Raindance Film Festival 2020
UK Premiere
Anton Sazonov 
Leave of Absences
Narrative Short
antonsazonov.com
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In Russia, suppressed masculinity has led to a feeling of unfulfillment as men feel that the country rejects them, leading to a drastic decline in male life expectancy.

Hi Anton thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?

I am still worried about the general state of affairs, although I no longer follow the statistics as closely as at the beginning of the pandemic. On a personal level, I was happy with the quarantine, I got a chance to stop and look around, even from inside the home. I was able to watch movies regularly. I had watched  a lot of classics. For myself, I marked this year with the year of Piero Paolo Pasolini and Ingmar Bergman. 

But psychologically, we have yet to find out how the spring lockdown and self-isolation affected us and what has changed in the interaction between people. Including the nearest ones. And best of all, my feelings from the period of the pandemic and this year are conveyed by a new film by Charlie Kaufman "I'm Thinking of Ending Things". Although the film itself is not about that at all.

Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?

For me personally, when there is an opportunity to travel, there is more inspiration in life. For example, the idea of Leave of Absence finally took shape in my head when I spent a month in Barcelona last year. The pandemic has changed attitudes towards time, life and death. And towards the creative process too - once again I came to the idea that it is necessary to develop only those ideas that you cannot let go of your head. I just don't want to be engaged in creating content for streaming services.

You've already had an amazing festival run with Leave of Absence, winning Best Director Prize Golden Pardino - Leopards of Tomorrow at Locarno International Film Festival, what do you think it is about this film that has connected with audiences so much?

It was important for me to tell a universal story that could happen in any country, any city, any time. Show the experience of a person who is in a deep personal crisis. And his attempt to break free. All people on earth are in this position to one degree or another. Everyone has their own personal psychological drama. “Torment in the human soul” - as the artist Mark Rothko called this state. This is what I wanted to show. And I probably did it.

Congratulations on having Leave of Absence selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

It is an honour! This is my first English film festival, it's great that Raindance is the one. And therefore I especially regret that I will not be able to attend the festival in person.

"Do not make or post photos and videos about the process on social network."

This will be your UK premiere, does this add any additional pressure on you?

I feel pressure from screenings only when  I attend it in person. If I stay in the hall, I follow how the audience reacts, where their attention is directed, and whether they take out their mobile phones. If there is a Q&A after the screenings, I think in advance what questions they might ask me. In this regard online screenings are a bit different, the distance allows you to abstract from what is happening. That does not change the joy that the film will have a UK premiere even during a pandemic!

Can you tell me a little bit about Leave of Absence, how did this film come about?

The film emerged from the first scene. It was spinning in my head for a long time. There were also several ideas at once, what might be in the middle of the film. But for a long time there was no understanding of how the story could end. The book by Dmitry Bykov "June" about the events happened right before USSR took part in the Second World War helped me here. And in Russia at the time I was reading the book there was only one major war. And I began to study the stories of people who went to fight in the Donbass. I tried to figure out what motivated these people. But the events of the Donbass war themselves were not included in the film. I decided the ending differently. I will not reveal the plot of the film. But I can say for sure that Leave of Absence is not only a universal story, but also an attempt to reflect what has been happening in Russian society in recent years. It’s also a personal story, the story of my father — in a way, not literally, of course.

What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

The desire to convey my vision of the world, to show how this world works with my own eyes. And, of course, based on my own experience.

Did you have any apprehensions about tackling such a powerful subject matter?

Yes, and many fears. By nature, I am a doubting person. And I keep this quality in myself, I don't try to do something without it feeling. It helps me in my creativity and in life. Of course, I thought a lot about the theme of the film. How to stay sensitive to characters and events. How to show the story so as not to go into journalism or a poster. How not to denigrate and condemn everything. This is perhaps the most important concern I have experienced. The plot is based on a fictional story, a collective image of what I saw and heard, and it was important for me to stay within the framework of artistic expression.

What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Leave of Absence?

The most important thing is to listen to my intuition. I try to rely only on it in my work. I would also like to say a few words about shooting on film. I have worked with film before, but this was the first time I shot a film on film. Now I would like to shoot all my films on film. The film organizes the process of work on the set in a different way, requires more attention, concentration, and effort from the whole group. This approach is closer to me. 
 

Another aspect of shooting on film - the image comes to life, lives its own life. And there is a possibility for the viewer to feel the image. 

Another good idea from this experience is to avoid using phones while filming. Do not make or post photos and videos about the process on social network. This saves energy. And also concentrates the group's attention.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

Better not to think about it. Instead, focus on new ideas.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

For the love of cinema. I wanted to become a director as a child. But I did not come to this right away. All in good time.

"As a rule, topics find their own authors."

Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

I am absolutely convinced of this. The language of cinema is universal, and this is important to consider it in the process of making a film. This does not need to be taken into account when choosing topics. As a rule, topics find their own authors. But it is important to strive for universality in the disclosure of a definite topic. After all, all stories are primarily about people. This should not be forgotten either.

Is there any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Stories will come to you and speak to you. Be patient. And copy life, not other filmmaker's films. And once again about patience - this is the most important thing in the profession. Patience and the ability to say no.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Leave of Absence?

That life and the choices we make in the course of life are in your own hands.

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