Trailer of documentary set in Russia ‘How to Save a Dead Friend’ unveiled

Swiss-based sales and distribution agency Lightdox has acquired world rights for ‘How to Save a Dead Friend’, the debut documentary by Russian filmmaker Marusya Syroechkovskaya.

‘Variety’ obtained exclusive access to the film’s trailer ahead of the film’s world premiere at Swiss documentary film fest Visions du Reel next week.

Shot over more than a decade, the film chronicles the love story between millennials Marusya and Kimi, and his descent into drug addiction against the backdrop of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rising autocracy.

The filmmaker was given her first video camera at the age of 10, and has never stopped filming the world around her since.

“It was my tool to make sense of everything that was happening to me, to explore the world,” she told ‘Variety’, speaking from Israel, where she and her partner have taken refuge since early March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I was protesting for many years: I went to anti-government rallies and, lately, to the anti-war demonstrations. My brother was arrested, my boyfriend spent time in prison for protesting. The authorities knew where we were, so it was just a matter of time before we would get arrested,” she says.

Her intention with her debut film was to share a message in the name of Russia’s “silenced generation”.

“Putin is trying to get control over the population through isolation: he isolates them from the rest of the world, which makes the country so much easier to control.

“Among other things, he gets rid of independent media, but what I wanted to reflect in the film is how this isolation and apathy affects the new generations. If it wasn’t for such an isolation policy maybe Kimi would have got help for his depression and his addiction.”

According to ‘Variety’, she and Kimi met at a grunge party in 2005 when Marusya was 16. Together they film the euphoria, anxiety and despair of their generation.

As Kimi’s drug addiction takes centre stage, Marusya’s camera becomes her last chance to save the memory of him. He died in November 2016.

“He wouldn’t let me help him,” she says.

“The only way I could was to be there for him. But it was very painful to watch someone you love destroy himself, so filming created this distance in a way: when watching things on a small screen, they seem less real for some reason.

She explains how she was able to bring herself to watch the footage a couple of years after his death, and realised there was a story to tell.

With the help of her production team she got in touch with director and editor Qutaiba Barhamji, who won an award in Venice for the best technical contribution for ‘Still Recording’ in 2018.

“I’m super lucky that he fell in love with this project: he is fluent in Russian, and he also gave this outside perspective that was so important because I was so involved and I knew too much about what happened,” she says.

There were 150 hours of footage to work through as well as many stills, shot on both film and digital, which the couple had taken over the years.

Editing started as the Covid pandemic hit, so with Marusya in Moscow and Barhamji in Paris, the process had to take place via Skype – it took six months, with a final session in person.

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