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LES ARCS 2019 Industry Village

Ekaterina Selenkina • Director of Figures in the Urban Landscape

“You can’t escape drugs, no matter where you go”

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- We met with the winner of Les Arcs' Eurimages Lab Project Award, Russian director Ekaterina Selenkina, to discuss her project Figures in the Urban Landscape

Ekaterina Selenkina • Director of Figures in the Urban Landscape
Director Ekaterina Selenkina, alongside producer Vladimir Nadein, with their Eurimages Lab Project Award for Figures in the Urban Landscape (© Romuald Maginot / Les Arcs Film Festival)

Ekaterina Selenkina’s Figures in the Urban Landscape, about a drug dealer hiding drugs in the city and taking pictures of chosen spots for the clients, was awarded the Eurimages Lab Project Award and €50,000 at this year’s Industry Village of the 11th Les Arcs Film Festival. Jurors Mark Adams, Mathilde Henrot and Eurimages representative Tara Maurel noticed its “impressive visual style” as well as “the confidence of the first-time director, taking an innovative approach in the way she delves into a disturbing world.”

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Cineuropa: You already mentioned that, when it comes to this project, having a traditional narrative is not your priority. It’s a sentence that could scare off many potential collaborators.
Ekaterina Selenkina:
That’s why I am grateful for the jury’s decision [laughter]. There is a storyline and the main character — the drug dealer — holds it all together, in a way. But at the same time, the film constantly switches to other characters, observing the landscapes of the city and the way people navigate it. We are trying to show that this drug dealing system is located everywhere, so it was important to pay attention to the urban landscape. It’s also a chance for us to expose all the political and socio-cultural issues in Russia: police brutality, homophobia or the way people live in this country today.

Seems like you want to talk about everything that your countrymen would rather not discuss?
In a way, but it’s not like the film is overloaded with political content – it just leaves a lot of space for you to think. It’s not constantly showing violence or other serious problems: sometimes you see something and sometimes there is not that much going on.

This particular way of drug dealing emerged in Russia sometime around 2012. It has been going on for a while, growing with time as the main drug dealing market closed down, paving the way for the new dark web infrastructure. Some think it’s actually the police and the government that are behind it all, masterminding it in order to control it better.

It changes the city into a dark playground of sorts. You never know where these drugs are stashed!
We weren’t trying to make a point that “drugs are bad.” They are everywhere, they are a part of our life and everyone knows some drug users. So it doesn’t have to immediately go into this “dark” territory. But what you are saying matches with our intention: we are trying to show that you can’t escape it. There are pros and cons to this new way of drug dealing, one of them being that there is less violence involved. There is no actual interaction, so there is no crime – it has gotten a bit safer. At the same time, as drugs become more accessible, it can lead to more people taking them, obviously. It’s a controversial topic, but I am not trying to say whether it’s good or not – this film is just exposing the way it works.

It is the systems of oppression that create such ways of drug dealing. If drugs were legal, and you would take time to educate people or have places for them to recover, it wouldn’t be such a big issue. Today, if you are carrying some drugs on you, you can go to prison for up to 12 years – you don’t even have to be an actual dealer. That’s what pushes people to come up with new ways of distribution.

You say that you don’t want to judge anyone’s choices, but by making your main character a drug dealer, surely you are opening a debate?
That’s why we are treating him as a complex personality. He is working as a dealer, sure, but he is very young. I imagined him to be 20 years old, coming from a poor environment. But at the same time, he is volunteering at a dog pound, taking care of the animals. He isn’t just some horrible person – he is simply trying to make some money. It’s the system we live in that forces people to find “jobs” like that.

You are already planning a release for 2020, so what do you want to use the Eurimages award for?
What’s really great about this award, and I am very thankful for that, is that we need to scan the film. We are editing right now, but the scan you use for editing is very low quality, so we need to do it in order to get a proper image. Which is the most expensive part of our post-production process right now. There are other aspects we still need to work on, too, such as sound and colour grading, and we need to create digital images in order to show how people communicate in this environment.

Given the subjects you want to discuss, are you expecting any bumps on the film’s way to the screen?
We are aware that we might have some problems with the local theatrical release, precisely because of that, since in Russia, you need to get a license to screen. But how these decisions are made is quite obscure. You don’t know what will be censored and what won’t.

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