As the director Sarah R Lotfi says: "It's not just about being heroic but about being a hero in the mythological sense". She is, of course, describing her film entitled "The Last Bogatyr" which I recently had the pleasure of seeing at the LA Women's Film Festival. For those of you who don't happen to speak the language, "Bogatyr" is the Russian word for knight or epic hero. But you needn't worry about following subtitles; the story is expressed solely through visual imagery and music:
"World War II comes to a humble Russian village on the eve of Anton's (Benjamin Bonenfant) wedding along with the foreboding presence of NKVD officer Vasily (Geoffrey Dean). Two years later Anton has left behind his pious wife Katya (Megan LeFurge) and is fulfilling his patriotic duty in the Red Army. After seeing first hand the brutalities of the front within his own army, Anton risks all on a daring attempt to return home behind enemy lines." - http://www.thelastbogatyr.com/
"The Last Bogatyr" is a student film but only in name. To watch it is to stew silently in envy at it's production quality. The only criticism I could come up with at the time was "the mountains look like Colorado" (the film was, in fact, shot in Colorado) but really, if that's the worst I could come up with that's saying a lot. It's not like I've ever been to Russia or anything. Besides I wish the film I made in college looked as good, much less involved explosions and period military uniforms and weapons. I mean, you look at the trailer and decide for yourself:
As the tagline suggests, "In war, the most dangerous thing in war is faith," and in the trenches of the film industry the axiom unfortunately often holds true. The LA Women's Film Festival proved to be an exercise in doubt on my part. For one thing, it meant spending a week in Hollywood. Being there on the threshold of everything that got me into this business in the first place served only to remind me of how far there was to go in order to Arrive. I experienced a crisis of faith. It occurred to me that this must have been what medieval monks on pilgrimage to Rome experienced when encountering the crux of the church and wondering whether faith really had anything to do with it. In medieval times of crisis the commoner could turn to a champion for their defense. I needed a Bogatyr.
The Bogatyr I found was not not on the screen but behind the camera in the shape of the film's director. Sarah Lotfi is a true believer in the nicest way possible. We began the dialogue of a friendship on the second day of the festival, before either of our films screened. As the week went on she managed to become more refreshed and enthusiastic and, I imagine, genuinely more certain that there was where she wanted to be: not sometime in the future but right then at that exact moment. It didn't seem to matter to her whether her film was the most prestigious; after all it was being screened in Hollywood. It didn't seem to matter whether filmmaking was at heart an art or a business; after all either way the point was to make films.
In the end, maybe the question I needed to be asking wasn't "will I succeed as a filmmaker?" but "do I have the potential to be a successful filmmaker". Maybe the question I needed to be asking wasn't about whether or not I would do something but whether or not I could do it. It is a small distinction, but one with big consequences. As the week went on I began to question my own doubts; doubting your own uncertainties is, I suppose, a kind of faith all of its own.