Ukrainian-Russian born director Anna Aleksandrova has discovered her passion for film early on by watching masterpieces of various legendary directors such as Andrey Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, and Martin Scorsese. Trained as a classical musician since the age of six in a special school for gifted children, which focused on securing an international level career for young artists, Anna has always dreamed of being theatre and film director. At the age of sixteen, Anna was invited to join a special group of artists in Greater Cincinnati area in USA, and to become a student with a full scholarship at NKU to promote the arts and to help gain attention as well as the awareness of the importance of music in community. Since then, Anna has enjoyed various awards and honours given by the President of the University, various organizations, and winning prizes at piano competitions. However, her main focus has always been working with people directly ignoring conventions and stereotypes, and concentrating on the level of interest and commitment.

After completing her Bachelors (minor in chemistry) and, consequently, Masters in Music, as well as Bachelors in French (where she discovered Jean-Luc Godard and Brigitte Bardot, which really drawn her to filmmaking) with studies in Theatre, where Anna had an opportunity to experience both directing/scriptwriting and acting first hand working with and studying with a wonderful director Mike King, who focused a lot on Shakespeare and Chekhov, she decided to go on with her theatre studies and moved to New York to be a part of Actors Studio Drama School’s Master program where she studied acting with absolutely incredible Susan Aston and was also fortunate to join playwriting section with a renowned playwright Ed Baker.

Being in New York surrounded by the noisy city, Anna discovered her passion for photography by observing life (as suggested by Ed Baker who believed that observing everyday life as well as faulty relatives are the two biggest treasures for a playwright). It was easy to take a train to Montauk and see all the shades of the sky at the sunset. It was possible to see filmmaking almost on every corner as well as to visit some sets of renowned film directors. In general, New York life looked like it was a film, and she started to pay more and more attention to the quality and the idea of each moment. That’s when she really thought seriously about the power of photography and started seriously considering to devote herself to the art of filmmaking, in terms of how it should be done, what does one want to see in a shot, and how life can be captured on film. And that’s when she first discovered London Film School and started thinking of going there to study filmmaking.

“The Conversation They Never Had” is Anna’s professional debut in filmmaking made with a team from Vienna Film Academy, inspired by true events in Lise Meitner’s life. The film was made as one shot on purpose. It was important to retain a certain theatricality in this film in order to create the unity of expression. The film is a dream, and the camera choreography, lighting, as well as the gestures and position of actors are attempting to create a unified movement of subconscious mind that leads us to the peak moment in a film. The music was selected to be an important tool in the dialogue between the characters. It is almost a character of its own as it is speaking without words and only with the feelings and sensations.
However, making film has started in Venice for Anna. When visiting Venice for the first time, she made a film “Venezia-Aria” inspired by breath-taking architecture and musical theatricality of Venice. It was as if the buildings were made out of some fluid material and were not buildings at all. The channels, people, and various birds seemed like a part of one unified movement, some play that you would all of a sudden land in as soon as you’d arrive to Venice. Then, the film “One Time in Vienna” was focusing on finding authenticity in direct response to a question that was posed for the first time. It is an interview-style film combined a bit with a narrative about Vienna. It is rather experimental and made in a spirit of artistic quest and philosophical search for sincerity. The next film “Andrey- The Road” was made in a forest, in Kiev, Ukraine. The conversation with a young child as well as many roads that he takes represents various choices in life and life itself. It is a story of wonderment in life and it is a symbol of each person’s inner child that’s always looking for various roads to take and gets scared on a way, tired, joyful, grumpy, playful… every discovery is filled with a new wonderment, with a new path, smile, or sometimes new fear. Yet, it is also a story of one child walking through the forest of Kiev and gathering every moment of his childhood into a path that he is building with his own hands and feet… It is a philosophical film that’s looking to associate child’s wonderment with the wonderment of/in life.

Right before the war has started in Ukraine, Anna was honoured with an unconditional offer from London Film School to pursue her Master’s in Filmmaking in London. Because of various personal and family circumstances associated with the war, she had to postpone the start of the program. This fall, however, Anna is looking forward to begin her Master Program in Filmmaking at London Film School.

