Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Zhannat Alshanova

History of Civilization

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Indira decides to restart her life and move to London. However, on her last day, she dares to explore what she will leave behind.

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

Thank you for your interest in my work! 2020 is a strange year indeed. You know, at the beginning of the year, I was thinking that I should somehow isolate myself  and concentrate on my feature script. And then when the whole disaster with pandemic started, I was like, well, I should be careful with what I wish for! Apparently, forced isolation doesn’t really infuse the creative process. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration? 

Not really. We had a very strict lockdown here in Kazakhstan and I had to deal with lots of household issues, and I said to myself that if I try to do both, I kill myself. But now I am back to writing!

Your latest short film History of Civilization is part of TIFF Short Cuts, what does it mean to you to have your film a part of such an amazing line up of short films?

I am really thrilled about the TIFF selection! I have never been to Toronto, but I was always looking at what they were doing, at the selection of films they make and it really made me want to be part of this community. Of course, it is sad that I won’t be able to go and enjoy the festival, but at the same time it gives me hope that even in such complicated times, the films can travel and connect with people around the world. It does encourage me as a filmmaker. And I am very grateful to the TIFF team for everything that they are doing to maintain the festival vibe.

History of Civilization recently won the Silver Prize at Locarno Film Festival, as a filmmaker does winning such accolades for your films add any additional pressure on you? 

First of all, I have to say that I am so honoured to receive such an award! There was such a strong competition and I really loved the films in the selection. It didn’t put a pressure on me, but rather made me want to move forward. So I sat and started writing a new script! It was such an amazing feeling, especially because I couldn’t write a word for a long time. 

Can you tell me a little bit about History of Civilization, what was the inspiration behind this film? 

I changed countries a few times. I lived in Spain for a year, in China for 6 months, in the UK for another 3 years and every time there was a rational reason behind those moves, but to be honest, the real reason was always personal. Back in Kazakhstan, we always discuss it with my friends, whether we should leave or stay. There are all kinds of political, economic and social reasons, but at the end it is always personal (at least for me). 

"To be honest, I am still trying to figure out how to make a transition from shorts to feature films."

When creating film projects do you ever draw from your own life or experiences?

I always need a strong personal connection to the project. It doesn’t have to be a personal experience per se, but it could be a person, an emotion, a relationship or even a saying that gets stuck with me.  

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

I usually spend quite a long time in post-production so when it’s done – it’s done and I let the film go and explore the world. 

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

It will sound crazy, but I never really thought about filmmaking until the day, when I just woke up with the idea to become a film director. It didn’t make any sense to me, because I was building a successful career in finance at that time. So I laughed and thought it would pass, but after 8 years, it still hasn’t!

As a graduate of London Film School and an alumni of Berlinale Talents how much have these experiences helped to shape your development as a filmmaker?

I believe the film school was an essential step for me. I felt that I have lost so much time already and I was really eager to learn the craft in the most intensive and effective way. I went to the international school, so I was lucky to work on many exciting projects around the world and meet amazing people!

Berlinale Talents was amazing! Because after you graduate, you kind of lose the artistic bubble. So it was great to experience the creative buzz again. You meet new people, you expand your network, you inspire and get inspired by others. I think it’s important to build this sense of community with filmmakers around the world. It really helps you to get the perspective on your own work and get inspired for new projects and collaborate across the world. 

Is there any advice you would offer anyone about to start film school?

Make friends! Film school is a good place to meet people you would want to collaborate with in the future!

Your debut feature film Mother Tongue has also been making the festival circuit, how was your approach to your feature compared to your short films? 

Mother Tongue is still in development, but it was already acknowledged by ARTE at the Asian Project Market. To be honest, I am still trying to figure out how to make a transition from shorts to feature films. It definitely requires a different pace and discipline, but I am working on it!

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from History of Civilization?

For me, it’s a film about someone who dares to change the decision and explore freedom, but I believe that different people can read the story in a different way.

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