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Sundance alumni Trevor & Fish make a trailer for a new film about a family legend, a painter's vision & an epic fairy tale.
Sundance alumni Trevor & Fish make a trailer for a new film about a family legend, a painter's vision & an epic fairy tale.
63 backers pledged CA$ 4,878 to help bring this project to life.

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SOOTHSAYER - a new film about three Russian stories

CA$ 4,878

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We did it! Or rather, you did it! Thank you for helping us reach our goal!

Click on the smiling face of Kossenko, above, to keep up with what we're doing now.

  

Click on the little dog, above, to read "Soothsayer: A Russian Epic About Family and Myth for the Age of Impermanence," written by Karl Daum for The Future of StoryTelling, February 12, 2016.

Hi. We're Trevor Anderson and Fish Griwkowsky. We're making a sprawling Russian epic that braids together three stories - a family legend, a painter's vision, and an epic fairy tale.

It will be a hybrid of forms, weaving together elements of documentary, fantasy, storytelling, and performance.

It will be shot on a combination of formats, including real film (16mm, super16mm, and 35mm) and a variety of video formats (from iPhone to HD).

Step one: make the trailer!

Kickstarter reached out to us last month with an invitation:

"Throughout 2016 Kickstarter is leading a monthly initiative devoted to the power of the trailer, to champion short, creative work in film & video. We are reaching out to the filmmakers we know and love and are asking them, 'if you could make a movie trailer for one crazy idea, what would it be?'"

Please help us to make a short teaser-trailer for Soothsayer. We'll use it to attract larger funding for the full-length project.

THE STORY

PART I – ZOZ – shot on black and white 16mm film

A lasso rips down an Orthodox cross from the peak of a humble wooden church: we're in the early days of Communist Russia. The Communists are erasing religious mythology, which they consider inferior to historical thought. 

work-in-progress shot of a photogram by Fish Griwkowsky
work-in-progress shot of a photogram by Fish Griwkowsky

Zoz and his smaller brother laugh and smoke as they desecrate the church; they are brown and stubby men with moustaches and suits. The priest watches cautiously, with intense eyes, as Zoz throws a cigarette at his feet. The littler assailant rings the church bell, calling everyone to witness their activity – he's laughing and hanging from the rope like a child in a playground. Next, Zoz bargains with the Communists – humourless men – for a horse. They will not give Zoz a horse: they claim he'd simply run away. He objects – he has a family, after all – yet they refuse. Zoz works, toils, drinks, grows older. Five years later, he is finally given a horse to help him plow and achieve his quota. As the Communists drive east, Zoz flicks a cigarette at his family's feet and rides hard to the west, a laughing Cossack – alone.

PART II – KOSSENKO - shot on color super16mm film

Years later, mid-century: Kossenko, a painter, lives in a loft above an Edmonton church. Alone but for his orange cat, he paints intense men, including a figure riding a horse. 

Mitrofan Kossenko and his cat in their studio residence in the Orthodox church attic, North Edmonton
Mitrofan Kossenko and his cat in their studio residence in the Orthodox church attic, North Edmonton

Kossenko paints spiritual scenes, writes icons, hammers copper, draws sketches of life in Morocco, where he once lived. He dreams of Azru, and we see it, something vague in paper, the buildings insubstantial. The cat knocks over one of Kossenko's cigarettes and starts a fire in the church. The monks manage to put out the fire with the help of the fire department, the firemen scolding the Russians. 

His studio in the church attic now gutted by fire, Kossenko needs a new place to live. A local divorcée – rare in the late '50s – needs a billet. 

Sofia Wojcik (pictured here in the 1930s) took in Kossenko as a boarder
Sofia Wojcik (pictured here in the 1930s) took in Kossenko as a boarder

She's been abandoned by her husband, a drunk, who lives out back in their massive forest of a yard behind the house in the chicken shack, a crumbling structure both beautiful and unfit for human inhabitation: there, older, fatter, lives Zoz. He stands in the doorway of the chicken shack in the same old suit – he eyes the arriving Kossenko with suspicion. Zoz flicks a cigarette at the new boarder, mockingly. 

Vasily Zoz, 1964
Vasily Zoz, 1964

Kossenko lives in the house, and paints portraits for money – old ladies who disapprove of the sternness of his depictions. 

"Your portrait is ready, madam."
"Your portrait is ready, madam."

