Connecting Young Filmmakers in the US and Russia

Published September 13, 2017

John Goheen is an instructor of video production at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication. He recently participated in a SEE-supported collaborative project with the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow. John shares some insights into his productive journey:

I have been to Russia three times. The first was in 1998 where my time in Moscow was brief, with barely enough time to visit Red Square and have a few nice meals around the city. On my first two trips I actually spent longer periods in the cities of Stavropol and Magadan, both extremely interesting Russian cities, much, much smaller and very different than Moscow. This recent trip was the first time I would really get to see Moscow and experience the people in a very different way than my previous trips.

My trip came about after a colleague and I had agreed to meet with representatives from Eurasia Foundation’s US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) program and The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), a private University located in Moscow. The two representatives from ICA were filmmakers, Alexey Khanyutin and his daughter Maria Khanyutina. The purpose of the meeting was to see if Loyola University, my colleague and myself would be interested in collaborating with ICA. They met with other prospective partners, but ultimately settled on working with Loyola and me.

I left the meeting with good feelings toward both Alexey and Maria. For me, this was an important component, as I knew we would need to work together over the coming months in order to complete the goal of producing a documentary film that would be a collaborative effort of ICA and Loyola students. No small undertaking. I’m always eager to take on a new challenge, and while I wasn’t sure about how we would pull this together, I recognized at the very least, this was a great opportunity for Loyola and ICA students.

I have previous experience in Chile where Loyola students and Chilean students worked closely together in producing content. This is something that is unique to most study abroad programs, as students don’t typically have the opportunity to collaborate on creative content. It allows for different minds from different cultures and backgrounds to come together in a way that often delivers unique results.

I viewed this as a very historic time in relationships between the US and Russia. I felt it was worth taking advantage of an opportunity for the benefit of both Loyola students as well as ICA’s. Young people are the future of any country and it is a valued commodity to share knowledge and cultural exchanges. The more the world becomes a global neighborhood, the closer we all become and reap the benefits of having an understanding of one another.

The idea we settled on was to have ICA and Loyola students collaborate to create a documentary, with elements shot in both Chicago and Moscow. Loyola students would travel to Moscow for a week and ICA students to Chicago for a week. On June 7th, five Loyola students and myself departed Chicago for Moscow, where we spent six days meeting, working and spending time with about a dozen ICA film students along with Alexey and Maria.

Months of planning before the trip had gone into coordinating everything from story topics to film design, but not much had really occurred with regards to students really getting a chance to know one another. For most, this would be the first time meeting an American or Russian. Most were of similar age, had similar interests in motion picture storytelling and all had a range of ability that included near beginners to advanced award winning caliber students.

The first day we arrived we had planned an evening meeting with Alexey, Maria and the ICA students. The meeting kind of went like you might expect, everyone sort of guarded and unsure of what this project was all about. In the week to follow the group would learn to trust, like and bond with one another just as I had hoped. Looking back, the transformation over the course of a week was fun to see and couldn’t have gone better. Both groups of students went from guarded unknown collaborators to full partners that had a hard time parting ways the last night together.

After the first night of meeting and discussing ideas for the film, a group of roughly 20 of us met the next morning to go biking through the streets of Moscow, a relatively recent way some Muscovites traverse the city. This was intended to serve two purposes. Primarily, to help quickly acquaint the Loyola students to the city of Moscow. I have biked in other cities with students before and I have found it to be one of the most efficient ways to see a city quickly and effectively. It’s much easier to smell and touch the city this way. It allows you to easily cross paths and interact with the locals.

It also was a film tool. We planned to use elements of one of the Loyola students interacting with our guide. This will serve as a “vehicle” to transition back and forth between the two cities. The same type of tour was planned for Chicago when the Russian students visited.

I actually don’t know how many cameras we had shooting that day, but I can assure you, the event was well covered. We started off by crossing the Moscow River and ended the day late into the evening at Gorky Park.

Moscow is a huge city, so we did our best to cover as much terrain as possible, biking to some landmark destinations, while also simply taking in the city as much as possible over the course of the day. It would be impossible to cover the whole city in one day, but what we were able to see and experience was terrific.

As an avid biker, I personally couldn’t have asked for a more fun and interesting way to spend our first day in Moscow, seeing the city while also capturing elements for the film.

Each day involved various sets of ICA students working with Loyola students on an idea to help tie the various stories together. This allowed us to see different areas of the city while having an opportunity to also work on producing the film. Loyola students did not shoot individual stories, but went to the shooting location of several of the stories the ICA students were producing. It is here that various groups of ICA and Loyola students worked on shooting “set-ups” for these stories. This was a concept that was new to both groups and it took considerable instruction and coordination to get them to see the vision of how this would fit into the film.

The weather forecast called for rain each day, but with Moscow being such a large city, it only rained on us the last day. So, I would say the weather ended up being ideal for visiting and shooting around the city. We did not have any problems the entire trip until it came time to return when our flight was cancelled due to a mechanical issue with the plane, forcing us to spend another night at an airport hotel.

To sum up the experience, I’d say everyone had a wonderful, eye opening experience they will not soon forget. There is still a lot of work to be done on the film. The ICA students will soon have their chance to visit Chicago and learn about the city and further work on the film project. The nice thing about this visit will be that everyone knows everyone now and will have a nice reunion. I know the Loyola students are anxious to share their city with the ICA students and continue working on this unique film project.