7 short feature films about the life of Ekaterinburg in the early 20th century
The project The City of Seven Stories came into being as a way to tell about the history of Ekaterinburg through cinema lenses. Close-up shots, dramaturgy, characters, and urban locations: we wanted to show the city as vividly and emotionally as possible, at the same time demonstrating the museum’s collections and telling the stories that are contained in our holdings and collections. The project was conceived as a series based on seven epochs of Ekaterinburg's history. We decided to start from the era of the late 19th–early 20th century. On the one hand, this time was a bit similar to our modern age in spirit. On the other hand, this period is already long gone and is a stark contrast to what we have now. The series was also launched as a way to draw attention to the newly opened permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of Ekaterinburg from 1781 to 1917.
Every stage of the project relied on engagement of citizens. First, the city residents studied the history of Ekaterinburg and the fundamentals of drama with the help of Maria Kontorovich, a local playwright. Since everything took place against the backdrop of the pandemic, an entire educational series about the city of that period was also filmed. In addition to lectures by experts, interesting facts, and stories, the participants watched the specially filmed course called Living History about stories of everyday life, fashion, traditions, and the life of citizens from various social classes.
Over a hundred applications were submitted for the screenwriting course. As a result, 30 participants were selected. In the course of their studies, they wrote 21 scripts. All scripts have gone through the public reading process. Seven of them were selected for film production. Then another admission was announced, this time for producers, directors, make-up artists, and other cinematography professionals and amateurs. Moreover, both individuals and creative groups could apply. One group was the team with the self-explanatory name Sharp-Witted Enthusiasts who shot the film Vitrum. At first, there were four of them. A few months later, the team numbered about thirty people, not counting the actors. Curiously enough, the project brought together volunteers not only from Ekaterinburg. Enthusiasts managed to work on the film remotely from eight cities—from Vladivostok to Dubai—and from four different time zones.
Before filming, an acting audition was announced. Several hundred applicants from seven to seventy years old, including professional artists, took part in the casting, though there were no allowances for the experience. And then each team worked on their own schedule, choosing outdoor scenes, obtaining sophisticated costumes, negotiating filming in historical interiors and in the streets, recording soundtracks in a sound recording studio, and overcoming plenty of technical and organizational problems. These amateur short films were taken pretty seriously: make-up, filming sets, light, sounds, editing. And this was despite of near-to-nothing budgets: the only motivation was the love for cinema and Ekaterinburg.
The shooting took place in historical places that have preserved the atmosphere of the turn of the 19th–20th centuries: in the building of the Ekaterinburg History Museum, in the house of V. L. Metenkov, in the house of I. N. Makletsky, and in the garden of P. Ya. Kharitonov. Authentic artifacts from the holdings of the Ekaterinburg History Museum and from private collections, as well as artifacts of the museum's partners, were used as props, and participants had to find them on their own. At the same time, the project partner, the Manifest 16 Foundation for Independent Cinema, helped the participants with film equipment and other resources.
The project resulted in seven films that were very different both in terms of their timing (from 7 to 20 minutes) and plots. The Provincial Decadence is a story of unrequited love and the first train wreck in Ekaterinburg. Vitrum is about the love of a haberdasher's son for a merchant's daughter and about Ural emeralds. The Needle is another story of the vicissitudes of love in the era of imperfect gramophones. The Lemonade tells the story of one day in the life of the famous artist Vladimir Kazantsev. The Divination is filmed with a humorous undertone and is about the advantage of prejudices. The Gnome is a film about the first satirical magazine that criticized the royal power. The Provocateur is about the history of the 1905 Square.
The films were premiered online on the E1 portal, where they were watched by more than 200,000 people. In addition to the online premiere, the films were also shown on the big screen in the Premier Hall cinema chain.
The project also had its own tendering procedure. The jury panel was chaired by the famous director Aleksey Fedorchenko. The film crews and actors received their own Ural-style Oscars.
The entire project implementation process is shown on a dedicated website. On the same website, you can also watch the resulting films.