Daria Geller presents her newest short film, Everybody Knows, a political and social commentary on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The concept, which was “burning to be released”, contains beautiful cinematography that encapsulates the brutal truth of the situation through detailed imagery and metaphors.
Discussing the personal and social motivations behind the creation of the film, the Israel-based Russian filmmaker shares with us the process she took to create Everybody Knows, through which she hopes to commemorate the victims of this conflict, those who still live in fear today, and the voices of those who have been silenced.
Congratulations on your recent short film, Everybody Knows. It tells a heart-wrenching and powerful story about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its larger effects on the world. What was the process of putting together a project like this that was so personal to you and to your identity as someone who was born and raised in Moscow?
The idea came into my mind after the war broke out and was burning to be released. It was my way of coping with the guilt, the surprise, the identity questions, and my attempt to understand the meaning of words like justice, evilness, responsibility.
It seemed poetic and different, so I hoped that a new form would bring new ears to the problem. Without being able to find the right sound, Leonard Cohen came to mind. I decided to create music for it with the amazing musician, Roi Keidar.
With the song in mind, we moved fast. The team was mostly Russians, new immigrants, a few Ukrainian and Belarusian artists, and a few Israelis – all amazing filmmakers. I felt a lot of responsibility to make it right.
This community of filmmakers who had fled the war was actually quite large and still growing. When the war first broke out, my partner and I helped who we could to get out, and some came to Israel. As others started to arrive in Tel Aviv and different parts of the country they would write to me. At first just a few friends of friends, but soon complete strangers as well - in their hundreds, then later, in their thousands.
Today, the Telegram chat that we created with only 25 people in March 2022 has over 1,000 members. Ultimately, many of those who worked with us on this project, we first met there and on set. I was honestly blown away by the number of people who stepped up to participate and lend their hands and voices to this message. It helped me a lot in actually bringing the project to life.
You have much experience creating commercials, short films, fashion films, music videos, and projects of the sort. These films have been affiliated with big brands like Adidas and Clean Bandit, projects of which you’ve been recognised for internationally. How did Everybody Knows differ from the other videos that you’ve worked on and did your perspective on directing change after completing this project?
Yes, I was a cinematographer on the projects you mentioned. Working on more commercial productions or music videos means that you have a brief to follow, with a clearer direction of what’s required of you.
Everybody Knows is something else. You may call it a passion project in the sense that I felt necessary to bring it to life. It’s a short film, a music video, and a political action - special in every way for me, completely independent and created from head to toe with no one to scream at you from the top. [It’s] pure art to my mind and unity with the team.
Through Everybody Knows, you sought to provide a commentary on how the tragic events between Ukraine and Russia not only affected the two countries but changed society. What is the message you hope viewers take away from your film?
I’m open to everyone taking whatever message they wish to take. The video is not meant to be a moral lesson, nor a way to redeem ourselves. Everybody Knows is a reflection of the messed-up world we live in, where the very concept of truth has become debatable. This has been a long-standing issue in Russia, where the individual never mattered to the collective and where the State has trained its comrades to never question the lies they’re fed. I just hope to spark a conversation. We can’t live outside of the context.
The lyrics of the song sum it up precisely: “Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied” and then of course ”Everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long stem rose. And everybody knows” - Leonard, bless his soul, said it all.
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The cinematography of Everybody Knows is stunning. The metaphor of the naked man laying down as a symbol of accepted fate is very clever, especially using the crowd as the conscious society watching as it all happens. I have some questions about choices that were made in the cinematography of the film. In the latter half of Everybody Knows, the camera spans upwards toward the sky, where we see three flocks of birds that are morphing and breathing together as if they are three larger entities. Do you have a specific meaning to this visual aspect of the video? And could you speak a little more about it?
The video is shot on 16mm film and to be honest some thought we were crazy to do so, as it's an independent project, and there are no film development labs in Israel. But I was adamant that it had to be shot on film. We were lucky to have a talented Belarusian colourist named Andrey Garny who worked his magic on the film grading. He was super invested in the project and played a crucial role in achieving the look and feel I was looking for– a darker, dream-like landscape. And of course, we were also very lucky to have Vladislav Zalivanski, who bravely agreed to everything and whose face expresses so much pain and silent acceptance of his fate, as the lead actor.
As for the birds, they’re the last thing the man sees as he lies there, un-moving, ready to die for nothing – he sees these birds flying free and can still somehow imagine that it’ll all be fine, a last and final lie that he tells himself.
I wanted to speak about the ending. There’s a giant man who grabs the naked man, and it appears as though he eats him. This is to metaphorise the reality of being simply used as a resource instead of being uplifted by the powers that be. After viewing Everybody Knows, I noticed a slight resemblance between the giant man with real life players in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Was this an intentional choice in the casting process? If so, could you speak to that choice? And if not, could you elaborate on your view of the ending and its significance to you as the film’s director?
There is indeed a resemblance! But we purposely left the monster as an imperfect match with no extra VFX, so that the story didn’t become just about this one conflict and this one figurehead.
For this shot with the hand, we set up a green screen on location and captured the actor's hand in composition with the background of the actual place. The real challenge came with managing the lighting transition. We had a team of four people holding a rope tied to a massive black cloth, covering a seven-metre hole in the ceiling. The location also played a huge role in the framing. It’s an old funeral home in Tel Aviv, which I had in mind from the very beginning. And the hole at the top is what led me to think of the hand shot.
An important part of the message of Everybody Knows is that we should not have to fight to hear the truth when papers like Pravda (which literally means truth in Russian) and the government often spread lies and market them as the truth. How did you incorporate this idea into your creative process when directing Everybody Knows?
The film shows how we are nothing to the system. We are actually just a part of it, and we are being led blindly. The lies and propaganda are one of the instruments of any State to do so. This film is a mirror of what is happening. We don’t have to blindly trust any narrative that promises us a simple truth if we’ll only listen and never question it.
I don't know what to do myself, but I know that it’s important to encourage yourself and your children to always ask questions. Nothing else will bring change or find your way through lies. Hopefully this kind of content will spark a conversation.
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Furthermore, you worked alongside other established artists who had fled their respective countries. These individuals may not have had a direct connection with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but there are definitely parallels between each of their experiences and the stage at which they were at during the inception of this short film. How did you go about making sure that their voices and their stories were also included in the larger message of the short film?
Most of the crew are established artists who have had a direct connection with the Russia-Ukraine conflict - most of them are immigrants who have arrived since the war broke out in 2022. I don’t know if the film includes everyone’s stories, but maybe it shows this mutual feeling of disbelief, guilt, fear, anger, injustice.
Plenty of artists and public figures fear for their safety in speaking out against the war. Many have had to flee – and my own friends and family have ended up in Georgia, Turkey, Germany, Armenia, and Israel. Those who are still inside Russia face the most danger in speaking out, but even for those who have left our first instinct is often to be afraid. This fear then hardens into apathy, and only the system gains from the silence that follows.
And lastly, what was the biggest lesson of this project?
The biggest lesson I took is to allow myself to act solely on instinct. If it feels right, then it’s right. And it’s okay if someone reads the film wrong or if it’s not telling a full story on the subject– I can’t hope to capture the entirety of the complex, horrifying truth, but I can try to understand what I feel about it and shed light on that particular part of the larger truth.
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