Kossenko dreams of another life – of dragons, Baba Yaga in a chicken house, of Christ over burning Moscow. The painter enjoys the company of the two children in the house, and becomes a surrogate father of sorts. Kossenko paints the boy. 

Kossenko's work is his great love now - catalogued, documented and photographed in ledgers. Always, he smokes, and cancer stands in the dark yard, looking up into his window. Inspired by Pushkin's famous legend, Kossenko paints Oleg the Wise, and we enter that world – a fantastical, fairy tale place where the set and costumes are all made of paper.

PART III - OLEG - shot on color 35mm film

Prince Oleg rides from the north with his army of banners and steel, helmets and horses. He arrives at a forest, from which emerges a bearded old Soothsayer.

The wizard foretells that Oleg will be a great king – a creator of an endless kingdom, a conqueror and legend forevermore. The Soothsayer conjures Byzantine visions of armies and palaces, strange rockets and giant walls with pieces falling from the sky – and yet these promises come with a warning: Oleg's beloved horse will cause the Prince's death. This fatal prophecy is delivered without compromise, without question. Reluctantly, Oleg banishes his best friend – the white mare – into exile.

The years pass. We see Oleg's victories and acquisitions, in scales small and large, delicate constructions of paper illuminated by fire, turning like pages of a book. Oleg is old now, his moustache has turned paper-white, as have those of his men, whom we recognize beneath the hustle of their rich, textured clothing, costumes that echo the simple designs in which we first saw them dressed when they were young attendants to the Prince. Oleg asks whatever happened to his horse, his companion in youth. “Upon that hill is your horse,” say his advisors, smiling, laughing to themselves as Russians do. Oleg walks to the peak alone. There he finds his old friend – now only bones, sun-dried and bleached white.

Oleg stays beside the horse skeleton and tells his old friend stories – tales told in images that echo the lives of Zoz and Kossenko: riding west, a cat swiping at a fire, standing before burning buildings. Seeing the face of the Soothsayer in his mind's eye, Oleg mocks the wizard for being wrong – for here is Oleg, still alive, while his steed is mere landscape, stuck in moss. Oleg kicks at the horse's skull – suddenly a red serpent shoots out through the horse's eye socket and bites Oleg, piercing his armour. A wince, a sudden laugh. “Well, I've lived a good life,” says Oleg, as he slumps to the ground, dead, cradling the horse's skull. And together still are the two buried, and I should know, for I was there at the funeral, where mead ran down my moustache and filled my cup once more, and so I drank again! I danced with the king's granddaughter, or so she told me she was, and the next day we built a church in Oleg's name, and as the moon rose, we drank some more.

THE IN-BETWEEN PARTS - FISH - shot on various video formats

There's a fourth Russian in this story, besides Zoz, Kossenko, and Oleg – and that's filmmaker Fish Griwkowsky.

Zoz was Fish's grandfather. 

Zoz with his grandson Fish
Zoz with his grandson Fish

Fish will dig for the family legend of Zoz' escape from Communist Russia. 

Kossenko lived in Fish's grandmother's house – the little boy Kossenko paints is Fish's father. 

the filmmaker's father, age 8, painted by Kossenko
the filmmaker's father, age 8, painted by Kossenko

We'll see Fish relate to his own father (Oh, those Russians) as Fish tries to pin down the story of who Kossenko was. Fish will search for lost Kossenko paintings: some are still in the church in Edmonton, others are with Fish's aunt in Ontario, still others are in Europe. 

Kossenko's studio, 1954
Kossenko's studio, 1954

Fish and his father are both journalists - we'll see them struggle to work through this story, balancing fact with legend in the contemporary context of the slow death of the daily newspapers where both men have worked all their lives. 

Kossenko in his casket, 1963
Kossenko in his casket, 1963

Filmmaker Trevor Anderson often explores LGBTQ themes in his work. He has another, personal interest in finding out more about this man, Kossenko, who lived alone, who traveled to Morocco in his youth and painted the young men he found there. Was he a bachelor? Or, you know, a "bachelor"?

Kossenko scowling in the sun at a 1936 beach party
Kossenko scowling in the sun at a 1936 beach party

We'll see Fish's wife Dara work quietly in the background of all these arguing men, as she designs and builds the beautiful, white-paper, fairy tale world of Oleg and his horse.