Your project has entered in our festival. What is your project about? Historical background:
Otto Hahn received a Noble Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission, though Lise Meitner spent more than 30 years working on that discovery as a physicist together with Otto Hahn. Not only she didn’t get the recognition, Otto himself never even mentioned her. At the time, the science community was outraged with such betrayal on Otto’s part, and, as a response, Lise Meitner became one of the 14 scientists (which also included Einstein) who received her own element on the Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

Synopsis:
Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist, meets her long-term laboratory partner, Otto Hahn, a German chemist, in a Viennese café in a dream. Since it’s a dream, they can talk about things they couldn’t talk about in life. Vulnerability becomes normality in a dream and Lise is able to speak about her feelings, which pierces Otto so much that he regrets his actions deeply and changes his vision of her. He, all of a sudden, notices her true self and realizes that he didn’t even see her true value because he was too self-involved. He regrets his betrayal deeply, and touched by her sincerity he starts falling in love with her and her talent.

What are your ambitions with your project?

My project is a part of a bigger project which is a feature film about Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist, who has worked for more than 30 years together with Otto Hahn, German chemist, on a discovery of nuclear fission. The film is/will be called “Life in a Dream.” It’s a film where factual events of her life are perpetuated and interwoven with the reality and subconscious battles of a dream. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s a drama of a true introvert who lives inside herself and is only able to reveal her true emotions and feelings in only one reality- the reality of a dream. So, there is one Lise Meitner in a dream who represents Lise’s subconscious emotionality, and there is another Lise Meitner who we all know in a real life as a brilliant physicist.

 

Tell us something about your shooting. What pleasantly surprised you?

A lot of things pleasantly surprised me in our shooting. I was shooting with a team from Vienna Film Academy, and what I found very pleasant was the togetherness with which everyone on a team approached the project. Everyone was very happy to be there and ready to make the story alive. They all liked the story very much, and it was evident on every level. Every single person on set was very much taken by the idea of creating an art of film. I am very grateful to both actors for being extremely passionate with their characters and trying to understand every aspect of their personality. They both were deeply involved and taken by their roles, and created rather strong ensemble where they truly lived that moment where Otto and Lise could be truthful to each other. And I am extremely grateful to my cinematographer for not only attending to every detail in the rehearsals, but to paying a lot of attention to the lights. He set up the lights in a very specific way, bringing a vast variety of lighting equipment from Vienna Film Academy, so that the idea of a dream would be evident to the viewer, yet rather subtle.

It was my intention that the words, gestures, lights, camera moves/choreography, and music would result in a poetic synthesis of intentions, so the audience can perceive and feel the tragedy, yet it wouldn’t be something that’s pushed upon them. So, there had to be a very delicate balance in everything, almost unexplainable. And it was very touching that everyone in a room came together to be a part of one breath of filming where we all just understood and blended into one continuous motion.  


For what group of spectators is your film targeted?
The film is not intended for any specific group of spectators. In general, I would like to create films that everyone can watch. It was rather pleasant surprise for me that even people who watched this film without understanding the language, understood the film. I intend to create films that are emotional enough and clear enough in the intentions, that they could be viewed by the variety of spectators. Perhaps, even people who cannot understand the language should be able to see the film and get the idea of what’s it about. 

Why should distributors buy your film?

Well, in general, people should only buy things they like and need. Therefore, it would be up to the distributors to decide. Why would they need it? I would say it’s because it’s a part of a bigger story that’s in a making. However, not just that. The foundation of the film is a very interesting historical event. All the factual information in regards to the nuclear fission research that has been done for more than 30 years is true. It is also true that Lise Meitner has never received her well-deserved Noble Prize, which outraged the science community at the time. More than that, she has never received a mention. She was awarded an element on a periodic table of chemical elements as a response from a science community to such outrageous injustice. The film focuses on her story with Otto in creative form, and is attempting to show her courage, strength, sense of tact, and nobility combined with her vast kindness and humanity. It also gives Otto a chance to explain what has been unexplainable for years and gives a story a different turn… In other words, it gives him a chance to take a different road, at least in a film, at least in a moment, at least in a dream… I think it is an interesting story to see from many aspects because it shows how understanding someone may change who you are all together.

