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Meet Mikhail Saburov

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mikhail Saburov.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was born in an industrial provincial city in Russia. My father, a son of factory workers, made his way from a police detective to a vice-president of a large company through one of the most unstable and criminal times in Russian history. No wonder he’s always been an adventurer. A trait he passed on to me.

From a young age, I would travel the world – Asia, Africa, Middle-East, Europe. Every year I would look forward to leaving my home and exploring a different place, a different culture. My parents would try to travel any chance they had – even if it’s just taking a car and driving to the nearby lake. And every journey, of course, had its own story, its plot moving from literal point A to point B.

My first involvement in the arts started with performing in a local theater later on becoming director’s assistant and eventually directing short plays.

Determined to transition into film, I moved to NYC and graduated from School of Visual Arts. Getting the first grasp of writing and directing crafts, I, however, lacked the insight into the business side of filmmaking. An opportunity presented itself when my second-year film, “Remember Us”, was picked up by an international sales agent and sold at Cannes Marche du Film, acquiring international distribution.

Since then, I have written and directed several award-winning short films in both Russia and the US as well as co-writing a feature film “Pressed” that participated in the 2nd round of Sundance Labs 2020 and is currently in development.

Two years ago, I relocated to Los Angeles to do MFA directing program at American Film Institute Conservatory. Graduating 2020.

Please tell us about your art.
I’m a writer/director. Born to a Russian family, I never doubted my heritage until recently my mother revealed to me that I was Jewish. Turned out, the ancestry was concealed through generations in fear of political repercussions. In a moment, the truth about who I thought I was flipped upside down. Yet, the reveal of my Jewish heritage didn’t make me feel less Russian.

When I would travel the world and acquaint myself with new cultures, I would be struck by how the same historical events would be perceived differently from place to place. Propaganda aside, each retelling of the event presented a slightly different shade of the truth.

That’s what my work is about – the different reflections of truth. I’m looking to portray complex characters whose intent, actions and ultimately consequences of those actions create a controversial context. I want the audience to walk out of the theater debating, questioning and reevaluating their own beliefs because as a filmmaker, I can only nudge the audience to ask the right questions.

I firmly believe that if the theme or message is to be received by an audience, it has to be wrapped in an entertaining narrative. That’s why I often try to write stories that mix different genres: mystery, thriller, drama and adventure.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
I think aspiring artists right now are in a much better place than we were even ten years ago. The ability to create content for little to no cost and the variety of avenues for its distribution are unprecedented. With the advancement of streaming services, plethora of film festivals and general demand for original content new voices continue and, hopefully, will continue to emerge.

That said, I believe that the biggest challenge for many of us is internal. Firstly, it’s fear of being unoriginal. I’ve known many talented artists who kept on looking for “that one idea” for years and never produced anything. We all want our voice to be unique, our ideas new, but I don’t believe filmmaking works like that. What makes a voice original is the execution of a theme not the theme itself. There is a reason why the same stories play again and again through decades. What sets them apart is the personal rendering of the author – their “vision” that is realized through the craft.

That brings me to my second point – fear of not being good enough. How many of us threw that half-finished script in the drawer because “it’s just not working. Let me start again like this…”? Often that happens because the standards we hold ourselves to are sky-high. The ability to turn off that internal critic is paramount. Self-doubt is always there but it should not interfere with our profession.

I was once given advice that changed my whole approach to writing. I was complaining about a writer’s block to my professor when he said to me, “Your problem is that when you write your first draft – you are trying to write the best version of the story. That’s why you’re constantly stuck. When I sit down to write, I write the worst possible version of the story. You can’t get stuck if you do that”.

And it’s true. You can’t.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
One of my older shorts, “Remember Us” is available on Amazon Prime. It’s a gritty sci-fi set in a dystopian world. Even though it’s been five years since its release, I believe that the idea of what would happen if our memories could controlled by the government is still more than relevant.

I’ve just finished a new short called “Bound”. It’s a four-minute piece shot by an incredibly talented cinematographer and my dear friend, Saulius Lukosevicius. He was recently featured in your magazine as well. It’s a story of a man who, when leaving his ancestral home, has to confront a childhood trauma in an attempt to cope with his own mortality. It was Saulius’ personal story and I truly believe we were able to translate his experience to screen. It’s currently starting festival circuit.

I’m also in post-production of my thesis film “Like Us” aiming to start its festival circuit in the fall. It’s a story of a lonely woman who saves an alien that cannot experience emotions. As she tries to teach it what it means to love, she discovers that you can’t teach what you don’t know yourself.

There are also trailers and stills from some of my films on my website.

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Image Credit:
Mikhail Saburov

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