Dara Humniski, production designer of Part III - Oleg
Dara Humniski, production designer of Part III - Oleg

Throughout these documentary sequences, the themes of the "true" stories of Zoz, Kossenko, and Oleg will echo and overlap. History vs. mythology; creative work vs. destruction; families abandoned and invented; "real" names vs. "legal" names; loyalties betrayed and upheld; adventures longed-for and achieved; and that good old Russian classic – biting off more than you can chew.

We will shoot these in-between sequences on video as we go along. We'll decide later, during the editing process, how – or if – these more traditional documentary sequences will make it into the final film.

WHY ONLY A TRAILER? WHY NOT MAKE THE WHOLE MOVIE NOW?

We're asking the Kickstarter community for $3,000 which is the bare minimum we need to buy film and shoot a short teaser-trailer. This trailer will serve as a proof-of-concept: it's easy for us to talk about this idea, but we need something to show other funders – so they can see what we see in our heads. This project has so many complex layers, it's challenging to describe it succinctly. A short trailer will really help.

So many layers! Detail of a painting by Kossenko
So many layers! Detail of a painting by Kossenko

A successful Kickstarter campaign will let us shoot the trailer on real film, demonstrating the different "looks": 16mm black and white film for Zoz; super16mm color film for Kossenko; and 35mm color film for Oleg; along with a variety of video formats for Fish.

Then, once we have this trailer that makes the vision clear, we can use it to approach other funding sources (like the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Film Board of Canada, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Edmonton Arts Council, and others) for a healthy amount of funding to support the full-length film.

YOU'RE SHOOTING ON FILM? LIKE, REAL FILM?!

Yep, you bet. Real celluloid, baby.

Shooting, developing, and transferring real film is an expensive process, but we're asking for your help to make it happen. This way, when we approach the funding bodies for support for the full-length film, we'll have something to show that proves our mixed-format concept, and demonstrates the beauty and necessity of this more expensive approach.

THE FILMMAKERS

FISH GRIWKOWSKY

As photographer, filmmaker and the art critic of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Edmonton Journal, Fish Griwkowsky has won awards ranging from the support-of-the-arts trophy from Edmonton’s mayor, to third-place portfolio from the North American Society of Features Journalism. He’s interviewed everyone from John Carpenter to Naomi Klein to William Shatner, and is an award-winning political columnist. He works closely with filmmaker Trevor Anderson: as cinematographer on The High Level Bridge (Sundance 2011), and as actor and photographer on The Man That Got Away (Berlinale 2012) and The Little Deputy (Sundance 2015). As director and cinematographer, Fish won Outstanding Music Video at the 2014 Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta's Awards of Excellence, and has made music videos for Corb Lund, Lad Mags and The Wet Secrets. Since 1989, he’s been a weekly-published narrative cartoonist (Space Cat, Bill Benson.) As a visual artist, Fish’s work has hung in galleries across Canada, including the Art Gallery of Alberta where he also conceived and art-directed the event Explorers of the North and the Monsters Who Killed Them. Fish founded the National Portrait Gallery Project after budget cuts scuttled the Portrait Gallery of Canada. He remains generally hopeful, despite the Russian blood.

TREVOR ANDERSON

Trevor Anderson is an independent filmmaker. His most recent film The Little Deputy was invited to premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and was included in Canada's Top Ten Film Festival, 2016. His previous films include: The Man That Got Away, which won the prestigious D.A.A.D. Short Film Prize at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival; The High Level Bridge, which was included in the 2012 Sundance Shorts touring package, and which Roger Ebert proclaimed, “better, minute for minute, than most of the features at your multiplex”; and Rock Pockets, for which Trevor won the inaugural Lindalee Tracey Award at Hot Docs 2007, presented to “an emerging Canadian filmmaker working with passion, humour, a strong sense of social justice, and a personal point of view.”

Soothsayer. Eat meat, eat salt, and speak the truth.

Mitrofan Kossenko, March 26, 1960
Mitrofan Kossenko, March 26, 1960

Risks and challenges

Shooting on real celluloid film is already a slow process, and moreover, we need to show two distinct seasons: warm summer and deep winter.

We'll shoot the summer sequences in 2016. Hopefully we can shoot the winter sequence in spring of this year before the snow disappears, but this is an unseasonably warm winter. As a result, there's a chance we might have to wait and the shoot the winter sequences in late 2016 or early 2017.