How would you specify your work? What characterizes your film?

Poetry. The film is a poetic work that is attempting to visualize characters’ spiritual path by bringing them into a situation where they can hear each other’s inner voices and be sincere. 

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I’ve been writing a lot of different scripts, studying acting/directing and playwriting, and the characters always talked to each other and I could see their surroundings and the lighting in a room, and it would affect my understanding of them and the dialogue itself. Also, I’ve been always fascinated with the photography and the idea of capturing a moment and subtle details. 

Who is your role model?

In general, I try to stay away from the idea of one role model to be able to be as authentic as possible. That being said, I am inspired by so many outstanding filmmakers that I cannot list them all here. There are filmmakers that provoke a filmmaker in you, and for me those are Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as various legendary Italian and French filmmakers such as Fellini, Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard. I also very much love Mark Zaharov who is a master of satirical grotesque style musical comedy. I very much love Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes, and many others. I love to watch various film genres and styles. I think it’s like learning various film languages. My family always watched various film genres. So, I’ve been exposed to a variety of film languages since my childhood. There is beauty in every style of film. Also, I am often inspired by some new works I see in festivals. 

Which movies are your favorites? Why?
I have a lot of favorite movies. I watch a lot of films and series of various genres. And, usually, I get into what I watch and feel very affected by it. However, if I had to choose a few films in different styles that impacted me deeply as a person and an artist, I would create a short list of some of my favorite films such as: “Taxi Driver” by Martin Scorsese, “The Godfather” by Francis Coppola, “Mirror”, “Stalker” “Andrei Rublev” and “Nostalgia” by Andrei Tarkovsky, “Paradise” “Sin” and “Dear Comrades!” by Andrei Konchalovsky,“Il Grido” by Antonioni, “La Strada” by Fellini, “ Le Mepris” by Jean-Luc Godard    

“The Promised Heaven” by Ryazanov (with incredible Lia Achedjakova who deserves a prize for her truthful position today and her incredible courage), “Baron Münchhausen”, “Love Formula” and “To Kill a Dragon” by Mark Zaharov, “Forest Gump” and “Cast Away” by Zemeckis, “Schindler’s List”, “The Terminal”, and “Catch me if You Can” by Spielberg, “The Shawshank Redemption” by Darabont, “Wonder Wheel” by Woody Allen, “Revolutionary Road” by Sam Mendes and many many more! This is a very short list of some of the films that affected me deeply.

Why do I love these films:

Taxi Driver- one of my outmost favorite films for various reasons. In general, I am a huge fan of Martin Scorsese’s films. As a New Yorker and a person I love Robert De Niro’s character because it is a symbol of a true New Yorker who bends life with his unbinding spirit and attempts to rebuild humanity in a place where you think all the humanity is lost. This film just bites you with its truthfulness and naked emotionality. 

Il Grido- Antonioni’s masterpiece, a story of a man who lost his soul because his lover betrayed him. He leaves a house together with their daughter and wonders all over Italy where nothing makes him happy, not even his daughter. His life sort of turns into one long scream, which is Il Grido in Italian. Antonioni is an incredible master of proportionality of forms and shapes. It is as if someone painted the entire film on canvas. The shapes logically connect to the meaning and the essence of the characters. Even the ending of the film represents Antonioni’s immense sense of proportionality, when the film ends with her scream when he commits the suicide. The film is an example of a raw expressivity and piercing emotionality together with incredibly eloquent visual beauty.

La 
trada- is another masterpiece where one character is trying to change another heart by kindness… but only through the tragedy that heart can be changed. 

Mirror, Stalker, Andrei Rublev, Nostalgia, and other films of Andrey Tarkovsky are simply paintings where the tragedy of human loneliness is viewed from various perspectives and angles. His films are unique on many levels primarily because only Tarkovsky celebrates every aspect of human character as an art form. Everything in his films is poetry and everything is also a tragedy, everything rings with an outrageous pain, and as a result they become a bouquet of sensuality and a homage to human spirit. Tarkovsky is a collision of Italian subtle architecture of film form and Russian suffering soul and unbinding emotionality where every moment is filled with the intensity of emotions. 

