Intrance

Sometimes life has a way of overshadowing art, imbuing it with new and haunting meanings. For dancer, director and cinematographer Diana Olifirova (whose DoP skills we first admired in charming ode to a friendship doc Jabulani), her short abstract piece Intrance ā€” commissioned by Panasonic and shot between Kyiv and London ā€” cannot be easily extricated from larger world events. Shot in early February ahead of the Russian invasion on February 24th, it manages to capture a city on edge; uneasy, tense, eerily calm. The only performer in the piece, she writhes and lurches, rolls and spins with vital urgency, the camera moving between wide shots and close-ups, intimate portraiture and alienation. A deeply personal piece, it shows the importance of self-expression in even the darkest of times. We caught up with Olifirova to talk about the film’s fraught production history, being caught between two cultures, keeping her film in line with Panasonic’s values, and her attraction to circular architecture.

The film was shot between Kyiv and London. Can you tell me about the production history as it must have been very tense in Ukraine before the 24th February?

I was originally commissioned to make a film by Lumix for the release of their new camera, the GH6. I was commissioned in January and had already thought what I wanted to make a film about. I wanted to make a self-portrait that explores identity, change, feeling attached to places, and transitioning from one life to another. As a person who emigrated 10 years ago from Ukraine, I still feel quite connected with it in a way. I always kept coming back to rethinking what my life is about, and have always felt kind of in-between.

Panasonic trusted me to develop something interesting with their camera.

So, I wanted to make a film about that and went back home in early February to reconnect. I was drawn to particular locations where I used to take photographs and co-operated with filmmakers and this dancer who I really admire. I shot part of it there and parts of it in London and it kind of strangely merged with the timings of everything. As we did the edit, things were heating up and I really felt it influence the way the montage worked, and the music, which we made from scratch. As we were composing it for the dance, it became one thing, but as we edited it, it become a much more fast, destroyed kind of music. As we finished it, we felt that it was a real journey making the film.

Intrance

Were Panasonic open to you taking the brief in your own direction?

They’re really nice. They let you come up with an idea to explore. The only thing I had to do was deliver a treatment/mood board for them. Also, you have the seven principles of Panasonic. You have to pick one and say that you are emphasising it. I figured I could fit into three of their principles. One of them was fairness and honesty, another one was untiring effort for improvement, and the other one was adaptability. I felt like my film was abstract enough to respond to those principles. And of course, I’ve worked with them before, and they trust me to develop something interesting with their camera.

I wanted to make a self-portrait that explores identity, change, feeling attached to places, and transitioning from one life to another.

What was interesting about the locations is that are couldn’t tell where Kyiv ends and London starts. Was it intentional to sort of blur the two cities together?

In my life, every day, I’m walking through a lot of places and I always take lots of pictures and collect memories of places I feel drawn to. At that moment, I had a particular attachment to circles, tunnels and corridors. I live in the Barbican, which is a brutalist estate and has a lot of interesting hidden parts as well. For me, the way of life is a cycle. The beginning and the end is just one way. So, I wanted to capture as many circles as possible; that’s why they all merge into one.

Intrance

You are the only performer and you seem to exist in isolation. A few months ago, I would’ve said this was a lockdown-inspired film, but now it evokes life on the boundary of war. I was wondering how much the anxiety surrounding the invasion inspired the film?

When I was there, it was only 10 days before everything happened. I felt a very surreal feeling in the capital. It felt very empty, but I could feel the tension in the air. I was meant to do an improvised dance and feel the movement on the day with the music, but I felt more than the music, I felt the whole place. I felt like I want to keep it, to save it, to remember it. I felt like I’m falling apart and I want to keep it together. And I felt like that really transformed into the dance itself. I just needed to deliver what I felt in that particular moment.

I wanted to capture as many circles as possible; that’s why they all merge into one.

I’d love to know about the technical set-ups because what I loved was the copious use of natural light and also the contrast of colours. How long did it take to set up each shot as there are a lot of them?

When I wrote the treatment it was just visual metaphors. I was trying to make little mini-poems in between each picture slide to show my ideas. I was mainly trying to play with words and the meanings behind those words, but they were quite short and abrupt. And then I would choose the locations that I felt I was drawn to and I would go and explore what I could do, starting from the wide shot or static shot and doing something there. I would let other people do what they felt was good to do movement-wise or composition-wise, which was challenging for me because I’m a bit of a control freak. But I was like: “OK, you know what, it’s fine. I’ll find the best bits in the edit.” We had seven hours of footage and I would select the tiny bits that I felt were the best. It was a really long process.

And what’s the advantage of the Lumix GH6 camera over, for example an Arri Alexa or a Sony Venice, especially when it comes to this type of work?

It’s this new camera, I only got given it in February. It’s very small and light and super easy to use. It has internal stabilisation which really helps with DIY-handheld, so you don’t need to worry about too much shake. It also has very small lenses, it’s very versatile, has autofocus even, and shoots ProRes, which is very good for editing and super easy to work with. For example, there was one shot in the circular window at Liverpool Street Station but there are a lot of people walking there sometimes. I was worried I would never be able to shoot there but I came with my friend and in five minutes we did the whole scene. So in that sense, it’s perfect. It’s got a good dynamic range and captures good highlights and colours and everything. It’s really easy to grade as well.

What are you working on next?

At the moment, I’m just in between commercials. Wrapping up this film and doing some commercial work and waiting for some long-form in the summer. So, for now, just in-between.

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