A small note: on my first visit to St. Petersburg a year ago, as I was walking along the street, a woman asked me for directions to the subway. I have essentially no Russian as we all know but I could understand her question. I had to admit I spoke only English. We smiled at each other and she hurried down the street. I thought that was a pretty great moment. With news of the recent bombing of the subway, that moment rushed vividly to mind. During my visits, so much of Russia has come alive for me with a feeling of connection. I could only hope that the woman who asked me for directions was not among those killed or injured in the subway attack.
With the support of the United States State Department, from January 30 through February 13, I had the privilege and honor of traveling the breadth of Russia to present the film I directed, Racing to Zero: In Pursuit of Zero Waste, produced by Diana Fuller. In addition to the film screenings, I was able to present workshops on cinematography and environmentally-oriented filmmaking.
I would consider my journey a complete success for me personally and hopefully for all those involved with this effort.
The basic message that seemed to be shared by audience and participants in every screening and every workshop was best expressed in the conclusion of Racing to Zero. A young girl standing in a garden maintained by her school says simply, “If we call work together, there’s no reason we can’t fix it.” As I said to audiences during the screenings, if we keep moving forward one step at a time, and then another step, and then another, pretty soon we are close enough to shake hands and work together.
I will touch on a few highlights of my visit and thank those who did so much work behind-the-scenes and in front-of-the-scenes to provide what for me was a seamless experience of support and guidance.
First and foremost, this visit was set in motion by Benton Wisehart. I first met Benton during my previous visit to Russia to participate in EcoCup Environmental Film Festival in Moscow. Out of our conversations came Benton’s idea that maybe Racing to Zero should be brought back to Russia to share the film’s central idea that recycling and composting present important possibilities for enhancing our daily lives. In other words, the world can be transformed by the simple thought that Garbage is a Resource.
In Moscow, in addition to Benton, I would particularly like to thank Kim Scrivner and Irina Chernushkina for guiding me through my activities and providing general information about Moscow. Yelena Alekseynko and Olga Kravtsova provided excellent translations for my words, and I would say with a great deal of humor. I think I may have sounded better in Russian than English.
Here’s a selfie of myself outside the showing of Racing to Zero in at the Bukvodom with light snow falling and skaters circling Sokolniki Park behind me on the other side of the building.
If you’d like to see on of the workshops I presented, please go to:
The workshop was filmed and directed by Nikolai Simakov at Impact Hub, Moscow, in association with the American Center Moscow,, Alfiya Mosalova,Education and Outreach Coordinator.
In Yekaterinburg, Lada Tikhonova was equally helpful. The presentation of Racing to Zero at the Yeltsin Center was one of the highlights of my visit. While all the screenings of Racing to Zero were well attended with enthusiastic and knowledgable audiences, the screening at the Yeltsin Center was one of the most moving film showings in my career. The theater was filled beyond capacity and many people were turned away at the door. Counsel General Marcus Michelli provided an introduction in Russian. To show the film in the setting of the Yeltsin Center with the surrounding reminders of the personal heroisim of Boris Yeltsin at a key moment in the history of modern Russia raised my spirits and filled my heart.
Audience in Yekatrinburg before the hall filled to overflowing.
My next stop was Chelyabinsk where Yulia Grigoryeva guided my travels and shared thoughts and memories that took us into the past regarding the rock and roll band, Kino. I had actually seen Kino performing in Irkutsk in 1990 and spoken afterwards with their lead singer, Victor Tsoi. Along with Scott Andrews, another member of our visiting documentary film group, we planned to meet Victor again in Moscow. Our return to Moscow was delayed. We then returned to the US and learned that Victor been killed in an auto accident shortly after our meeting with him. Imagine then my surprise as I braved my first steps in the Moscow of 2017 (a rather important hundred-year anniversary of its own) and encountered a concert poster for Victor Tsoi. That encounter was the first sign that my visit to Russia would possibly include the completion of several symbolic journeys, a most unexpected completion in the next city on my visit.
In the Kirovets theater lobby in Chelyabinsk before the screening, people gathered to share environmental information.
In Vladivotok, Svetlana Demashova met me at the airport on arrival, situated me in the Hyundai hotel, showed me around the hotel neighborhood, made sure I visited a supermarket for sustenance, and oversaw my departure from Vladivostok. The cinematography workshop in Vladivostok was in a beautiful light filled library with great interpretation from Ksenia Sidorova and Erik Pugner’s calming presence. Michael Keays with his introduction to the film and his wife set a wonderful tone for the event.
The Vladivostok workshop had a special extra meaning for me, the completion of a cinematic journey. In the workshop I showed one of the first motion pictures ever made to inspire the workshop’s theme: “the invention of cinema” as I like to describe the workshop to participants.
I show a piece of film from 1895 that lasts fifty seconds and shows a little girl in a fancy white dress taking her first footsteps. As the
camera runs out of film, the girl falls down. That’s where the movie ends. The little girl has fallen and we don’t get to see what happens next. This very early film contains all the elements of modern cinema: our hero tries to achieve a goal and encounters considerable obstacles while the audience wonders what will happen next.
The basic idea of the workshop is to watch the world through a camera or camera phone for two minutes and see what happens. The theory is that something of interest will always happen. Prior to the workshop I went for a walk in my neighborhood. I happened to see a young girl about the same age as the girl in the 1895 film. She was with her parents. As I watched, I imagined she having one of the best days of her life. She was discovering so many new things. I began to film with my phone camera.
First a patch of dirty snow caught her attention (not there, said her parents), then water that had frozen from a drain pipe and formed a puddle (she was fascinated by the hard frozen something and that was okay said her parents) and finally she climbed on a raised border to the sidewalk and walked to the end. As I filmed, I realized that I was capturing the completion of a journey that began in 1895. The little girl reached out her hand to her father. He helped her down. The girl then clasped the hand of her mother. Hand in hand, the threesome walked away from me down the street, the parents lifting the girl again and again into the air.
In our Vladivostok workshop, I explained that for me, I had witnessed and filmed with my two-minute technique the completion of a long journey from the past. I knew finally what had happened to the little girl in 1895. The story was completed on the streets of Vladivostok in 2017. The little girl reached out for help from her parents and they responded with love and care. In the workshop, I said that this discovery answered a cinematic and human question for me, and perhaps was the entire point of my journey to Russia—to learn again that we all need help from each other and that when we extend our hand for that help, other people will be there to help us. Or as the young girl says at the conclusion of Racing to Zero, “there’s no reason why if we all work together we can’t fix it.”
During my visit to Russia, I was given the gift of joining hands with many people and equally if not more experienced many helping hands.