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Filmmaker Interview with Kseni Avonavi

Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson

Filmmaker Interview with Kseni Avonavi
Filmmaker Interview with Kseni Avonavi

We reviewed (and loved) your short film Jack and Anna. What has the journey been like for that film?

It was a one-of-a-kind journey. “Jack and Anna” will always take a special place in my heart.

I have been working in the industry for several years. I started my career back in Russia, where I have finished a famous film school – VGIK, and I worked on different TV shows in Moscow for several years. I have been on so many sets, I worked with so many people. I cannot think of a more positive experience I had as a filmmaker than “Jack and Anna”.

It does not mean that everything went smoothly, and it was easy to make. Each production faces challenging situations, so “Jack and Anna” faced its challenges. From the development of the screenplay to finding the finances, locations, costumes – it came a long way. Most importantly, finding the crew and cast, and I can say that this film was made possible because of the level of professionalism and talent of people involved in the project.

I feel very lucky to have such amazing artists on board who helped me to bring my vision to screen that it’s no wonder we keep succeeding in our festival journey.

I was upset and scared when the pandemic situation happened because we were in the middle of our festival circuit, and I thought that it would be over for us. Now I am so grateful to the festival organizers for being flexible and being supportive.

We have been screening at the drive-in events and virtually. Deadline Hollywood has recently announced our selection at the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a big honour to make it to such a prestigious competition. Additionally, we received positive critic reviews and coverage in magazines. To me, it’s amazing to see how this project has started and where it is now. It’s pretty incredible.

What made you want to make Jack and Anna?

There was a strong emotional connection to the story immediately. Although, I do not have the exact same experience – I do know how it feels when you are judged for who you are, and you become an outsider of society.

Having this experience of oppression in my life allowed me to speak up about my pain through my characters.

Moreover, I am a strong believer that cinema is a powerful tool that can change people’s minds. We still see that this world has serious issues with LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and race issues. Our world is still full of intolerance and judgment. Through the “Jack and Anna” story, I hope to speak about this problem and make a positive change.

Set photo from Jack and Anna showing the crew filming a scene.
Set photo from Jack and Anna

What have you been up to since?

Besides my current work in Chicago, I have been actively participating in professional panels and Q&A since “Jack and Anna” is still in the festival circuit. Moreover, I have finally started working on a feature screenplay. It is always a process, so I am taking my time to develop a strong one. I would say that I have been busy all this time, and I am happy about it.

Who are your filmmaking heroes and why?

My heroes are people who face a serious life circumstance. They are trapped, and they need to fight for their freedom. They are strong, and they never give up. At least, they don’t betray themselves. Certainly, my personal experience is the biggest influencer of who my characters are, but also the movies that I loved from my childhood reflected on my heroes such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Piano”. There is always hope in my stories and a moment of social justice.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers?

Be patient and be a fighter! If you want to work in this industry, be prepared to know that it will not be easy. I think that this industry is one of the hardest ones. It’s very competitive, it’s really hard to break into, especially if you don’t have connections and the money. Additionally, the filmmaking process is exhausting: Working on a set long hours, day, and night, in cold and warm. This industry isn’t for everyone, but if you feel that that’s what you want, just follow your dreams. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up!

What's next for you?

As I mentioned before, I have started developing a feature screenplay. It’s not my first feature screenplay. The story is based on my personal experience, and I want to spend some time with it. I am happy that Savannah, who was my co-writer on “Jack and Anna” is on board. She’s a very talented and passionate person. I am excited to see how it will turn out.

Where can people see Jack and Anna?

Several festivals are screening “Jack and Anna” right now – BendFilm, SOHO, and Fayetteville. I hope that there will be more. We always share the information about our festival selections, screenings, and awards on our social media. People can follow us and stay tuned.

Jack and Anna in a darkly lit room kissing
Jack and Anna

What would you say if you were a dolphin?

I would probably scream. I would scream “Hey, people, this is our planet too! We have feelings, we speak, and we have families. We live in harmony with other creatures in the ocean. Could you finally do the same?”


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