Six

It’s a thriller taking place in a WWll german prison labour camp. Five female prisoners on the eve of escape are facing a tough choice: to identify and give away the murderer of a guard officer to the camp directorate or to die on the gallows pole. The youngest one is the main suspect as she had been in contradictory intimate relationship with that officer. The five have few hours to make the decision. Most of the scenery is their barrack. We also can see their past in few flashbacks.
C’est une histoire de détective qui se déroule dans un camp de travail allemand. Cinq femmes détenues à la veille de l'évasion sont confrontées à un choix difficile: trouver et donner l'assassin d'un officier de sécurité à la direction du camp ou mourir sur le poteau de la potence. La plus jeune est le principal suspect car elle avait eu des relations intimes contradictoires avec cet officier. Les cinq ont quelques heures pour prendre la décision. La plus grande partie du paysage est leur caserne. Nous pouvons également voir leur passé dans quelques flashbacks.

  • Anar Azimov
    Director
  • Anar Azimov
    Writer
  • Elena Myroshnychenko
    Key Cast
  • Elena Novikova
    Key Cast
  • Iryna Lukashova
    Key Cast
  • Kateryna Kotova
    Key Cast
  • Galyna Sviata
    Key Cast
  • Liubov Tyshchenko
    Key Cast
  • Olexandr Nykonovych
    Director of Photography
  • Vlad Donchenko
    Sound Designer
  • Roman Bolharov
    Editor
  • Anar Azimov
    Music
  • Masha Grek
    Set
  • Yana Gatsenko
    Make-up artists
  • Nelli Gutsenko
    Make-up artists
  • Olexiy Shevtsov
    Keyboards
  • Yuri Hilkevich
    Gaffer
  • Siran Muidinov
    Steadicam
  • Galyna Gudz
    Wardrobe
  • Anar Azimov
    Producer
  • Victoria Lugovtsova
    Other cast
  • Sergey Kucheryavenko
    Other cast
  • Vlad Donchenko
    Other cast
  • Siran Muidinov
    Other cast
  • Sergey Ponomarenko
    Other cast
  • Alexandr Bondaruk
    Other cast
  • Michael Sirevich
    Other cast
  • Nadya Bachinskaya
    Other cast
  • Alex Rozvyakov
    Other cast
  • Bohdan Lyudvik
    Other cast
  • Sergey Pavlov
    Other cast
  • Oleg Wenger
    Other cast
  • Sofia Stelmakh
    Other cast
  • Nadya Loban
    Casting Manager
  • 9pro video
    Service production
  • Project Type:
    Feature
  • Genres:
    Thriller
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 8 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 28, 2018
  • Country of Origin:
    Ukraine
  • Country of Filming:
    Ukraine
  • Language:
    German, Russian
  • Shooting Format:
    RED
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Mind the Indie Film Festival
    Plovdiv
    Bulgaria
    December 8, 2018
    World Premiere
    Official selection
  • Fabrique du Cinema Awards
    Rome
    Italy
    December 15, 2018
    Best International Feature Jury Prize Nomination
  • Accolade Global Film Competition
    La Jolla
    United States
    May 29, 2019
    Award of Excellence
Director Biography - Anar Azimov

Born in 1969 in Baku, Azerbaijan. PhD in Philosophy (1995). British Council Playwright Course graduate (1999).