If that happens, the finished trailer will be ready by Summer 2017 at the latest.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 1 or more About US$ 0.75

    Спасибо.

    Fish will light a candle for you or for anyone you choose in an abandoned Orthodox Church in rural Alberta. (Don't worry, we won't burn it down.)

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    Pledge CA$ 5 or more About US$ 4

    Exclusive behind-the-scenes updates.

    Get an inside look at the making of the film, and peek inside Kossenko's portfolio & photo albums.

    + Fish will light a candle

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    Pledge CA$ 25 or more About US$ 19

    Sneak previews of the finished trailer, the finished film, and a private playlist.

    You'll be first to see what we've made when we email you an advance viewing link to the finished trailer. When we're eventually done the full-length film, we'll send you an advance viewing link to that, too.

    In addition to the films, we'll send you a private link to an hour-long playlist of music inspired by & inspiring the film.

    (The playlist will arrive by May 2016, the advance link to the trailer will arrive by Summer 2017 at the latest, and the advance link to the finished film will arrive whenever we complete it. It's a long road to Russia and back.)

    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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    Pledge CA$ 50 or more About US$ 37

    A 3-pack of photo reproductions of Kossenko paintings.

    We'll mail you three photo reproductions (4" x 6" each) of some of our favorite paintings by one of the film's subjects, painter Mitrofan Kossenko.

    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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    Pledge CA$ 60 or more About US$ 45

    A 10-pack of photo reproductions of Kossenko paintings.

    We'll mail you ten photo reproductions (4x6 each) of some of our favourite paintings by one of the film's subjects, painter Mitrofan Kossenko.

    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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    Pledge CA$ 75 or more About US$ 56

    An original photogram.

    We'll send you an 8" x 10" original photogram designed and hand-printed by Fish Griwkowsky.

    These unique, individually-printed photograms are the first hands-on work of this whole project. They're experimental storyboards that Fish is using to visualize the first image of the film – an orthodox cross being lassoed off a church roof.

    + 10-pack of photos of Kossenko paintings
    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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    Pledge CA$ 100 or more About US$ 75

    A limited-edition intaglio print by artist Dara Humniski.

    We'll send you a copper-plate etching on rag paper based on abstract impressions of the structural and cellular systems of flora and fauna.

    Dara is a visual artist and print maker whose work has been shown in the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art. She'll be designing the fantasy set and costumes for the third story in SOOTHSAYER, the fairy tale of Oleg and his horse.

    + Original photogram
    + 10-pack of photos of Kossenko paintings
    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 100 or more About US$ 75

    NEW REWARD: added January 22, 2016

    Due to the overwhelming popularity of Dara's limted-edition intaglio print (offered at the $100 reward level and now sold out) she has generously agreed to create a new, separate artwork to offer at the $100 reward level:

    A limited-edition multi-layer cut-paper artwork by artist Dara Humniski, inspired by Kossenko's imagery of the tale of Oleg the Wise.

    Dara is a visual artist and print maker whose work has been shown in the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art. She'll be designing the fantasy set and costumes for the third story in SOOTHSAYER, the fairy tale of Oleg and his horse.

    + Original photogram
    + 10-pack of photos of Kossenko paintings
    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

    *note - backers at the $333 level will have their choice of either the intaglio print or the cut-paper artwork. We will follow up after this campaign to determine your wishes.

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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 250 or more About US$ 187

    An original pen-and-ink drawing.

    We'll send you an original, one-of-a-kind, pen-and-ink drawing by Fish Griwkowsky of a scene from the film. You choose whether you want a scene from Part I: Zoz escapes; Part II: Kossenko; or, Part III: Oleg & his Horse. No two drawings will be the same. The drawings will be approximately 8" x 10" and done in a style reminiscent of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin.

    + Original photogram
    + 10-pack of photos of Kossenko paintings
    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

    *note – this reward level does NOT include the limited-edition intaglio print by Dara Humniski. But, see below...

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  10. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 333 or more About US$ 249

    EVERYTHING!

    You get it all:

    + One-of-a-kind pen-and-ink drawing
    + Limited-edition intaglio print
    + Original photogram
    + 10-pack of photos of Kossenko paintings
    + Sneak previews
    + Private playlist
    + Exclusive updates
    + Fish will light a candle

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    5 backers
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Funding period

- (31 days)