Paradise, Sin, and Dear Comrades! are Konchalovsky’s most recent three films that represent his tribute and his love for Tarkovsky’s art and show a very profound understanding of human nature. When I first watched “Paradise”, I was struck with how profoundly he viewed each character and was able to portray a Nazi officer in a way to where you really saw his humanity, his struggle every day with being a Nazi, and his dismay because of impossibility to do anything about it. Yet, still, he attempts, he gives someone he loves a chance to escape the concentration camp, and she replies with staying in it. It becomes very Tarkovsky-like opposition. To her, he is a system, and to him, she is the entire world. He is not Oscar Schindler, but he wishes he could be. And that’s where you see the collision between the evil that crumbles him in and his eternity that is calling him out to stand against it, even if he stands alone, and even if he stands among Nazis, and even if it changes nothing, he will be one person that did something. It’s an internal victory of character because there is no possibility for the external victory at all.  The two films “Paradise” and “Dear Comrades!” slater the evilness of both Nazi and Soviet system in a way that they almost resemble each other. They bring out the value of simple humanity to the highest level and say that only one thing in this world has a value, and it is kindness and love regardless of the most outrageous circumstances. 

The Promised Heaven is Ryazanov’s poetic fantasy masterpiece and an ode to the era of 90s, when poverty and the power of money, all of a sudden, met each other. The film portrays a group of homeless community with their own president and their own structure who live in the abandoned train station, using train cars as their homes. Someone wants to build fashionable hotels in that area and the state is trying to get rid of the homeless. But the president of the community says that he had a direct contact with the aliens and soon they all will be able to move to a different planet. When the tanks come to literally demolish the homeless, they stand against them even though they know they have no chance against those tanks. Suddenly, the blue snow appears as an artist plays the violin. The blue snow said to be a sign that the aliens are on their way to pick them up, and, all of a sudden, the trains that didn’t work for years start moving and take them all to heaven, away from the tanks. 

Not only it is an incredible piece of artistic fantasy-comedy, often watched by my parents, but interestingly enough this film made in the 90s resembles very much the situation in Ukraine today. When, all of a sudden, Putin’s tanks arrived in Ukraine and people became outraged and stood against them even though they didn’t think they had enough force to do it. They just did it without thinking about it, because they couldn’t do otherwise. Some people blocked the roads without any weapon and simply screamed in clear Russian that they will not give in to this insanity because it is nothing but insanity, and Russian Federation should go home. 

Interestingly enough, one of the main actresses in Ryazanov’s film was Lia Achedjakova, who was also one of the main opponents of aggression against Ukraine since the very beginning of the war.  She spoke very openly against the war right from the first days of the invasion. She was even warned by the journalists in her interviews that she may have trouble if she continues to speak that way, but she said: “How can I care about my own trouble when they are burning Kharkov? I have no time to think about it.” She didn’t leave Russia, even though slaughtered by hatred and brutal criticism from Putin’s propaganda, she was eventually fired from the theater where she worked for years. 

Yet, she stayed and continued to hold her political position. Watching her truly courageous actions, I remembered that film that my parents used to watch a lot, and rewatched it. And there she was, standing against those tanks in that film, just like she was standing against the tanks of Putin’s propaganda today. I thought that if Ryazanov would be alive today, he would, definitely, join her. In a way, she was doing it not only for herself, but for all of those she shared the art of film with. And, suddenly, the art of film had even deeper quality. As the characters in a film were called to be saved by the miracle, now she was that one miracle standing alone against the entire force of evil and saying “no” to it as if film never ended, but became a part of her being, her fearless self, and now all the characters continued to speak through her against the tanks. 