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Director Statement

In 2015, I watched a great film, Son of Saul. There was an amazing opening sequence shot, with the protagonist’s close-up; that he’s a prisoner in a nazi camp could be seen from his actions towards the evil environment beyond the frame.
Right away, I felt like I wanted to make a film about a Nazi camp with as many sequence shots as possible and nobody but prisoners in the frame yet the presence of evil felt.
Two years later, a concept spontaneously formed in my mind, which would become the script for Six.
A film about a Nazi camp without Nazis shown could be realistic if the entire story took place in a confined barrack space. To me, the confined-space film number one is 12 Angry Men.
Well, I wanted to make a film about 12 angry women. However, I only could develop five distinct characters.
So, five female prisoners on the eve of escape must identify who of them has killed a guard officer and give her up; otherwise, all the five are going to be hanged.
The story was being shaped and changed drastically while I was writing; it was only the final pages that I knew writing who killed whom and how.
Scripts I write turn out to be shooting ones from the very beginning; as a film writer, I invent scenes with frames, camera motions and cuts prescribed. Of course, multiple modifications are inevitable, first of all, due to location specifics; however, extremely detailed visualisation even as early as initial script writing does seem to me simplifying further work however much further modification is required.
Yet I wanted to try a different approach this time which I felt was suggested by the story specifics that envisaged shooting in a rather small confined space.
My early concept included the characters’ active movements and long takes; therefore, I only wrote key shots and travelling of the camera; I planned suggesting that the actors develop mise-en-scenes improvising at rehearsals while the DOP follow their ideas.

However, the main location we had managed to find as our “barrack” was so small that it was clear that improvisational approach would be impossible.
The five actors were to show complicated attitudes between their characters in a 4-to-15-meter space, whose substantial part was taken by plank beds.
Well, I had to detail frame after frame more and more. When time came for cartoons, I provided the cartoonist Constantine Stadnikov with the very same detailed shooting script I had planned to do without.
Yet “perfection has no limit”: not only does Constantine draw skilfully, but also asks exact questions where camera is in every frame. As a result, the script gained further visual details.
There was still much to go that way.
I had planned Stedicam before temporarily switching to the idea of rails when it became clear there would be more static shots than planned initially. However, the set proved too small for rails, which would have been seen in frame. So, my initial idea to use Stedicam proved the best available option, and 90 % of the film has been shot with it.
In any case, thanks to our steadicam operator Siran Muidinov’s expertise and fitness, the compromise remained slight even though we had to drop some ideas. One of those ideas was shooting from deep between the bed levels as the gap was not large enough.
One of the key moments in a character’s flashback is while she escapes from a german plane shooting at her. I planned she would run up a beach for the camera to follow her. However, the slope proved so steep that neither the actor nor the operator was able to perform it with a sufficient visual quality. So, we had to change the direction for the actor to run, which I think was a compromise against the planes’ direction in the previous shot; the lack of logic in this sequence could only be overcome in postproduction, through sound and 3D.
The scene ends with the character hiding under a boat; an attentive watcher can notice a small pit dug in sand before the boat for the operator to implement the zoom I wrote in the script.
There was a scene in the first version of the script as the characters are running a kind of investigative experiment recreating key events in the camp laundry they worked in before the murder.
I though it to be a kind of “cinematographic theatre”: the characters are building up the scene while their senior acts as the director.

However, there was no space for such scene on the set. Yet there were a table and two benches. This is how the scene with mugs was written: the characters put them on the table as themselves.

There were two large windows in the front wall, which proved a space-winning remedy to us as long as we could install almost all the lights outside.
However, this complicated the eternal problem - how to avoid cameramen’s shadow.
While the film includes so many long consecutive shots in a small space, the back wall mostly revealed the cameraman’s presence.
So, other solutions were sought. With mugs, we planned an arc shot characters around the table, but the shadow problem prompted me another idea: dollying in the mugs and then out, which seems to me more successful at the end of the day.
There were two main action parts in the barrack, before beds and around the table. The barrack being narrow, the characters’ spontaneous movements wouldn’t have looked logical. To dynamically use the entire set for action, every movement was to be explained and prepared both for the characters and camera.
I used my cellphone camera to develop shots and sequences; I used those videos as drafts rehearsing together with the DOP Olexandr Nykonovych and Siran Muidinov for the final cinematography.
In general, the set looked more comfortable than a convenient cinematic “Nazi camp”. For example, there was a potbelly stove; therefore, I’ve included a note into the film that the action takes place in a labour camp, where conditions could be different.
Well, the stove has become a vital element for the scenes and transitions; the sound of burning wood helped mask the camera and other noises while our sound director Vlad Donchenko collected part of final sound from the site.

