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Direct speech

“On February 24, I realised that the house was no longer there.” Director Roma Liberov about life in exile


Roma Liberov is a film director who devoted many years of his life to preserving and popularising the creative heritage of poets and writers.

Media Loft correspondent Katya Kobenok talked with Roma about creativity in exile, idols, and whether the projects of anti-war Russians can stop the war.

- You left Russia before the invasion. When did you realise that you had to leave and why?

- It was clear to me that there would be a war. I could not predict that it would happen in this form or with such atrocities. But something terrible has been happening since 2014; all this was expected.

Two years before leaving, I realised that I had to leave; it took a year to complete all our affairs. And on January 21, 2021, we left, but continued to come home.

- Where were you on February 24 and how did you take the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

- Since I left a year before the war, I was already expecting something terrible. I asked different people to dissuade me, to tell me that I was stupid, naive and that none of the terrible things I was waiting for would happen.

On February 24 I was in Tel Aviv. I woke up early in the morning at 06:00 and saw the news.

I realised that everything had begun and that it was irrevocable. And almost immediately I realised that I would never return home and that there was no home anymore.

- How loud do you think the anti-war voices of Russians are on the world stage?

There are activists, there are attempts to unite - this is the most important thing we must do now.

Unfortunately, everyone argues endlessly with each other. And this happens in all emigrations. Alas, we were no exception. In general, we are the main threat to ourselves.

But, of course, there are real heroes, both among those who left and among those who remained. There is the energy for resistance, but it is not sufficient yet. And the voices of individual Russians, of course, are heard more than others. The voices of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Garry Kasparov, and Sergei Guriev are heard.

The voices of individuals, not organisations, are heard most. Vanya Noize is heard and has become simply a hero of the new era. The voice of the fragile Lisa Monetochka is heard. And how the voice of Maxim Pokrovsky sounded! Many voices are heard. And among those who remain, these voices are heard.

- What could you say to anti-war emigrants from Russia who are now speaking out against the war?

- Now the sixth military emigration is taking place. I would suggest not to quarrel, I would suggest helping each other. I would suggest trying not to refuse anything to each other, although this is very difficult. I would suggest being more sensitive to each other.

Such banal things that no one will listen to anyway, because, as always, everyone thinks first of all about themselves.

After all, joy can be shared, but grief cannot be shared. Although it’s worth trying to share the grief among everyone. Maybe it will be more portable this way.

- Let's return to censorship in Russia. Why do you think some - even many - Russian artists are now working for Putin?

- “There are few real violent ones, so there are no leaders” (Quote from the song of V. Vysotsky - editor’s note). There are open scoundrels, there are people who are openly attracted by the smell of blood, who openly follow this smell. There are people flirting with [the Kremlin].

How many have seen the news about the rules of conduct for the SVO, which were announced by Ivan Okhlobystin? (At the end of April 2023, a series of cartoons called “ABC of the SVO” was published on YouTube, in which a character with the voice and appearance of Ivan Okhlobystin explains how to dig trenches, storm buildings and conduct street battles - editor’s note).

But there are still a large number of artists in Russia who are also horrified by what is happening. For one reason or another, they cannot and do not want to leave. There are people who decided to stay - and that is their choice. They decide whether to talk to those who support government policies or not. It's all complicated, every move is difficult. It's difficult to leave. It's hard to stay.

- Are you able to be creative while in exile? Tell us about your creative process. And what inspires you?

- I don't feel  at home. It’s not that I feel weaker, but I certainly miss home. And when there is no home, there is no foundation.

I have a large number of projects that are very important to me, my head is full of what could be done. But all my opportunities have diminished, if not disappeared altogether. That is, it has become much more difficult to link an idea with the opportunity to implement it. This is also a financial opportunity, which is the most acute now. Therefore, in this sense, I cannot yet do everything I want.

In particular, the war interrupted work on the film based on the works of Daniil Kharms. And I cannot bring this work back to life at the moment.

To “keep my pants up” I actively give lectures and host film screenings. It's a great distraction. This is not what you need to do, but thank you for at least this.

I never refuse lectures, they are also important to me. But then my attention is focused on preparing new performances instead of doing something big, creating new pictures or doing new projects.

And yet, I try. And there is a project that we did entirely in exile - “After Russia”. This is a huge job that was carried out by our team, and it was a success. And I hope that my other plans will also come true. And most of all I want the opportunity to achieve them.

- Who are your idols and what inspires you now?

- Inspiration is a word for lovers. My teachers said: “Any person can do something once with talent or even genius. The problem is learning how to repeat it.”

I don’t really like to deal with my inner world, although this is the main subject for a modern artist. The modern artist has been looking inward for many years. I was lucky not to fall into this loop. And I turn to others, and others are full of examples and sources of life.

As my favourite writer Andrei Platonov said, “all art lies in going beyond your own head, filled with liquid, pathetic, tired matter.” I am very lucky because I manage to go beyond my own head.

It is very important for the producer (Roma is also the producer of his films - editor's note) to maintain lightness and freshness. However, this is important for everyone. But especially for the producer.

- Tell me, who is your favourite director?

- Of the living Russian directors, the most interesting to me is Alexander Sokurov. There are his works like “Faust,” which I went to the cinema five times to unravel the mechanisms by which it was made. Although this, of course, is an unsolved story. I went to the cinema several times to see La Francophonie. I haven't seen The Tale yet, but I'd really like to.

And there are a multitude of foreign directors. They simply stun you with their mere existence.  It's enough just to name the most famous names like Quentin Tarantino,  Lars von Trier, or the Coen brothers. But there are many more of them than these well-known faces.

My favourite non-living director... One of my favourites. Louis Malle. I have always wanted to organise a Louis Malle festival in Moscow. I am fascinated by his work.

It’s through his work that I understand that I could never do that. Just by virtue of the device itself, you shouldn’t be able to do that, no one should be able to do that. Louis Malle and his reverent, lively works - “Will-o’-the-wisp”, “Goodbye, children”.

Well, how can you miss “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Milos Forman...

- Which film, of those that you have shot personally, is your favourite?

- The answer here is extremely simple. My favourite of our creations is, of course, the last pre-war work, which is called “The Hidden Man”. I hope that someday we will return to this creation based on the works of Kharms, and I can say with a clear conscience that now this is my favourite piece of work.

- Why “The Hidden Man”?

- Because it is the last in time, because there we reflected what we knew how to do at the moment of composing this picture, what we were thinking about, what our hearts were hurting about. There are incredible episodes and there is all my fear of what will happen - and then I already understood everything about what could happen. And after finishing this picture and finishing the release of the album “Save My Speech Forever,” I just left the country.

- Where do you live now?

- I don’t live anywhere, I don’t have a place to live, I don’t know what it will be like.

A few days ago I flew from Belgrade to Rome and have now left for the Italian mountains, where I am sitting and working. From here I will go with lectures to Prague, Munich, London, Oxford, Georgia, Krakow, Warsaw, Vienna, and Paris. That's why I don't live anywhere at the moment. I don't have a home anywhere.

- But is there some city in which you want to create?

Beloved friends are in different cities. And it is very important for me to see them. This is vital for me. But I would like to live and work in London.

By: Katya Kobenok

Photo materials from Facebook of Roma Liberov