Nature, harmony and love
Ivan Maximov, born in Moscow, 1958, entered the world of animation relatively late at the age of 28 after some years spent in science. Since early nineties he creates the short authorial films. His work leads us to the decently colored, often black-and-white mystery worlds, not far distanced from Giorgio de Chirico's metaphysical landscapes, and introduces their inhabitants - cousins to Joan Miro's creatures bizarrely acting in non-sense narrative structures. Maximov honors classical drawn animation but doesn't refuse technical fusions with computer graphics. Peaceful visual language he uses lacks any sign of aggression or rough power, still his surreal cocktails often work as detonators. Of laugh and feelings of pure happiness. Festival audiences and juries specially appreciated his diploma film 5/4 (1989) and Wind Along the Coast (2004) from later production, both of them won prizes all around the world.
IL: In your biography we can read that you started your career with the photography and science. What leaded you to the area of animation? What was the most inspiring thing on animated films that made you quit science and go into movies?
IM: It was just a chance. I wasn't an artist educated in arts from my childhood though I've always drawn, permanently, every day. My parents and my older sister were physicists. I followed the easiest way to get an education, it was to become also a physicist. It was easy, I only had to pass exams on physics and mathematics. I didn't even dream about studying in some art school because it seemed to me... I thought that it was only for children of artists. I considered the art education for a little bit corrupted. After finishing Physical Institute I started to work in Space Research Institute. I knew it was not my way and soon I started to look for a possibility to escape. I did for example drawings and illustration for various magazines. Once, after four years I visited one animation screening with the show of student works. They were made as diploma films from high courses, what was something like a second education for people who already finished some other school. That was something for me. I entered and became the only student from Moscow in the class. I took two-years courses in directing and script-writing under the leadership of the most famous Russian film directors in animation - Jurij Norstein, Eduard Nazarov, Fjodor Chitruk, Garri Bardin and Andrej Chrzanovskij. And also Valerij Ugarov who is already dead now. This was my start. It was just by chance that I found that small hole from science to the art.
IL: You started to make films just after the communism fall...
IM: I have to mention that unfortunately it was not communism what fall. Communism is an utopia which ideas I consider for good. But it's impossible to move them to real life, even theoretically.
IL: So how would you name the former system in our countries?
IM: I do not know how to name it. But communism is very obvious theory far from the system that was here.
IL: Could you describe the situation in Russian cinematography when you entered it?
IM: I started to make animation films when it was very free - no rules, no orders what to do, nobody controlled us. It should be a happiness for artists. But unfortunately in cinematography it was not good. It was good only for those who were ready to be free, who had their own cinematography in their minds. And it was very few people, majority of new artists did not know what to do. They looked outside to America or to West Europe trying to make something similar. The films from Europe seemed to be un-understandable, abstract, surrealistic... and were not accepted well by the audience. American ones brought the bandits, whores, fantasy and maybe pornography. It came step by step, our cinematography slowly became full of criminal films. Most of the films made in modern Russia is about a criminal.
IL: What were the financial and production conditions? Were there any production companies and animation studios?
IM: We had only one animation studio in Moscow at that time. Or one and the half - one little in television and a big one in Soyuzmultfilm. One more was in Jekaterinburg and no studios in St. Petersburg. After several years there were only in Moscow more than twenty. Some of them rose by dividing from Soyuzmultfilm, some of them started from the projects ordered by sponsors. I do not know in details.
IL: Did you cooperate with any of these?
I was not employed by any studio and thanks to that I was very free. But it meant at the same time that I had to find the money for my diploma film by myself. Norstejn helped me. He had a sponsor who was supporting him so he could pay for living and rent the workshop. It was some dealer of computers. Norstejn suggested him to hire me as a physicist to find the way how to use computers in animation. But he had only very old style of personal computers with primitive software. I couldn't do anything with it. Despite of that I asked him to help me with my diploma and he agreed. I created 5/4. It became quite successful.
In the next three or four years I did not find any other funding so I worked on some advertising films and made my own films on my own money. Soyuzmultfilm helped me once in the middle of nineties (The Strings, 1996 - note Ivana Laučikova). It was my last film for a while because shortly after this production a crisis came.
The best times in Russian animation began with Putin. I do not know if it is a coincidence or not but in this century government began to support animation. There were many big projects, feature films and serials, very beautiful projects for example in Pilot studio. This time I started to make one film per year. I also made a computer game but it's a separate project without any help from government.
IL: Beginning in 2002 you started to teach animation in SHAR animation school which is closely connected to the professional animation studio.
IM: It was Andrej Chrzanovskij who invited me to help him first in VGIK and then also in SHAR. So I started to teach. Now there are three of us teaching - me, Michail Aldashin and Alexej Demin. Chitruk is too old unfortunately, he can't come anymore. Andrej Chrzanovskij prefers to be a chief, a supervisor.
IL: In your first internationally known film Left to Right you introduced the audience a very special universe with characters and reality with abnormal principles of physics and logic. It looks like all of your films are situated in the same world; they are like the chapters of one never-ending story. Is this universe a kind of your personal parallel reality?
