The theme of this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival (PEFF) is “Sense of Place” and filmmaker Andrea Odezynska takes us to the Kyrgyz republic after the break up of the Soviet Union.
Ms. Odezynska’s 30-minute documentary, Felt, Feelings and Dreams, follows a small group of women in the former Soviet Republic who pull themselves out of poverty by reviving ancient feltmaking traditions. It celebrates their taking control of their lives against a dispiriting backdrop of unemployment and alcoholism.
“Making this film was quite the adventure,” says the filmmaker, who hails originally from Philadelphia and moved to Princeton some five years ago with her husband, a research scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “The women really moved and inspired me. They are gatekeepers of a culture that is fast disappearing.” According to the film, one in five Kyrgyz women become migrant workers in Russia, working in menial jobs to support their families back home. As is pointed out, sometimes the best way forward is to embrace the past.
The film moves from scenes of external urban squalor to interiors such as the one shown above: timeless images, rich in color. It’s no surprise that Ms. Odezynska’s work been praised as “beautiful” and “iconic.” If her films have a common thread, it is the depiction of ordinary women doing something hard and succeeding. “Cross cultural backdrops and a reverence for ‘old’ traditions and beliefs can also be found throughout,” says the filmmaker whose earlier documentary, The Whisperer, focused on a personal journey to rural Western Ukraine where she encountered a local village healer. “Water meets wax, words are whispered, and my life was altered forever,” says Ms. Odezynska of the experience. Ms. Odezynska’s parents were immigrants from the Ukraine and another of her films, the comedic Dora was Dysfunctional, a story of unrequited love set in Los Angeles, incorporates an ancient Ukrainian love spell.
Ms. Odezynska, who teaches aspects of filmmaking for both narrative and documentary film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, learned her craft at The American Film Institute in Los Angeles, from which she graduated with an MFA. She also has a bachelor’s degree in theater from Bennington College.
A friend from Bennington who is now artistic director of the Yara Arts Group in New York City and who travels extensively in the East collecting folklore, invited Ms. Odezynska to travel to Kyrgystan as a filmmaker. Ms. Odezynska has created close to 20 short films for the New York City-based experimental theater company which also support this documentary. Other funding came from two New York State Council on the Arts grants.
Ms. Odezynska and cinematographer Georges Khamicki first traveled to Kyrgyzia in 2008 to shoot the film for which she was keen to get beyond the process of making felt. “Women are the underdogs in this society and making these traditional felt rugs or ‘shyrdak,’ is connecting them to the rest of the world.” One of the film’s subjects, a woman named Kenje, has traveled to Budapest and Paris to show her work. While she works, Kenje shares stories such as the secret of felt as discovered by shepherds on their way to the high pastures (wool, sweat, and walking).
After returning home with her footage, Ms. Odezynska added dramatizations of folk tales as well as Kyrgyz proverbs such as: “If you don’t want to make felt, don’t come to our feast.”
Of her eight years as a filmmaker, Ms. Odezynska says: “I focused on documentaries as a way to keep my hand in while my children were young and you’ll find that there are quite a lot of women film directors simply because it works well around the ‘mommy track.’” Ms. Odezynska’s 11-year-old twins attend Princeton Charter School.
“Very few people have been exposed to the remote, harsh, and stunning world of Felt, Feelings and Dreams,” says Ms. Odezynska of her film. “Particularly in this global economic downturn, I feel audiences will be inspired by the courage of the women in my film. I know I was.By Western standards, they have so little material wealth, yet, I left Kyrgyzia feeling that they have something precious that maybe we have lost.”
Felt, Feelings and Dreams screens on Sunday February 3, as part of the 2013 Princeton Environmental Film Festival which opens Thursday, January 24 and runs through Sunday, February 10. For more on Ms. Odezynska’s work, including film trailers, visit: www.odezynska.com. For more on the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, visit: http://community.princetonlibrary.org/peff/schedule/.