In theory, I could have gone to various studios, but only as an assistant. There was no hope of starting out as a cinematographer. There were only five studios in Moscow, all belonging to the state. Two produced features; one, newsreels and documentaries; one, educational films; and one, animations. Not many films were being made at that time. A beginner could get stuck for several years as an assistant. I didn't want to go into feature films; working on The Steamroller and the Violin had left me with a taste of boredom. Tarkovsky was only a student then, and I had no idea that I had been working with a great director. Taking the same shot over and over again, all day long, was simply unbearable to me. Documentary film seemed much more lively and interesting, more suited to my personality. But the Documentary Film Studio, which produced newsreels and propaganda films, was a swamp; the films were boring and full of official clichés. And of course they had plenty of their own assistants, who usually took evening courses at the vgik. I realized that as an outsider, and a woman in particular, I would not be able to get into that male enclave.
Father said, ''Go and work in television. They're just starting up. It is always more exciting to be part of something new.''
And so I went. It was 1963. Television was part of a government ministry combining radio and television, the most powerful tools of Communist propaganda.
Documentary production was just starting. When I joined the studio, it had only two camerawomen.
The equality of men and women, which had been proclaimed as a great achievement of socialism, never was accepted in everyday life. Everyone was convinced that camerawork was not for women, and that prejudice was impossible to overcome. The cameramen treated their few female colleagues with mistrust at best.
All of the cameramen had been Father's students, vgik graduates, which did not keep them from being not only hostile toward me but sometimes even aggressively intimidating.
''Camerawoman? A female? She won't be able to handle it!'' they'd say.
Even those who never said a nasty word to me had a message in their eyes: ''Why are you pushing your way into our territory? What do you want?''
I began as assistant to Nikolai Minin. He was a good man but a rather mediocre cameraman. The only thing I learned from him was to catch his small 16 mm Arriflex. When he finished shooting, for some reason he simply threw it to me. After four months, I realized that the only way to get out of being an assistant for the rest of my life was to go on location somewhere no one else wanted to cover.
Just about that time, Volodya Azarin, a director, was planning to make a film in the Far North, on the Kola Peninsula, where a lot of mines and pits were located. Not exactly a resort.
I went. I did not try to create anything, only to observe what people did and how they lived. I went 480 meters down, in the elevators with the miners. Of course, the miners had no time for me. Water was gushing from everywhere, and I, dressed in oilskins, filmed them struggling with the dark, the cold, the pouring water, and the coal they had to hack out of the face of the mountain.
I worked with an East German, 16 mm nonsynchronous, semiprofessional, semi-amateur Pentaflex camera, which had a strange round motor attached. I used the motor as a handle. The technique did not differ much from the familiar 35 mm Soviet-produced Konvas, but this camera was lighter, allowed us to travel with a smaller crew, and, most important, was less obtrusive to the people we were filming.
I shot the picture. Volodya edited it, and, strangely enough, Literaturnaya Gazeta, one of the most prominent newspapers, reviewed it. The reviewer even commented kindly on the cinematography. Some of my colleagues just couldn't forgive that. My first job, and it was being praised by the press!
Fortunately, I went on maternity leave soon afterward and gave birth to my son, Seryozha. When he was five months old, I went back to work. By then, I had been given an operator's rating, which gave me the legal right to work as a cinematographer.
In looking back on my life in television, I see how varied it was. Not everything was great. I was a cinematographer and had to film what I was assigned. Selecting material, especially in the beginning, was impossible. With time, I learned how to find acceptable compromises. I understood that one can easily combine the pleasant with the useful. The useful was the daily newsreel; the pleasant was making films. And thus, combining both, I spent twenty-five years in television.
