The melancholic, ethereal imagery of Kyryl Volovych has embedded itself in DN’s mind since we saw his emotive music video for Entely’s Prosa earlier this year. So it’s an absolute delight to be featuring him once more, this time for his visualisation of Brighton-based psychedelic rock outfit ĠENN’s The Sister Of. A time-bending narrative of sorts, the story follows a young woman who ventures across dimensions before stumbling into a lone castle where time has frozen. It’s a really fascinating video that recalls the work of Tarkovsky or Bergman in its depiction of a bleak reality that features moments of surrealism and science fiction. DN caught up with Volovych and his DP Borya Borysov to talk over how they got in contact with ĠENN through DN’s social channels, why they kept their fingers crossed for a lack of light when shooting, and the shared process of creation that resulted in their beautiful, haunting imagery.
The concept for The Sister Of is a mysterious, philosophical one of a character journeying through time, how did it come to you?
Kyryl Volovych: My brain is inclined to say that the concept for The Sister Of was born in a span of just a few days but my soul is willingly hinting that the emotional roots behind this project go way back, long before I even thought of doing it. It was just a matter of meeting the right music artist to evoke what’s been a long yearning on the inside, and that’s when a connection with ĠENN happened, in the early part summer of 2023.
It’s interesting how this web of interconnected thoughts and shared values brings you to people who are on the same page as you. It’s actually thanks to Directors Notes’ socials that me and the band have learned about each other’s craft. We’ve been back and forth in brief chats about our plans moving forward and how these creative paths could be crossed.
That’s amazing to hear! When did this project pop up?
KV: At that time, they were a few months away from releasing their debut album UNUM and I thought, “Wow, why not bridge the distance gap and create something extremely meaningful in Ukraine”. Fast forward to early September 2023 and we have a green light with the locked in treatment, ready to be put on tracks. Finding the mutual ground of inspiration was never an issue, when an artist talks Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, you realise the approach is deep. Both these films, either artistically or spiritually, have influenced the concept creation.
We tend to lose ourselves in the whirlpool of events and occurrences that surround us in our daily lives and the war here in Ukraine has definitely brought a tsunami of those. I feel like The Sister Of is somewhat a merger of all the contrasting emotions, thoughts and changing outlooks on life that so happen to occur in my mind. And in the minds of millions. It’s a mental place where a viewer can escape to and resonate with.
What were you looking to accomplish visually and thematically with the video?
KV: A blend of realism and mysterious surrealism/elements of sci-fi is a binding thread for the vision of this project. I’ve always been drawn to visual metaphors as an instrument to shed light on existential topics. Integral stages of life, death and personal transformation. An ever-lasting counterstand of light and darkness on the outside and on the inside of our essence. In the world of The Sister Of time is an independent reality existent without humans to perceive it.
Ultimately, my aim here is to give food for thought. To raise questions instead of giving answers as, realistically, none of us truly have them.
The main character is somewhat ethereal, a soul traveling in time and space. Through many dimensions. We just happen to see the story of only one of those. Ultimately, my aim here is to give food for thought. To raise questions instead of giving answers as, realistically, none of us truly have them. This body of work is a puzzle that’s being built as the viewer watches it, yet after completion, a puzzle you have put together might be very different from viewer to viewer. And that’s what’s truly beautiful about cinema.
Who did you work with to bring your vision to fruition?
KV: This project would have never happened if it wasn’t for the team of incredibly dedicated people who believed in the idea and the power of experimenting together. Elizaweta Mowshyna and Marharyta Voronova, our producers, have been incredible, making sure every step of the way went swiftly.
Were you conscious when casting of finding actors that would work in these different periods of time? And, also, with your lead Liliya Syvytska, having someone who could be that central thread?
KV: With lots of moving pieces and just two weeks prior to shooting, casting was one of the most crucial aspects to pay attention to. Liliya Syvytska, who plays the main character, is just a gem of an actress to work with. We sought a strong, emotionally distinctive person, who would feel the plot and her journey within. She had to be curious, but cautious of her environment, interacting with frozen-in-time figures on a metaphysical level. An attachment to this particular dimension and place is being read through her glance. Time travel is not yet achieved by us in the real world, but we wanted to create a world where it already has been possible.
Now as for Liliya’s alter ego, the elderly lady, code named ‘the widow’, a portrayal of a definitive, dark aura, almost an antipode of light was what we were looking for. Fortune smiled on us, as street casting can go both ways, especially when the first time you meet the casted person is on the shoot day itself. Tanya Dvorzhak, our supporting role, was incredible in terms of going in and out of different emotional states, doing it on command as if there was almost an invisible switch. She turned out to be a massive fan of the abstract silhouette imagery, showing me her phone gallery of various shadows. Spot on.
There’s so much haunting and striking imagery populated through The Sister Of. Borya, how did you find the challenge of bringing these rich, heady ideas to cinematic life?