This film has a lot about acting. Back to casting, we only had four hours and around forty candidates per role. How could the best choice be done under such time pressure? Many experienced and talented professionals attended (thanks to our casting-manager), who would easily have been able to prepare their homework for few minutes. Only some improvisation by theirs with minimum explanation of mine could help chose those who deeply felt the roles.

I think, even an auteur film is first of all actors’ one. The scope of acting skills is greater than that of direction, photography or production. There are so many nuances built on personality and current mood, that they are sometimes difficult to repeat take after take.
The six main actors divided in half in terms of their approach towards their parts.
Irina Lukashova, Lyubov Tishenko and Yelena Novikova accurately brought the written characters onto the screen.
Yelena Novikova had perfectly acted in my Short Story a year before. The part in Six was written specifically for her, and it was her I developed most of the scenes around.
The specifics of her part demand theatrical acting; it was important not to overact - a task particularly difficult given the predominance of close-ups and medium close-ups.
In contrast, the part by Irina Lukashova demanded the most reserved and quiet acting with a complex of emotions assumed and felt behind.
Lyubov Tishenko’s infernal character, a kind of skirt-wearing angel of death, also required reserved acting which hid the character’s mixed nature, cold and passionate at the same time.
In the other half of the main cast, Elena Miroshnichenko, Katya Kotova and Galyna Svyata offered their own interpretations which nevertheless matched the film framework.

Miroshnichenko’s part vacillates between feeling a passive victim and willing to control her life; yet the actor has obviously strengthened the latter.

Katya Kotova, in contrast, emphasises the bright side of her character in the film, who is negative in her actions.
Galyna has added a lot of eccentrics to her role, which has become the key emotional element tying both the characters and different parts of the set.
Overall, I tried to help the actors avoid excessive immersion into their parts. How could it be true? I think real immersion is possible when actors live their characters’ lives for weeks. In our case, it was impossible.
Three was a risk of illusive, or fake, immersion, which would appear unnatural, or excessive, as a close-up.
Therefore, I tried to joke often while on set for relaxation if environment seemed too theatrical. As the entire film was still theatrical, it was difficult to feel the right proportion between jokes and seriousness.
Yelena Novikova was the one who couldn’t be happy with my jokes since her character demanded a particular theatrical excessiveness and experiencing.
I communicated with the actors a lot through preproduction and production, again and again discussing both the characters and the film in general, which, it seems to me, proved a great contribution to the outcome.
I told them from the very beginning the script was not a dogma, and every line and a plot turn were open for discussion. Through our joint efforts, we have tailored every line; the story hasn’t changed, but, defending it from criticism without “this-is-my-auteur-vision” as an argument, I have reached better understanding the logic of every action or word in the script, or recalled my own explanations I had partially forgotten since writing.

Each in her own way, the actors adopted the “given circumstances”, or the historical and social specifics of their characters. They visited psychologists and read certain books. At the same time, since the film’s confined space likens it to a stage performance, we spent a lot of time rehearsing both on preproduction and right before shooting a certain a frame.

Supporting actors deserve their special acknowledgement. Their parts are silent with mimic to be paid attention. Their challenges proved were even more complicated because they were acting a kind of internal mini-films, or videos, somewhat conditionally depicting the main characters past with prerecorded music. It was important neither overact closeups nor look reserved, which could disguise the story. There were some improvisations as well: Oleg Wenger, “a KGB officer” coming to arrest Yelena Novikova’s character in her pre-war past a professor, lit a cigarette, which added some evil to his silent closeup.
Sergey Ponomarenko as a “gestapo officer” looking for his next victims murmurs a merry german song, which makes the frame even more menacing.