The first television studio in the ussr was on Shabolovka Street, not far from my house. It was very much like a film studio, but on a lower standard. Not many professionals had graduated from vgik. A lot of people were just passing through. Nevertheless, I recall those days as lively and creative. That is probably the case for anyone starting out. When we later moved to Ostankino, a huge thirteen-story complex that to me looked like a palace—everything spanking new and with all the latest equipment—work became even more interesting. We knew, of course, that there were some problems. The building had not passed the health code. There were rumors that the levels of radiation were too high, with no explanation of what type of radiation it might be. But in good Soviet tradition nobody paid any attention. People worked day in and day out. Life was very interesting and intense.
At first, practically the only story I had to cover was the opening of yet another cafeteria.
The television chiefs were not about to give a novice cameraperson, and especially a woman, anything more responsible to film. I also covered endless openings of art shows, each one worse than the next, all filled with socialist realist optimism. I also did conferences and meetings of representatives of the fraternal socialist states at the House of Friendship, dealing with the people's struggle against reactionaries and the forces of imperialism.
Every story was shot the same way: establishing wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups of the room, the speakers, and the audience. There wasn't much creativity in that, but I did get to arrange the lights to give depth to the space and illuminate the objects.
Our colleagues from documentary film laughed at us, for they were certain that they were doing real documentary work and we were merely degrading their lofty profession. But it soon became evident that it was just the other way around. The weekly show News of the Day, produced by the Documentary Film Studio, was useless and unwanted. We gave the real news every night on The Latest News, while the movie newsreels shot on 35 mm for theatrical distribution were a couple of weeks out of date. They had to rename their product to Chronicle of Our Days, but the audiences didn't want to watch it; they had become used to getting the news on television the day it happened. The 1960s saw the start of a new documentary coverage of news and opinions. I was lucky. I started my career in the beginning of the TV era, and in the Soviet Union my professional growth coincided with the development of television. I was in the right place at the right time.
Eventually I was given more responsibility to cover official stories. We used to call them ''parquet floor'' stories. I filmed meetings in high offices, the arrival of vips from foreign lands, government delegations, and Kremlin receptions. Once, when we filmed Brezhnev, he graciously shook my hand. Sometimes Galina Monglovskaya was filming events for the Documentary Film Studio. She was a beautiful woman, and Brezhnev always kissed her hand.
Doing a story on big official events, say, a session of the Supreme Soviet or a Party congress, had special quirks. All general shots had to be done in the first fifteen to twenty minutes. After that, participants would doze peacefully, which our millions of viewers were not supposed to see. The delegates slept because their average age was way over sixty, and the sessions were extremely boring. I had to get all the close-ups in the first few minutes—interesting faces, eyes filled with wisdom and sparkle. It was very hard to make such shots. If you didn't get them right away, you had to wait until after the lunch break when the delegates returned cheerful and ready to stay awake for at least the next quarter of an hour.
I filmed four Party congresses. We were always given pep talks by some official, telling us what important work we were doing and how to do it on an even higher ideological and artistic level. In response, we were filled with a sense of importance and responsibility.
When we covered the arrivals of vip guests at the airport, we had to get there two hours early or else we wouldn't be able to get in at all. The police set up roadblocks, and police cars buzzed around with sirens and blinking lights, escorting official cars with banners fluttering. We took up our positions. Three camera operators would be assigned, each in a predetermined location. We were not allowed to move around on the tarmac or in the arrivals area. We were supervised by the head of the Ninth Department of the kgb, which was responsible for the press. He was a rather amusing-looking but dangerous man named Comrade Kurnosov. Anyone who broke the rules would not be allowed to film official occasions and subsequently was demoted for an unspecified time.
The State Committee for Television and Radio treated its employees ruthlessly. It was a microcosm of the totalitarian system, with an exact copy of its hierarchy. The ordinary cameraman was subordinated to the chief cameraman, the chief cameraman to the department chief, the department chief to the studio director, and so on. At the top of the pyramid was a minister who reported to the big bosses from the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. They in turn, reported to Mikhail Suslov, the never-changing ideology secretary of the Party, the dreaded enforcer of the will of the Party and of the government. The most insignificant ''mistake'' was punished swiftly and cruelly. I remember when, due to an assistant's error, one of our leading cameramen used the same film cassette for two stories: once for a dog show, and the second time for the arrival of Premier Alexei Kosygin at the airport. The two events were superimposed. The cameraman was immediately charged with anti-Soviet activity.
