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An Interview With Svetlana Cemin

Svetlana Cemin, is a writer, director, producer, and the founder of 610FILM, a Brooklyn-based art-house film production company. Her vision is to create experimental art films as well as documentaries and feature films that promote the work of artists and art in general. Her latest feature documentary was selected as the best experimental feature of various film festivals in the past few months.

It is our pleasure to interview Svetlana Cemin for the Chicago Movie Magazine.

What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language? Even though my artistic formation cam from the thatre world, I have always had a close relationship with cinema, as an actor in the past or nowadays as a director and producer. I wanted the drama to go from the dark stage out onto the world. This inspired me to mix both media by combining cinema with dramatical and theatrical settings and to explore the life of my protagonists poetically.

What draws me closer to the filmmaking process is the collaboration and building of relationships with my crew. Each person brings something new to the project and the enthusiasm of building a story together is the most exciting part of it. Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than a film school? Of course, I do believe in film schools, mostly in the well-established ones with strong academical approaches, but I also believe in the thirst of an artist to explore different media regardless of their educative background. I can only speak from my experience: I was a law student, and later on studied many different subjects such as psychology, literature, and languages. The most important formation for me was my experience on stage and in film as an actor. When it came to filmmakking, I went to many workshops and seminars and prepared each story ahead of the casting time. What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you? I rely heavily on literature and other art forms to create an original cinematographic story. Through cinema, I get the feeling that my ideas can flourish in such a way that even I get to be surprised. That’s what I’m looking for: an element of surprise that turns an idea to an unknown direction while it still has the chance to land safely on a well-prepared road. This is the engine that drives me, mainly because I think it is much harder to be adventurous like this in other art forms; but then again, I also firmly believe that anything is possible in art if you are willing to take the creative risk. Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script? I started with a certain style in mind but the given circumstances were filled with numerous challenges like sudden location changes, crew replacement, sudden illness, just to name a few, that I had to part with my original ideas for a while. In other words, I had to allow myself to improvise a lot, especially at the end of the shooting. My directing style was transformed during the whole creative process, but that is what makes it original. How did you choose the cast and crew of your film I always knew that I wanted to develop a story on Saint Clair Cemin, at first only as a producer. I was waiting for an opportunity when he was having a break between his heavy production in his studio in Brooklyn to start with this project. Once he had the idea of making a marble boat named Psyche, that would be based upon an ancient Greek myth, we started collaborating fully for the next five years. It was a long process, filled with insecurities, intense travel and wonderful moments. Choosing the crew was a bit of a complicated process. The first crew who flew from New York to China to follow the artist to his second studio near Beijing, didn’t deliver the promised material and stayed away from

The original idea. I was filled with regret a took a break from the production process until I found trusted and suitable cinematographers that were recommended by my associate and co-producers. They stood by me until the end of our mission. We shot in China, Switzerland, the USA, and Brazil, and developped a unique method of working in the most challenging situations.

How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?

The funding for Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche came from private investment, mostly my own. From the beginning of the shooting, I was faced with so many challenges, that now looking back I don’t even know where I found the force to fight and sustain the journey. At the time, I had to stay in New York since I was involved in other projects and my daughter was still in school, so I couldn’t travel to China to work directly on the film. When I saw that the production had taken a wrong turn, I had to start all over again. A`er a break that lasted more than a year, we moved into another direction by opening the story furter and including more destinations to make it more alive. We then started working on a different level and with even greater enthusiasm. Do you consider yourself an indi filmmaker and what would be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist? Yes, I do consider myself an indi filmmaker and there a re tons of difficulties that an independent artist could face, from the beginning to the end of simply the process of creating a story. To create properly, I can’t afford to think of the challenges ahead and need to be completely focused on the beauty of even the possibility of creating an original piece of art. I give a hundred and fi`y percent of myself in everything that I do in order to make a picture that I believe in. Without passion and persistence, there would be no reason for me to submerge myself in such a complex process of creating cinema. Making art is not easy but it is a necessary way breaking through every day realities. What is the distribution plan for your film? At this point, I’m letting my film to fully go through the festival circuit. Since the beginning of July, when I started to submit Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche, in mostly indie film festivals, I have gotten seven awards that include Best Experimental Feature and Best Documentary Feature l Film in New York, LA, Amsterdam, Montreal, Toronto festivals. The last one I’ve received from the Chicago Indie Film Awards for Best Experimental Featuere Film is truly special.

A`er all this wonderful acclaim, which I am very grateful for, I trust that the right distribution will take the film to the platforms I hope it to get to. What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker? I started with art film but my next phase will go in a totally opposite direction. I would like to explore many different topics, and to bring to light new and more challenging character and circumstances, but the focuse will still remain on humanity and our connection to nature. I truly hope that the next chapter will go more towards the direction of feature films. I already have one in pre-production, based on a screenplay that I wrote a few years back, and the topic of the story has to do with finding a true identity in a world that has been suddenly turned upside down.

What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?

My concern was to open up the doors of artistic freedom through an intelligent way of looking at art, and to create an authentic process of breaking internal obstacles. I’m emphasizing on the word freedom, because I’d like to encourage others to take the risk and do the impossible by bringing up fresh voices to the creative world.

I have shown Psyche to some friends, artists, and colleagues, and was deeply touched by their enthusiastic and positive reactions, and this includes also the children who were brought to the screenings as well. I’m thrilled to know that this type of work strongly resonates with such a diverse audience and that there is still a curiosity to know what it means to truly get into an artist’s intimate world. Let’s hope that the next phase will involve a much larger audience!

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