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Filmmaking in a foreign language

By Bradley West '13
August 7, 2012

St. Olaf students (from left) Sterling Melcher '14, Adam Wolinsky '14, Andrew Lindvall '14, Beau Hudak '13, and Rosa Haxton '14 are gaining hands-on experience this summer at Mosfilm, one of the oldest and largest film studios in Europe.

This summer Beau Hudak '13 got to voice-act in the role that some say he was born to play: a slang-slinging boxing trainer.

He did so as part of an academic internship that sent him and four other St. Olaf College students to Mosfilm, a large Russian studio that's been producing acclaimed films since 1920. The internship gives Hudak, Rosa Haxton '14, Andrew Lindvall '14, Sterling Melcher '14, and Adam Wolinsky '14 the opportunity to gain practical experience in film production and to polish their Russian language skills.

The internship was designed by St. Olaf Associate Professor of Russian Marc Robinson, who teaches a course on Russian cinema and who has met many notable directors from the country. Among the friends he has made in the world of Russian film is Karen Shakhnazarov, a celebrated filmmaker and the general director of Mosfilm.

Two years ago St. Olaf conferred an honorary degree on Shakhnazarov, and while he was on the Hill he suggested that Mosfilm could help teach St. Olaf students the many aspects of film production. This summer's internship grew out of Shakhnazarov's suggestion.

"I hope the students come away with a broadened view of film beyond only our American cinema industry," Robinson says. "The exposure of living in a foreign country and seeing the vibrant, dedicated people working in those cultures can be so enriching — both on its own and as a means to reevaluate our own culture."

On set and behind the scenes
After Robinson helped them get settled into the city of Moscow, the students began to work wherever Mosfilm needed them. 

"Our time at the film studios is split between editing their English movie catalog or the English subtitles of various films, and helping out on the sets of various movies," Lindvall explains. "I have personally assisted with costumes, props, set decoration and construction, moving the camera, changing out lenses, and helping the director of cinematography. I've gotten the chance to do some voice acting and dubbing work, as well as being a costumed extra in a period Russian television show."

This summer's academic internship grew from a suggestion by celebrated filmmaker and Mosfilm general director Karen Shakhnazarov (center), who is pictured here with the St. Olaf interns.

Such firsthand access to almost every stage of movie production has, of course, taught the interns plenty about the practical side of cinema. "Studying the film process was a really eye-opening experience," Wolinsky says. "I had a lot of ideas about how people would work on a set, but when coming to Mosfilm a lot of those ideas changed. Production works more as a machine, with every shot planned out ahead of time."

This sleek production machine is, however, run by a crew of rather eccentric characters, at least according to Hudak. "On the days that we work on the sets of movies, the experience is somewhat like walking into the house of a crazy family you haven't met before," he says.

Life outside the studio
When not immersed in this hectic film culture, the students spend their time immersed in Russian culture, exploring the city of Moscow and traveling to places like St. Petersburg. 

"There is a manic energy about Moscow even before the hour and minute hands strike noon," Hudak says. "People yell at each other by the shawarma stand, and street performers sing American rap classics in the tunnel on the way to the metro."

Haxton says that taking the night train to St. Petersburg was one of the most memorable parts of her trip to Russia. While traveling by train she met several kind people and had her best conversation in Russian yet. 

"I have experienced so much kindness," she says, "and it seems to have manifested itself in the passengers on the train with me that night. I was truly in awe of them. That night I decided that I wanted to come back to Russia, after learning a lot more of the language, to spend even more time here in the hopes of meeting more people like them."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or