In 1999, Kirill Serebrennikov was the first non-Muscovite to receive Russian TV’s TEFI Award for “Best Director.” He comes from the southern city of Rostov-on-the-Don where, in the mid-1990s, much to the dismay of locals, Serebrennikov could usually be spotted walking down Pushkinskaya street in bright orange pants. Like so many creative types, Serebrennikov is a character in all senses of the word. He even seems to have a unique hold on reality: on his official website, he wrote that he was born in 1969; when interviewed in 2001, he said that in 2002 he would turn 31. A trained physicist, Serebrennikov seems to have his own special sort of math.
Be that as it may, this physicist was born to be a director. His grandfather, a documentary director, was one of the first graduates of Sergei Eisenstein’s famous course at VGIK (State Cinema Institute). So, at age 21 (which could have been anywhere between 1990 and 1992), Serebrennikov cast aside the world of physics to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, working as a theater director.
At the same time, Serebrennikov also developed a passion for television. By 1997, he had shot a myriad of commercials and videos, two documentaries, four TV plays and a musical, among other things. In 1998, he took on a full-length film, The Undressed, together with actor and producer Sergei Zhigunov.
The year 2001 marked Serebrennikov’s arrival on the national “stage,” when he took the Triumph Prize for his staging of the play, “Plastilin.” Journalists rushed to ask him: “Is it your first work?” Serebrennikov said he held his tongue, tempted to snap, “Oh, come on, this is my twenty-first work!”
“Everyone needs a miracle,” he chuckles. “But then nothing ever happened by chance in my life. Each subsequent work would not have happened without the previous one.” Probably because, as Serebrennikov says, he is what he calls “a man with a Protestant penchant—that is, an advocate of personal responsibility.”
This year, Serebrennikov said, will be his “theater year.” On April 5, in Moscow’s Pushkin Theater, he will be premiering a play by Marc Ravenhill in a project under the auspices of the British Council and starring Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Burnt by the Sun), in her first theatrical role in Russia. In the fall, at the Sovremennik Theater, he will premier “The Sweet-Voiced Bird of My Youth,” written by Nina Sadur and starring Sovremennik’s megastar, Marina Neyolova.
Meanwhile, the 30-something director dreams of continuing work on his psychological film about the nuances of human relations—“strong stories with sentiment,” as he puts it. “I am not the kind of ‘Mr.’ who is destined to shoot a blockbuster,” Serebrennikov said. “I am not interested in shoot-out movies.” His TV film, Rostov-Papa, aired on national TV in December 2001, is far from being mass cinema; critics have called it an “art-serial.” Nonetheless, the film was quite successful, selling to the Near Abroad and Europe, and proving quite popular among émigrés in New York. “Russian émigrés in Brighton Beach bought the cassettes [of this film] like there was no tomorrow,” Serebrennikov said.
At press-time, Serebrennikov was shooting a twelve-part TV series called The Murderer’s Diary—a psychological thriller. The producer—Valery Todorovsky (see Russian Calendar, p. 16)—invited Serebrennikov to take on the task because he was impressed by Rostov-Papa.
Serebrennikov’s TV films are distinguished by brilliant acting, even of the actors in supporting roles, often new faces on the Russian screen. But then, Serebrennikov points out, “‘new faces’ does not mean second-rate actors.” For he is convinced that Russian cinema is going through a “painstaking” generational change. “Distinguished older actors—who are truly great—don’t let the young ones stick their heads up. They undergo plastic surgery worth millions ... they will continue to play boys and girls until they carry them away ... And we have amazing young actors who are forced to keep playing in crowd scenes ... Of course, to make a name [for an actor] is a luxury. But I am trying to allow myself that luxury, because it is in fact a necessity, so all my actors are very talented.”
Didn’t we say he has his own special sort of math?
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