After the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, and the subsequent fallout which has meant 23 Russian diplomats have been forced to leave the country, Russia is back in the UK's collective consciousness as a shadowy enemy of the West. Filmmaker Frederick Paxton, however, wants you to make your own mind up about the country. Alongside his co-producer Maria Babikova, he has made a documentary, HARMONY, which forces the viewer to take a deep breath and take in fresh ideas of the country.
“We hope that the film helps people not to feel like Russia is this big scary thing over there, that should be poked at like a wild animal in the zoo,” says Paxton. “It is a beautiful, and often dark and fucked up place, but it’s full of people just like us.” The “Western fascination” with Russia, as Paxton puts it, often doesn't leave space for the everyday realities of living there. With beautiful cinematography alongside a powerful soundtrack led by Powell and including Russian and Eastern European hip-hop, rap and even classical music, this film does.
“Russia is a beautiful and often dark and fucked up place, but it’s full of people just like us” – Frederick Paxton
The people HARMONY focuses on specifically are young athletes who play ice hockey and do rhythmic gymnastics. “It tackles the social and gender dynamics of Russian youth using the paradigms and preconceptions of the country’s most prominent sports,” explains Paxton. “The two respectively embody Russia’s nationalistic interpretation of hyper-masculine and feminine ideals.” Paxton found that there was an “unconscious creativity” inherent in athletes but that the “athletes, like soldiers in moments of fear, anger or exhaustion, lose their the ability to hold on to this facade”.
Rather than following a traditional narrative trajectory of documentary filmmaking, Paxton and Babikova looked for the subtleties in the modern reality of living in a dystopian Post-Soviet Russia. Through Babikova's connection to the subject matter – she grew up in Chelyabinsk, a city on the edge of Siberia where the documentary was filmed – and Paxton's previous work focusing on conflict and boundaries, they were able to build a unique picture of the country and its connection to sport. They were especially interested in the dynamics between power and the importance of beauty and success.
“As we followed the everyday life of our characters and the city – the relationship between people and place allowed us into the complex web that makes up the fabric of society, and the pressure placed upon the younger generation in a society where appearance and status rule.”
The film will premiere at CPH DOX in Copenhagen tomorrow (March 19). Watch the trailer below: