8 young directors to watch
RBTH presents filmmakers that are gaining attention in the West and in the coming years are likely to be associated with "the new face of Russian cinema"
Mikhail Mestetsky
Mestetsky's shorts started winning awards at prestigious film festivals back in the late 2000s, however, until last year he was known in Russia more as a scriptwriter than director. Mikhail wrote the screenplay for the biopic of famous Soviet hockey player Valery Kharlamov, "Legend No. 17", which was for two years Russia's highest grossing film, after taking $29.3 million at the box office.

In 2016 Mestetsky enjoyed acclaim as both writer and director. The comedy "The Good Boy", for which he wrote the script, won the main prize at the Russian Kinotavr festival, while his debut feature "Rag Union" was nominated for a Crystal Bear as the best feature film in the Generation 14+ program at the Berlin Film Festival.

"Rag Union" combines several themes that matter to Mestetsky. It is an intelligent coming-of-age story and, at the same time, an in-your-face 'laddish' film, filled with humor and ironic observations about the younger generation. Mestetsky is one of those filmmakers who make movies that are aimed equally at festival audiences and the box office. He belongs to a hitherto rare phenomenon of a "Russian Sundance" - the first shoots of a young and independent Russian film industry.
Legend No. 17
The Good Boy
Rag Union
Nigina Sayfullaeva
Before coming to the big screen, 31-year-old Nigina honed her skills while working in television: In the early 2010s, she made teen TV series for entertainment channels. That background manifested itself in the style of her first feature film, "Name Me", which is devoid of false modesty and hypocrisy and shows an open interest in teen sexuality.

Yet, tonally, Sayfullaeva's feature debut has nothing in common with the TV series she used to make. The story of two 17-year-old girls, who travel to the sea in search of the father of one of them, shifts between being a tender coming-of-age drama and a detective story full of erotic suspense.

Sayfullaeva's film was selected for the programs of two A-category film festivals - San Sebastian and Tallinn – as well as smaller but important film festivals in Warsaw and Seattle.
Name Me
Ivan Tverdovsky
Tverdovsky, the 28-year-old son of a well-known Soviet documentary filmmaker, also began his career in documentaries but has won international acclaim thanks to his feature films. "Corrections Class" (2014) and "Zoology" (2016) were in official selection at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where both won awards: The first for best debut and the latter, a special jury prize.

Tverdovsky is the most notable representative of the generation of young directors who make truly European cinema. He, like many European art-house directors, is preoccupied with the issue of 'otherness' in the broadest sense of the word. In "Corrections Class", otherness is literal as the film's main characters are teenagers with learning difficulties. In "Zoology", otherness becomes a metaphor: The main character of the film, a middle-aged female zookeeper, suddenly grows a tail. If the genre of the film could be described as social science fiction, Tverdovsky's emphasis is on the social rather than the science fiction.
Corrections Class
Natalya Meshchaninova
In the late 2000s, Meshchaninova was one of the directors working on "School", a gritty pseudo-documentary TV series that Russia's main state broadcaster Channel One showed during prime time in a bid to update its formats. Back then, Natalya was overshadowed by her fellow director Valeriya Gay Germanika, which was not surprising given that Germanika had already won European recognition thanks to a Cannes premiere of her film "Everybody Dies But Me" (2008).

Overall, the early styles of Germanika and Meshchaninova were similar, probably as a result of the training they received from leading Russian documentary filmmaker, Marina Razbezhkina. Like "Everybody Dies But Me", Meshchaninova's first film, "The Hope Factory", is a tough coming-of-age story unfolding against the backdrop of a bleak industrial landscape. The director set the film in her hometown Norilsk, located beyond the Arctic Circle with an atmosphere as bleak and despairing and the heavy metal pollution that stains the landscape.

Her pseudo-documentary manner of filmmaking, utmost authenticity and interest in social issues firmly place Meshchaninova in the tradition of auteur cinema, which tends to depict extreme situations in life. This subject matter is a favorite at many festivals, so the world premiere of "The Hope Factory" in 2014 was hosted by one of the world's most prestigious festivals for debut films - Rotterdam.