IM: I've always admired the work of people like Salvador Dali and some other surrealistic painters. I felt that it was the field of drawing and cinema which was not well developed. When I myself started making films I decided to do something about this surrealistic movement, metamorphoses and morphing. I think it is tasty for the audience. But at the same time I do not like any aggressive mood and I try to do my films without psychedelic and depressive lines, I'm trying to make it let's say kind and soft.
IL: Some people are trying to explain your films in metaphorical way and some others just enjoy a free imagination. What is closer to your creative method?
IM: I do not feel any symbolism or signs and don’t work with certain meanings. I use other part of my brain. Some people prefer to know what does it mean but I know that even if I don't mean anything special they'll find their own explanations. The more abstract it is the more variants of meanings it has. My most ideal film from this point of view is Bolero because it's the most abstract in storyboard and it's generally very pure, without any details. I did not sign the direction what to think at all. People who try to find the philosophy can do it in this very free. I'm trying to create something like a stream of imagination, of fantasy, of dancing. It can keep some meanings but I try to avoid the obvious ones.
IL: Though there is no certain or logic action one can still feel some storytelling in your films.
IM: Yes, sometimes.
IL: Do you think that the stories are still important for people?
IM: Story is important for people but they are able to watch the film without a story at the same time. If it's possible to catch some story it usually gives more pleasure to audience. Especially if the story is touching for them. Or funny. I prefer these two directions: funny or touching.
IL: You build a strong connection between non-sense-like content and jazz music. Can you describe what happens when you listen to jazz? Does it inspire you?
IM: The perfect model for creation is when I have music initially. It leads me to imagine, to dream of some characters, some parts of my synthetic world. I just listen and imagine some pictures. But this is not the only way of how I create my films. Another one is when I draw the backgrounds first, for example a seaside. I try to create such a picture which is cozy and beautiful and then I use this background as a place for a happening. I put some characters into it and give them freedom to do what they want. Then it becomes a kind of documentary. I just place there a camera and wait what will happen. At the end I shut it to some edition and show pictures from their life. It's like an excursion to my world for the audience.
IL: Do you work alone or share the creation in team?
IM: I am alone, without any staff. Some of the animators who used to help me ran away. Last four-five years I had only one animator from Belorussia who made good animation, good in my style. It is quite difficult to find animators who can work for me because my style is far from Disney. It's very different. I don't use fast, sudden movements with strong expression. So I'm alone.
IL: What are you working on at the moment?
IM: I have just finished my last six-minute long film Out of Play. There are three characters, old toys in the attic floor under the roof. The story... there is no story. And now I'm starting a new film closer to the style I preferred last years, like in Wind along the Coast, Rain Down from Above and Tides to and fro, so it will be again about see, about island, about sky, clouds and space.
IL: What is so special for you on these surroundings?
IM: Oh, I like these things in my life so this kind of space is a part of my general dream. This film has a story, it's about a lonely man who lives in a small island with his dog - maybe not dog, it's not obvious, but some pet - and he has a dream to get to another island, or maybe not island, but far from his home. He can see that place sometimes through the clouds or in the night. There is a small forest on this island and the man uses its trees to build a wooden bridge to his dream. He almost reaches it but suddenly he hears the voice from the sea, actually it's not a sea but clouds, because the island is a high rock and the top of it is surrounded by clouds. The voice from under the clouds cries for a help. The man uses a stairway to go down and finds there a big creature in a broken boat. He decides to give his bridge to this creature to sail away using it like a boat. When he returns to his pet and to the situation from a beginning he is happier. Because he helped someone.
IL: Does animation mean freedom for you?
IM: What is freedom? What kind of freedom?
IL: Any kind...
IM: I know many meanings of freedom. It may be in mind, it may be in space, in social situation... I can for example think about becoming free in financial questions. I got dependent on some financial structures because of doing my films and now I have troubles with it. I mean I was much freer before, when I was outside any financial commitments, when I only paid for my flat and that was all. So animation does not mean a financial freedom for me. But there are other kinds: psychological freedom. Maybe freedom in fantasy. Maybe the same in philosophy. And maybe freedom in communication. Freedom from frustrations. Now I have most of them.
IL: I'm asking this because of frequent reactions on your films from the viewers. Freedom seems to be the most accurate word to describe what's happening on the screen and at the same time what people feel when watching it. No press what should they feel or what should they get.
IM: Some films that were made by real artists have a message. It may be a message from the bottom of author's mind like sublimation of his internal problems - maybe some depressive trouble, some scaring experience - or it can also be some political or social message. I also have a message in my films. Something what is the most valuable, the most important for me. It's love, nature and harmony. My message has the same basis as that of depressive people who describe their dark problems. My "problem" is the will to follow the perfect nature, harmony and perfect love. I'm strongly trying to present this dream to the audience. I'm saying how beautiful might be the world, how beautiful might be the relationships and simple life. Without any progress, any industrialization and so on. Animation is not a freedom for me, because I'm not free from that idea.
IL: I understand. Thank you very much.
Žilina, 30 June 2011
This interview was realized with the support of Fest Anča, International Animation Festival. Ivan Maximov was a chair of its jury in 2011 and for this purpose he personally visited Slovakia.