There's another event I still recall with horror. I was filming Semyon Tsvi-gun, deputy to kgb chief Yuri Andropov. I was using color film. My assistant had loaded the cassette with daylight film without telling me, and I set the exposure for artificial light. Since the color temperature is different, Tsvigun came out blue like a corpse. The national Vremya newscast began at 9 p.m. Five minutes before the show, I got a call. Screams and shouts: ''Are you nuts? Why is your Tsvigun blue? This is anti-Soviet behavior!''
I spent a sleepless night, expecting terrible repercussions. I could be fired. I rushed to the studio at nine in the morning. I was expecting to be chewed out by Deputy Minister Georgi Mamedov. I wasn't called in. There were more important issues at hand. That day our troops invaded Afghanistan.
Another time, we were covering the arrival of French president Valery Giscard D'Estaing. I was again filming for Vremya, the main national news show, and two of my colleagues from the Foreign Service were supposed to put together footage for the foreign television companies. I got back to Ostankino and left my camera, certain that my assistant would unload it. The assistant did not. I got a call at 8: 45 that evening.
''Where is the material?
I quickly came up with a solution: ''Use the footage they have prepared for the foreign newscasts, and replace it with my material tomorrow. No one needs their stuff tonight.''
They followed my advice. Meanwhile I rushed to the studio and found the material in my camera. I got off the hook that time as well, but I was afraid that my luck wouldn't hold forever. We were in constant fear—and with some good reason. Several of our colleagues were always in trouble, stepping on hidden mines.
For all that, and in spite of all that hustle, it was rewarding to work in the news; it was an excellent training ground, a form of exercise. The story I had to film daily required mastery of the profession. We had to get the highlights of an event, cover it in real time, and usually tell the story within forty to ninety seconds. This challenge was interesting from a creative point of view, and it called for speed and good reactions; we had to build each shot neatly, so that it included all the main elements. A shot is like a word in a sentence; you can't use the wrong word.
We worked diligently. We made tests, which no one working with video does anymore. Even when we covered a very simple story, we went beforehand to check the location to see if lights would be needed, how much cable would be required, whether a generator would be necessary. The most ordinary gallery opening could take five or six hours to cover. The lights for each shot had to be carefully arranged. Shadows in the background had to be avoided—the skill of a cameraperson can be judged from the number of shadows behind the subject. If a sculpture was inappropriately placed, we did not hesitate to turn it. Some shots were staged. We would ask people to walk up to the paintings, look at them, and pretend to be talking about them.
In those days, the cameraperson had to be creative, as we had been taught at the vgik. People don't have that sense of creativity anymore—only docu-mentarians from the old school exercise their craft the way it was taught in those days. Today's newsreel camera people run around with their Betacams as if they were using a watering can. The actual process of filming has become so simple that only the most elementary technical knowledge is necessary.
Today the cameraperson shoots the story and rushes to the next assignment, in order to make more money. In our time we would go back to the studio after each filming. A screening room would be waiting, and we would review, discuss, and evaluate our work. This, of course, was part of our responsibility and obligation.
For me, it was very important to work on daily stories because it allowed me to keep a camera with me at all times. All the equipment, as well as the material and facilities, belonged to the studio. A private citizen simply could not buy anything like it on the open market.
In the system of total state control, there was one positive aspect: we never worried about financing. Not only did we receive a monthly salary, quite respectable for the times, but we were also provided with all the material we needed in our work. The government was always generous in supporting its ideological machine. Back then, we considered this to be normal. This was the Soviet system, and we did not know any other.
Such things have changed in Russia now and have started to resemble what has almost always been the practice in the West. Today's Russian filmmakers have to spend more time on finding the funding for a film than on making it. Many interesting ideas never see the light of day.
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