Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Oksana Kazmina has devoted her life to the art of cinema. In between teaching her Sight & Sound filmmaking course and visiting documentary film festivals in her native Ukraine, she sat down with The Argus to discuss what’s on her bookshelf (and in her video library).
The Argus: What’s on your bookshelf? What have you been reading lately?
Oksana Kazmina: I’ve started reading Umberto Eco, “The Name of the Rose.” I’m just on the first hundred pages. But basically it’s about philosophical questions of religion. What is your life, what is your attitude, what is good and what is bad in a person?
A: Do you like to read philosophical books?
OK: Yes, because [philosophy] inspires me. I cannot say I’ve read too many books on the subject, but I especially like to read contemporary philosophers because now it’s really this postmodern era where things have changed a lot. We’re really surviving drastic changes in perception of what is actually history. Does it exist in the same way we perceived it before? What past and future are, what they do to the present, what the present is…a lot of things about that. And actually, contemporary American philosophers do a lot in this field. The philosopher who really inspires me now is Hans Gumbrecht. Now I’m exploring his works, and “Our Broad Present” in particular.
A: What are your favorite books about filmmaking and the art of film?
OK: I found a really nice book by Michael Rabiger. He mostly does documentary films, but I’m outlining his approach when working with students. He describes the director in the context of professional skills, human skills, emotional skills, through means of art and the perception of the world around them. [He also describes] what cinema is overall, not just in a technical perspective, but in the perspective of message or a form of art. I think the books by him are very helpful. He has books about cinema and also about documentary. Next semester I’m going to teach an Introduction to Documentary class, and so I’m going to apply his method for that as well.
A: Which filmmakers do you admire the most?
OK: I have a lot of them, and they change from time to time. There was a period where I was really fond of Leos Carax. He’s a French director. He’s done very few films, not a lot, but he’s done a film every time he is in love with somebody. The last film he did, “Holy Motors,” was devoted to his wife, who they think committed suicide but nobody knows [for sure]. They just found her dead, and she had had long-term depression before. I’m also fond of Jim Jarmusch, and the Coen brothers.
A: Which directors, films, and/or TV shows have you been really impressed by lately?
OK: During the last month, I’ve had a few good impressions [of directors]. The first one was Mike Leigh, an English director, and about his approach, how he works with actors. I was really impressed by his film “Bleak Moments.” It’s very slow, very calm, and very deep drama. When you watch it, it seems like you are living life with the characters, together. It’s so fragile, and so intense in this fragility. It’s nothing that goes to you directly in messages; it’s just how everything is arranged, how actors leave and exist on the screen. You are just following them, and you don’t think about what will happen or what you’re watching. He has a very original approach with working with actors. He never has them learn lines or dialogue, he just creates some situations, and they go through hours and hours and hours of rehearsals. And then the actors find [their characters] and how they will behave in front of the camera. He never tells directly what you should do, he just puts you into some situation and lets you live there.
I was also impressed by the script of the TV series “The Fall.” It’s an English TV series about a detective in Ireland who investigates a serial killer. She’s a woman in this totally male world. But the way the men are described in the script is so feminist. [The detective’s] approach towards the men and her attitude to sex…she uses men in the way that men always used women. Like, just fuck for one night. When she does it to men, and everyone around her thinks she has bad morals, she always replies, “But you do the same, why can’t I?” It’s Allan Cubitt who’s the director.
And then of course, Paul Verhoeven and his film “Elle,” which was at the Cannes Film Festival.
A: Any documentaries or documentary filmmakers?
OK: One of them is very well known, Joshua Oppenheimer. His film, “The Look of Silence,” is about these Indonesian killings. I love his approach, how he reveals the truth, how he makes the characters tell the truth, and how he plays around with what’s real and not real. He arranges his film in a way as though it’s a film within a film. And people are acting there as though they are actors in some show. He is an eye doctor, and he goes around from place to place, checking people’s eyes and asking questions about the killings. And then once they’ve admitted to it, he tells them that it was his brother who was one of the people murdered.
There’s another documentary, “Thy Father’s Chair.” It’s about two Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers who are twins, and they have an apartment in Brooklyn. They just lived there for years, and they never threw away anything. They just keep everything in, and also they house homeless cats. The person who is renting the second floor is arguing with them and saying that he will never pay the rent if they do not clean the place. They had to bring in someone to help them because they couldn’t clean the place themselves. The whole film is about arguments around small things, things they should throw away but they feel like they can’t. There are some creepy moments because it’s these two creepy guys in an old house with old stuff inside, but the film was done with such love to the people, and to people’s histories, and to people’s stories. It reveals this very deep tragedy, in the fact that you just cannot get rid of some things. Nothing in it was simple; I like those kinds of films.