Once a week, we’ll pick out one of Fancast’s many full-length free feature films to spotlight. Sure, you’ll check out the big stuff like Heaven’s Fall, A Hole in the Head and Clifford, but the smaller movies need shout-outs, too.
The movie of the week is The Ballad of Bering Strait, which tells us the story of a group of Russian teenagers who were introduced to bluegrass music by their teacher, which inspired them to actually form a band, name themselves after the Bering Strait, move to Nashville and do their best to become successful country music artists. Watch the film here, and then follow up on the lives of these young adults with director Nina Gilden Seavey.
Q&A with DIRECTOR NINA GILDEN SEAVEY
Q. What would you say to someone sitting down to watch this film for the first time, knowing nothing about it?
Nina Gilden Seavey: Be prepared to be surprised. Most people think they know stories about “making it as a band,” or what it takes to be an “overnight sensation.” They haven’t seen this film yet! If you’re not a country music film, be prepared to be doubly surprised by how much you fall in love with this band, their music, and these amazing characters.
Q. What inspired you to get involved with this band and make this film? How did you discover them?
Nina Gilden Seavey: I had a strong desire to make a music film and I am a great fan of country music. So I had contacted a few record labels to see who they were signing as talent and one day I received a call from Fletcher Foster, then-VP for Artist Development at Arista Records and he said, “We just signed a country music band from Russia, do you think there’s a film in that?” I flew to Nashville the next day and started shooting almost immediately when the band arrived in the U.S. to record their first album.
Q. How did the project come together? Was it difficult to get this film off the ground and into production? What were the major challenges?
Nina Gilden Seavey: This is a wholly independent film, meaning we had no initial broadcasters or funding entities. I began beating the bushes for any one who might have interest in Russia, in country music, in cultural exchange, anybody I could find who might listen. I was lucky to get connected to Len and Alex Blavatnik, who own Access Industries in New York, and they provided a lot of the financing. Later, Barry Rebo of Emerging Pictures came onto the project and brought NHK in Japan on as a co-producer. But I followed this band for 3 years, commuting from my home in Washington, DC to Nashville and Russia. So it was quite a commitment. But I knew a great story would emerge, and it did!
Q. How did they respond to being followed around by cameras?
Nina Gilden Seavey: I actually hadn’t even met most of the band members when we began shooting, so we literally met them when the cameras were already rolling and they got off the plane. At first, that is understandably such an odd dynamic. But after a few months of having us being around them all the time, they didn’t even know we were there, we became just part of the furniture, which is what a filmmaker wants.
The film was shot by the masterful Erich Roland who has one of the most sensitive, gentle touches in the business. So that made for a very intimate, true experience as it was revealed on the screen.
Q. Are there any particular scenes you like the best, or that you think audiences should really take note of?
Nina Gilden Seavey: I particularly like the scene near the end of the film in which Alexander, Spooky, and Sergei find themselves confronting their fate. I don’t want to give the circumstance away, but the audience gets such an amazing insight into their “Russianess” and the depth of their soul that is utterly captivating. Erich shot this scene so simply, very monochromatic, it is such a piece of art. I also love the last song of the film. It is an amazing surprise!
Q. How about any scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?
Nina Gilden Seavey: There is always technical challenges in shooting a large concert – which we did both at the Grand Ole Opry and at Wolftrap. But those are fun challenges for a filmmaker. From an emotional standpoint, the scene with Natasha after she “cuts her hair,” where she literally lays her soul bare, was the most emotionally difficult to shoot.
Q. Have you kept in contact with them? If so, have there been any new developments since you finished the film in their lives?
Nina Gilden Seavey: Yes, I still keep in touch as I can. The band is no longer together. Sergei went back to Russia but all of the rest of the band stayed in the U.S. Ilya is one of the most successful producers in Nashville. And he, Sasha, Spooky, and Alexander are highly sought-after session players, which, if you know anything about Nashville music is a testament to how highly accomplished they are. Natasha has had two solo albums out and Lydia continues to record, sing on albums, and perform both in solo and back-up live performances.
Q. What would you say is the overall message you’d like people to take away from the film?
Nina Gilden Seavey: It takes 10 years to become an overnight sensation. And those who continue to pursue their dreams, no matter how tortured the path and no matter how unpredictable the endeavor, will find their way to success, even if that success doesn’t resemble in any way, what you initially set out to do. Having your notion of success transform over time is one tell-tale sign of becoming a mature person.