[an error occurred while processing this directive] Weird Science
Moscow Times / Anna Malpas
Working on a shoestring budget, a pair of self-described anarchists make a film about a youth who undergoes an FSB experiment.

Fat, friendless and forced to wear terrible clothes by his grandmother, Alexei doesn't have much of a life. So when the Federal Security Service recruits him to take part in a mysterious experiment "to help Russian science," he signs on the dotted line.

Alexei is the hero of "Dust" (Pyl), an ultra-low-budget competitor in the Perspectives program of the Moscow International Film Festival. After being zapped by radioactive rays in a shady laboratory, he sees himself transformed into a muscular superman -- but only for an instant. From then on, he becomes obsessed with returning to that moment of happiness, at whatever price.

Shot on digital video for approximately $3,000, the full-length film casts non-professional actors in all but one of the roles. Director Sergei Loban and screenwriter Marina Potapova persuaded their friends to take part without getting paid, then used a vacant apartment and a struggling Soviet-era factory as free locations.
"One person was selling their apartment, and while it was on the market, they let us in to film," Potapova said Monday, sitting next to the film's director in a Moscow cafe. Scenes of the hero's workplace were filmed in a run-down toy factory called Progress. "They didn't pay any attention to us," Loban commented.
The film centers around the shambling Alexei. Played by Alexei Podolsky, he is a 24-year-old who still lives with his grandmother and makes model airplanes in his spare time. Initially a comic figure, his role becomes more and more tragic as the story goes on, culminating in a showdown with the doctor in charge of the experiment -- played by the film's only professional actor, Pyotr Mamonov.

"We are nothing: dust, atoms. I can prove that to you scientifically," the doctor says when Alexei begs him to repeat the experiment. He is doing a job that the state forces him to do, he explains, but he feels no pity since "the further we delve into the person, the less he exists."

The film features a perestroika-era song by the rock band Kino with the line "Our hearts demand changes," but the filmmakers didn't intend this as a political statement, they insisted. "We meant it more literally," Potapova said. She laughed when asked whether she thought the FSB carries out similar experiments, saying, "It wasn't our specific goal to show the brutality of the special services."

The duo are part of an experimental group called Svoyi-2000, which also includes the film's cameraman, Dmitry Model, who is married to Potapova. In the late 1990s, the director and screenwriter worked on a children's television show for ORT called "Up to 16 and Older," taking advantage of what Loban called a "time of troubles" to make programs that hovered on the edge of acceptability.

Both have experiences in dealing with the FSB. Potapova's husband was arrested after a 1999 election stunt, when protestors erected a banner reading "Against All" on the Lenin Mausoleum. The security service also contacted the duo's television bosses about some of their shows, saying that they were "propaganda for extremism," Potapova said.
The pair, who described their political beliefs as "anarchist," claim that they were fired from ORT for a nonpolitical offense. Potapova said they were dismissed after covering a disabled children's cruise down the Volga River without the expected hand-wringing. They made friends with the children and showed them jumping around wildly, which shocked television officials, who said that the pair could no longer work without strict supervision, she recalled.
Their next project is a film about "summer vacations," Loban said, adding that they haven't started shooting yet. But it won't be another zero-budget production like "Dust," Potapova explained. "We can't force people to work for free," she said. "We can't do it ourselves any more. It's just impossible."

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