Baron Münhgausen, To Kill a Dragon as well as other films of Mark Zaharov is a celebration of a hero who fights alone against stupidity and injustice of society. His plots are almost always fairy-tales, but they clearly refer to very concrete satire and brutal criticism of mindless rulers. Even though created back in Soviet Union, the film “To Kill a Dragon” is very relevant today, where an opposition between a Dragon and Camelot is very much a resemblance of Putin verses Navalny opposition and a profound and satirical view on how the Dragon is consistently recreated in the minds of people because of their constant fear. The Dragon is able to be a Dragon because people enable him to be so, and even when he dies defeated by Camelot, they don’t want to accept that. They are so used to the fact that Dragon is there, that they recreate him. Zaharov’s films are really calling for the celebration of the individual willpower and strength that comes from within. His main protagonists are always outstanding thinkers and they are never afraid to express their true emotions and thoughts.  He is calling to support that kind of philosophical hero, Navalny-like, Dekabrists-like character who is clearly portrayed as the ultimate choice in his films. Yet, the people are shortsighted and their stupidity, fears, and desire to recreate that Dragon, eventually, either wears out Camelot or kills Münhgausen. 

Films like Schindler’s List, Terminal and Catch Me if You Can are of course symbolic in a variety of ways for almost everyone who likes to see good filmmaking. These are pure and simple films, and I like the simplicity and vivid emotionality of those films. The idea to pay a tribute to a character like Oscar Schindler who has saved so many lives not thinking about his own life is one of the most brilliant ideas one can possibly come up with, and of course Spielberg does come up with that idea. Spielberg for me is so much more than an incredible director, it is a household name. Everyone has always loved Spielberg in my house because he has a very simple and direct way to get to people’s hearts with his unique philosophy of kindness. His protagonists always blossom with the spirit of life and perseverance. Spielberg is just a celebration of the strength of human spirit, and deep humanity expressed through a simple philosophy: -giving a hand is being a human. He is, definitely, Mozart of directing because his intentions and his characters are always very clear, precise, yet unpredictable, which is very important quality. I think that the key magnet of Spielberg’s filmmaking is that duality that we experience when we see his characters. On one hand, it is someone you can easily associate with, and on the other hand, you discover a new character within that character because of the circumstances that deepen the value of the given character. What is even more valuable is that every step of the discovery leads to a better, stronger, more profound character than we started out with. 

Forest Gump and Cast Away by Robert Zemeckis are my two favorite films in terms of celebration of a “character against the odds”. In general, I really love Tom Hank’s characters for their ability to fire through often unbelievable circumstances and make the reality they are looking for their true reality against all odds. Of course, Forest Gump is the iconic character that no words can ever describe. However, lesser known character Chuck Nolan, a simple mail man that ends up on a deserted island in Cast Away, is that same Forest Gump in his essence. They are rather similar in their core because they both live on their own deserted islands, and, in fact, they both are “cast away”, only that one lives in a society that is determined to reject him, and the other lives on the island where he is rejected due to the circumstances. In both cases the problem is the circumstances, and not them. However, it is them who have to prove that it is not them. And while their personal strengths are determination, perseverance, inner strength, iron will, ability to believe are extremely important in their paths, there is one quality that wins over all the other qualities and that one quality really makes those characters who they are. And that one quality is love of course. It’s their ability to stay truthful and faithful to their true love. And that one ability just shatters the circumstances as if they have never existed. It crushes all the walls, it fires through opinions of other people in case of Forest Gump, and, symbolically, it sends that random ship finally that picks up Chuck Nolan from his island. It turns the world around, it changes the reality. More than that, it crashes the reality as if it is not the reality at all. It destroys the reality that’s unfavorable and their dream becomes the reality. However, if Spielberg is Mozart, then Zemeckis is Beethoven, because there is always a tragedy that follows. There is sadness in that winning, there is some Tarkovsky there… melancholy… and that’s when we realize that those characters are much bigger than our world, and the world is too ugly to understand them. However, they are not looking to be understood or accepted. They are also not looking for a win. It is just the way they are. They choose to believe in people when people choose not to believe in them. Why? It is simple. It is all about love, and love is just there because it is there and it needs no reason, and that’s all there is to it. In a sense, they are always on their islands, the world doesn’t change them, but they change the world by being who they are. That’s the depth of Zemeckis’ art. 

Where do you look for inspiration for your films?
It is more that inspiration finds me rather that I am looking for it. We have very interesting relationship, me and Inspiration. It just shows up when I suppose it has some free time on its hands. However, one place that always inspires me immensely is Italy. It’s where I first started making films. I went to Venice and I felt like I was inside a film. The unbelievable beauty of architecture, all of the tiny narrow streets, the masks that are looking at you from every corner… The musicality and theatricality of every detail! Last year I was on Lake Garda in Italy, and after I came back, all of a sudden, a script came to my mind. And, of course, people can inspire you to create scripts and to see a certain film being made in a future. Sometimes you see someone and realize that this person could be an interesting protagonist for a film.

