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S E N S A I  S E L Y A N O V

Text and Photo: Maxim Masaltsev

Sergey Mihailovich Selyanov, vice-President of the Russian Producers Guild and founder of film production company STV has had a good year following the nomination of ‘Mongol’ for a Best Foreign Film Oscar leading to record international box office sales, and winning the best film prize at the Kinotavr film festival for the feature debut of Igor Voloshin and Bakura Bakuradze. Aware that this kind of success can only appear given a massive loyalty to cinema and the cinematic process, DEI asked Sergey Mihalovich to explain how film influenced his life, and how his life now influences film.

DE I: Not very much is clear about the genesis of your company. 1992 was a difficult year for Russia: Nagorno Karabach, Abkhazia, Pridnestrovia…and yet STV has been around for 16 years…

Sergey:   Indeed, in January 16 years ago STV came into existence. But it’s not like a child’s birthday when the exact day is significant so we decided to mark the appearance of STV at the Kinotavr festival, because it co-incided with the right cinematographic point in the year. As for those times, you couldn’t open a bank account even with the help of a bribe. It took 3 months of almost inhuman effort and was possible in the end only through the use of some awful contacts and influence…It seems funny now…

DE I: What would you have done differently if you were to start up STV today?

Sergey:   I don’t like hypothetical syntax such as ‘we should, if it would have been possible…’ – these are not my types of expression. And I can’t stand hearing it from others either. Sometimes I think long and hard about the decisions I make, but as soon as I’ve decided, I stop evaluating. Most likely, regarding some of the organizational aspects of what we did, we lacked effectiveness, but at the time, the entire country was lacking in experience. We needed a lot of time to rectify our mistakes. But looking back, I’m absolutely satisfied.

DE I: It’s often said that once every 7 years it’s good to change something in your life. What did you change when the company was 7 and 14 years old?

Sergey:   Those kinds of changes take place in Russia almost every 6 months. And life forces us to change our position far more often. It never entered my head to change my field of activity. I love film; it’s a very emotionally active sphere. You’ll never bet bored. It’s true that, to reach perfection in their field, Japanese artists changed their names, their artistic style, and where they lived every 7 years. In the modern world it’s more difficult to follow that course. I might have done the following: after seven years – the Producer is Selyanov, and after another, the Producer is Ivanov. But what for? A producer doesn’t have a particular qualification or specialization: some make thrillers, others historical dramas. And it’s hard to hide from attention; our century is the century of media. I’d have to have plastic surgery, or change all my documents, and all my friends? The Japanese artist, as a rule, moved to a different administrative area where he was unknown…but it’s hard to a producer to hide. Our work is like an ‘artel’ or co-operative. There used to be such a form of collective management – the co-operative.

DE I: Is it possible we will ever see the definitive history of film from Selyanov?

Sergey:   I’m not a researcher or a historian and to be an amateur in that regard seems to me silly and pointless. I’m not interested in looking back. I can read a clever book which will tell me everything and I’ll enjoy it. I love the history of film, but not as the subject for reflection. I need to always be on the move, looking forward.

DE I: During the first public address given by the new minister of culture, he let slip this interesting phrase: “culture should become a reflection of Russians’ happiness”. What do you make of that?

Sergey:   That’s a funny line. I haven’t met the Minister yet. When we meet, we’ll discuss it.

DE I: And you’re ready to make films that reflect the populations’ happiness?

Sergey:   In principal, no-one is against everyone being happy. Given that 90-95% of films are entertainment, happiness is close at hand. People go to the movies for emotions. Film is a coarse form of art, and that’s its strength. Coarse doesn’t mean bad or low, and in the word ‘low’ there is nothing offensive. Low, mass culture is the basis for ‘high’ art. I like it when the entertainment is good quality, and if it’s executed properly from the cinematography point of view. But I don’t like films that can be successful, but where there is no ‘cinema’. There aren’t films, but some kind of fragments.

DE I: Do your own personal ambitions or ideas always dictate which films you make?

Sergey:   I make the films I want to make. For different reasons. My feelings are simple. The word ‘ideal’ frightens me, it’s abstract. A good film, a strong film consists of ‘cinema matter’ – that is the most important criterion.

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