Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

An Australian film crew travelled to Siberia, aiming to produce a documentary about the exploitation of the land of the oil and gas frontier, the usurpation of native rights, the displacement of an indigenous population for the convenience of settlers. As film-maker Andrew G Taylor notes, the irony was not lost on all of them. What was, in a staggering, dream-like tale, was the film. Or, rather, the ability to produce one other than this, a documentary of sorts about a documentary out of sorts.

Recalling Hearts Of Darkness, civilisation's weaknesses and hypocrisies exposed on a frontier, this is a stunning, powerful film. While it's Taylor's memories, his ends of film and his still photographs that provide the visuals, the narrative, it is the calm voice of Michael Kitschke that recounts events. Sombre, sober, removed, it's striking in the same way as Perestroika is, and as powerful.

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We're told it was "another age, another era - after Gorbachev, before Putin - Yeltsin's time". It seems it; the past is a foreign country and all that, but Siberia is even more different.

There's the journey there, the assembled crew, Petra the director and a former model, the producer, their conflicts, telling moments for students of post-colonialism. Of the Nenette, the natives, "they must have thought we were from a different planet", and all that goes with it. There's Igur, one of the few tribesmen who want anything to do with the crew, the hints of something that happened upriver, a line crossed as they try to get footage of shamanic activities.

There's the exploitation by the former Soviet authorities, the margins taken on velvet antlers to be sold in the Chinese market, helicopters, the archaism to our digital eyes of film and waiting for processing, the forests, the flares, the lakes that are the eyes of the world.

Much of Taylor's footage was shot on film while he was "left behind to save weight", the rest a montage of stills, over the assemblage the patient narration. One of the few roles Taylor does not fill involves the sound; Kitschke's narration, but also Paul Healy's music and the use of files from This is one of the few films to credit individual sounds. That thoroughness, the nature of this film as a collage, a found thing, a made thing, intriguing and compelling, make this haunting - it's a ghost of a film never made.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2010
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Memoir of a journey and an ill-fated film shoot in Russia’s Arctic north.
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Director: Andrew G Taylor

Writer: Andrew G Taylor

Starring: Michael Kitschke, Paul Healy

Year: 2009

Runtime: 24 minutes

Country: Australia, Russia


EIFF 2010

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