Of course, I work on various materials a lot! And I do a lot of research. Mostly, it’s either reading and finding an interesting story or seeing a story in life, or sometimes experiencing a story yourself. It can also be a place or a person with a certain character that inspires a story. There is really no logic to it. The other day I was watching the see in Barcelona, and, suddenly, a film came to my mind. Or, I was on a plane back to Vienna, and, all of a sudden, Lise Meitner’s feature script that I’ve been working on became clear to me. But usually what happens is… I think about it, I think about it, I think about it…I dig, I research, I read. Stop thinking about it, go somewhere. Boom! It shows up. Always unexpected and always very sudden. 

Which topics interest you the most?

You know, right now almost every topic is very interesting to me. I don’t limit myself to any specific topics. I am a newborn in filmmaking, and as every newborn I suck in all the information as a sponge as much as possible.

What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career?

I haven’t achieved my greatest achievement just yet. However, my mother likes my films, and she rarely likes anything in general.  

What do you consider the most important about filming?

The most important thing about filming is being concise in knowing what you want to film. You’ve got to jump in a moment, make high stakes, and know what you want to see in that moment.

Which film techniques of shooting do you consider the best?

It depends on a story. Every story has a different way of expression. I believe, in general, that technique should serve the expression, and not the visa versa. There are no better or worse techniques in my opinion. It is more of a right synthesis between the story itself and what techniques should be used to bring it out.

How would you rate/what is your opinion about current filmmaking?

I think there are a lot of incredible films that are being made today. Especially, films that we see in film festivals. I love certain arthouse films very much. There is a lot of interest in filmmaking today, and it results in a lot of talent and a vast variety of storytelling. I think it is amazing how much people love filmmaking.

What can disappoint you in a movie?

One thing that can disappoint me in a movie is the unnecessary repetition of the same material, or when the story isn’t being told with passion. That’s about it. Other than that, it’s pretty difficult to disappoint me as I learn from everything I see.

Who supports you in your filmmaking career?

Myself, my family, and some friends in film and music. Also, London Film School is giving me an opportunity to become a part of their Masters of Filmmaking program.

What are the reactions to your film? (opinions of spectators, film critics, friends and family)

I am very grateful to everyone for their reaction to my film because so far people have expressed their interest, love, and connection with the film. It is really interesting when some Austrians come up to me and say: “I didn’t know about her, and she’s Austrian! I am so glad I saw this story” Or, when someone who doesn’t understand English watches it and says: “I love this film. I know it’s definitely about love.” Or, when someone notices the music, or the other day, someone came up to me and talked about the gestures of the actors and how they understood the importance of certain angles and positions. I am very grateful and very fortunate to receive really wonderful response to the film from everyone. I really feel a lot of love from everyone who has seen it and it inspires me very much!

Have you already visited any of the prestigious film festivals?

I visited some of the film festivals, and, for example, I just recently came back from the festival in Barcelona where the film was included in the Official Selection and  screening, and there was some Q&A as well. We were very fortunate, because they only selected 7 films for the showing and ours was one of them. And the festival received more than 1000 of submissions.

What are your future plans in your filmmaking career?

I was honored with an unconditional offer from London Film School to become a part of their Masters of Filmmaking degree program, which starts this fall. I am extremely excited about LFS because it has been my dream school of filmmaking ever since I started even thinking about filmmaking! I am also working on a few scripts that I hope to turn into films rather soon. I’ve already mentioned the script for a feature film about Lise Meitner a few times. I’ve done a lot of research for it, and now the script is in the making. I am also working on a script for a romantic comedy that is sort of a film within a film. I hope to shoot it rather soon. And, another long-term project that I’ve been working on and the war brought its challenges to it is a documentary about Ukraine. I am planning to do a series of vignettes, and I think I’ve got a plan for the part of it at the moment.

Interview was published with permission from our qualifying festival London Director Awards