‘The Tale of Eugenia and Me’ — ed.), a very important award for me, which indirectly and psychologically opened my way into cinema. I'm very happy that Mikhail’s work, which I like a lot, was short-listed. That in itself is already a good assessment of his work. I wish him success!

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