Borya Borysov: When I read Kyryl’s treatment at first, I became immediately attracted to the mood of this project, because such do not come by often. Honestly, the location was one of the main challenges. Svirzh castle is situated in Lviv region, 400km away from Kyiv, where we are based. I have never shot in something like that before so it was really interesting to try. Keeping in mind the time and the resources at our disposal, we could allow ourselves just one day of prep in Lviv and a single shoot day, leaving us with one day of prep on location. Surely we had to be creative, hence we precisely pre-scouted the castle on the web via Google maps. To arrive extremely prepared physically on location, I decided to build a 3D model of the location in Cine Tracer so we could prepare a detailed storyboard.
I measured the location in Google Earth and built something similar in size and architectural form. Also, I checked sun direction via Sun Seeker which gave me an opportunity to understand exactly at what time and how the sun would shine on a given day, which gave a preliminary understanding of the logistics of relocating within the castle. I shared everything with Kyryl and as a result, we came incredibly prepared, leading to us only spending three hours to find exact camera points during the location scout. This crystal clear picture in our heads enabled us to film everything and even a bit of extra, sharply navigating through exteriors and interiors within a twelve hour shoot day. Immense gratitude goes towards the technical team of 1AC Kostya Posvaliuk, Dolly Mykhailo Melychyn and Gaffer Mykola Nester. Their promptness and speed of technical execution goes without saying.
How different was it shooting the outdoor and indoor sequences? Did they require different lighting setups to create a cohesive vision?
BB: We really wanted to be as natural as we could in terms of the image and look achieved, as the story is taking place at the beginning of the 20th century. On the first call I said that it would be just perfect to have an overcast day, to which Kyryl answered “Definitely! Just wanted to say it!”. And it miraculously so happened, we were lucky to secure the only two grey days out of an entire month, which greatly influenced the atmosphere of the piece. It’s funny, cause it’s the first time I asked the universe for the sun not to show up, usually it’s the other way around.
On exterior scenes I used only 12×12 and 20×20 negative fill to add more volume. During the interiors, there just wasn’t enough light coming from the windows, so I decided to use Arrisun 6kw fresnel sources in each window to increase contrast and have deeper shadows. The windows themselves were high density as built-in full frost. As a result, the lighting doesn’t look directional but adds more contrast and shape. Also, I didn’t use any LED lights, only fresnel, only old school. For the portraits I used 575 Arri with frost frame and light grid cloth 1/4, in my opinion it helped me to achieve the image to be more natural.
And in terms of the camera kit you utilised, what equipment were you using and what were you looking to achieve with it?
BB: From the get go me and Kyryl settled on very careful, subtle and light camera movement as our main approach, so it was an instant decision to go with the dolly. I wanted to emphasize the main character’s path through the location, and this is why we were doing parallel moves together with our actress, mixing them with statics, which gave the feeling of time being frozen. And of course the good old visceral zooms and pans, I live by those, they instantly bring and accent the drama.
We really wanted to be as natural as we could in terms of the image and look achieved.
Optics-wise, because we are big fans of film, we truly wanted to shoot it on 16mm or 35mm Kodak, but our hands were tied by the turnaround, so this was not an option. I suggested shooting on the Alexa Mini in super 16 mode using a specific 16mm film lens. These lenses have a very vintage feel, being a 100% match. The resolution of this mode is just 1080p, which makes an image less detailed but combined with colors and dynamic range of Alexa it ended up being of close resemblance to the film look. After that, our colourist magician Matthias Stoopman ran the cut through a specific film emulation technique, a creation of his own, achieving the result we are all pretty honoured to call the final one.
This is ĠENN’s first music video which their lead singer Leona Farrugia hasn’t directed. How much of a free creative rein did the band give you on this?
KV: From the start we treated this project as an intuitive collaboration where trust has been a moving and decisive force. With a little guidance and a list of classic sci-fi and fantasy films of the 20th century shared, Leo has been immensely trusting and genuinely thrilled towards the direction I proposed. Such decision-making freedom is of utmost value to me.
Could you talk about the funding that went into the video? How did you and the band source the finances needed to pull it off?
KV: Ultimately it’s a passion project for both sides and was mostly self-funded and produced by me. It’s the type of project I get most excited about to direct. Having to trade incredible amounts of passion, energy, and resources for your personal beliefs into something greater feels like a fair trade to me. We had several calls and chats with the band discussing our funding options and eventually settled on a scheme that would work for both sides financially. It turned out to be produced for just slightly under 10K USD.
What are you working on next?
KV: Writing, perfecting, building. Globally, a long-term mission of mine is to continue bringing international film projects of different genres, initiatives and talents into Ukraine, restoring the artistic bridge with the rest of the world. Telling stories that matter, evoking the new wave of passion and will to create on this soil from the international community.