Probably, Sergey Kucheryavenko (a rapist Soviet army officer) and Victoria Lugovskaya (a country girl), whose parts part were, respectively, ones of farce and melodrama, faced the greatest challenge, which they successfully met having managed both to avoid crossing the thin and hardly visible border of overacting and to approach that border as close as needed.
In general, it seems to me supporting parts require individual stories even if acting on very wide shots only like in the short flashback with KGB arresting students. For “gestapo arresting a Jewish family”, a very wide sequence too, we’ve chosen Nadejda Bachinskaya, Bohdan Liudvik (yes, the very same guy :)). Mikhayil Sirevich, Alexander Bondaruk, Alexander Rozvyakov, Sophia Stelmach, and Sergey Ponomarenko, who matched each other and would have been very credible even if the entire film were about them.

Production took ten days. The schedule was tight and tense due to budget limits; furthermore, the main set was booked for another project to follow ours next day.
When a dozen and half frames emotionally exhaustive for the actors \ must be shot within a day in a room with concrete floor, but without heating (I did my best with the sequences, yet the actors playing the murdered characters had to lie on the floor in all the long frames), it’s very important to keep the golden mean between perfectionism and negligence.
I’m pretty sure the best is the enemy of the good; with three difficult consecutive shots with five murders to shoot during five hours, the cast’s emotional reserve is the greatest value to spend carefully. By the way, one of the most impressive I think shots in the film with a song sung was made within a single take.
Yet it was the only single-take shot while takes followed each other for other shots.
I’m going to write about the first of the three consecutive shots some later while we had to reshoot the other two in a day, with few rented hours left - well, most of the crew and cast but me disliked what the gun flashes had looked in the frame while my reason to give it another try again was quite different: I had decided to rebuild the finale as a parallel cut, which demanded a different way to shoot the pre-last frame as one can see it in the film.
The shooting order was determined both by the story to help the cast reach emotional conditions they needed to play; however, time to change the light schemes was the priority. The latter made it impossible what the actors asked for; they actually wanted to shoot the longest shots in the morning, when they were still fresh.
We were often lucky. We were lucky that the weather was sunny on the first shooting day. We were lucky on the last day. When Sergiienko offered adding some “blood” onto a murdered character’s prison robe, which was necessary rather emotionally than logically, but meant we would have to reshoot the final sequence shot, we did it, even though the DOP warned twilight, best for another exterior frame, was almost over. Well, we did miss the twilight, and finished the exterior filming just before the rain began, with fifteen seconds left on the camera memory card. We were lucky indeed!
However short of time we were, I never stopped the cast from watching the takes as I wanted them to understand their next frames better.
Long sequence shots with detailed camera movements I had prewritten were I think the best way to express the tension in a confined space. It could never work but for the DOP Olexandr Nikonovich and the steadicam operator Siran Muidinov.
While a film director could be compared to a composer, a DOP is a conductor, and our steadicamer was a pure orchestra-man!
It was our DOP responsible for right tasks given to the great gaffer Yuri Hilkevich and his team to provide the digital picture with cinematic depth.
Our DOP also added some beauty to some shots I hadn’t detailed enough, namely the lake view and a heavy ceiling in the village house. He should also be credited using on-shoulder filming to show the protagonist’s emotional shock in one of the opening shots as she walked through the camp at night.
Regarding murders, I wanted them to look simple rather than theatrical, which makes them unexpected for the audience and, therefore, even more shocking. So, I planned the camera motions for the murder assaults to stay off the frame.

With the camp supper scene, I have fulfilled my old dream as a director of a long static shot with people acting routinely. Yet the scene prepares the viewer to the culmination.

For the cutting, I provided the editor Roman Bolgarov with the detailed cutting script, yet he has managed to add his creativity to it. A jump-cut in the murder scene is his brilliant finding.

To me, a film becomes THE film after sound work is done. It’s been always a great pleasure for me to collaborate with the sound designer Vlad Donchenko. The film’s great sound is a result of his efforts.
An accomplished musician himself, he, together with the keyboardist Alex Shevchenko, has provided for the music I have composed to sound professionally.
Well, I still have a lot more to say about this film, but I don’t want to take your time anymore, my dear reader.