Since then, Meshchaninova has worked in TV (as the director of the Russian remake of the Spanish series "Red Bracelets"), and last year she wrote the script for Boris Khlebnikov's film "Arrhythmia", due for release later this year.
The Hope Factory
Kostas Marsan
Around a decade ago, Yakutia (5,300 miles east of Moscow) experienced a film boom. With very little money ($20,000-$50,000), local directors shot genre movies – horror films, comedies and Romcoms - aimed at local audiences. Suddenly, everything changed in 2016, when Marsan's debut film "My Murderer", which had been made for just $85,000, was released across Russia. The film received good reviews, generated a favorable buzz on social media and was shown at a number of festivals, including the Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Marsan sees himself as belonging to the first generation of Yakutian film directors, who will create the region's cinematic tradition. One distinctive feature of this tradition is that it is orientated not towards Russian (or Soviet) cinematic style, but towards Asian cinema trends. For example, Marsan openly admits that "My Murderer" was inspired by the famous Korean noir "Memories of Murder" by Bong Joon-ho. He says his next films will also be made with an eye on what South Korean filmmakers are doing.
My Murderer
Ella Manzheeva
Ella Manzheeva is yet another representative of the Asian branch in Russian cinema. She was born in Kalmykia (800 miles southeast of Moscow) and in 2005 graduated from the sound department of St. Petersburg University of Culture and Cinema. She then went on to the Higher Course of Scriptwriters and Film Directors in Moscow. Her debut film "The Gulls" became one of the main Russian festival hits in 2015 - it participated in the Panorama program at Berlinale, after which it had a successful screening in Karlovy Vary.

Manzheeva's film belongs to the so-called poetic tradition of moviemaking. The origins of "The Gulls" lie in the supple cinematography of the Soviet Central Asian republics, whose directors in turn were influenced by Iranian and Indian filmmakers. Manzheeva mixes those variegated traditions with Buddhist ethics and a femininity inherent in her style. As a result, a unique cinematic language is born, which currently has no equivalents either in Russian or in European cinema.
The Gulls
Taisia Igumentseva
In 2012, a short film by the then 23-year-old Taisia Igumentseva won the top prize in the Cinéfondation Awards for student short films in Cannes, making her the first Russian director in modern history to achieve this honor.

That victory opened many doors for her – Taisia had no difficulty getting funding for her first feature film and it was automatically selected for the Cannes Film Festival program. Igumentseva's debut feature "Bite the Dust", which tells the story of villagers who believe an apocalypse is upon them, premiered in Cannes in 2013 and confirmed her reputation as one of the most promising young Russian film directors.

Igumentseva talks to the audience in a language of absurdist comedy coupled with youthful radicalism – her films are fresh and full of enthusiasm, but are so far lacking in skill and thoughtfulness. Those will come in time. To a large extent, a lot for Taisia hinges on her next feature, which – given the director's background - should not go unnoticed by leading film festivals.
Bite the Dust
Vladimir Beck
The youngest director on our list is just 24, but his filmography already includes two titles. The first – "Skinless" - received the main prize at the Movement festival of debut films in Omsk in 2014. At the time, critics described Beck as a "Russian Xavier Dolan", not only because of his age, but also because of the style of the film. "Skinless" is a film about emotions, in which the plot is secondary. In it, hardly anything happens – it is a story about a young man and a young woman who are in love and who do not leave their apartment.

His second film, "Little Bird", is more complicated – it is a drama about a love quadrangle, set in a summer camp. Two counselors start an affair, closely observed by two teenagers who are in love with them. This movie, which has been selected for competition at the Rome Film Festival, is often compared to Terrence Malick's films. The comparison seems slightly premature – after all, Beck's films so far are more exercises in style rather that a comprehensive body of artwork. But his potential as a film director, impeccable taste and a surprisingly mature sense of style make Beck one of the most promising figures of young Russian cinema today.
Little Bird
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Text by Alexander Nechayev
Edited by Oleg Krasnov
Images credits: Mihail Mokrushin, Vitaliy Belousov, Ekaterina Chesnokova/RIA Novosti;
Yelena Sidyakina, Valery Matitsyn/TASS;;; Тряпичный СОЮЗ (Rag Union)/;
kakmenyazovut/; KombinatNadezda/;
aritmiafilm/; Art Doydu; Mark Boyarsky
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