How to Save a Dead Friend (2022): A Conversation with Marusya Syroechkovskaya

September 20, 2023

Set against the rise of Russia’s authoritarian regime, filmmaker Marusya Syroechkovskaya paints an homage to both a silenced generation and her lover and best friend Kimi. How to Save a Dead Friend (2022), is a whirlwind of emotions capturing a unique intimacy of an anxious youth, a relationship tellingly universal that brings hope still in death. Speaking with Hugo, Marusya reveals the toils and vulnerabilities of crafting a story from a catalogue of documented memories.

Here are 5 key takeaways from our conversation with Marusya:

1. What is the process like behind taking a deeply personal story and finding the right way to tell it through film?

“It was a very strange journey. I needed to tell this story – there was so much I struggled to talk about before like my depression and drug use, and everything I went through with Kimi. In the end it was a really cathartic process that before had been eating me alive until I eventually told it. When I first started filming I really didn’t think that all this footage I had would become some kind of film. Even when we started to craft this film, we had no idea where to start. We didn’t want to oversimplify it, but really it was a lot of experimenting and exploring the characters within this story, even myself, which was hard to do. “

2. Can you tell us about what led you to first pick up the camera and recorded so many of these intimate moments?

“The reason why I was filming so much was because I did not know how to communicate with the world or to ask for help, especially as a very depressed teenager. The camera really helped me to make sense of everything happening to me but also shielded me from reality a bit. I felt safer with the camera.”

3. There were particular moments where you have photos of Kimi and you can kind of touch them which distorts and changes them. What was the idea behind this to play with this idea of how images can never replace the physical touch?

“I really wanted the images of Kimi to become music. For this I needed a sonification program and after some research I found one application I liked and ended up reaching out to the developer who actually helped me build a program for the film. We created this quasi-musical instrument where when I touch the screen it produces digital sounds, which became this poetic device that would make music whenever I touched images of Kimi. For me it’s also about cinema too, touching from a distance.”

4. How do you relate this film and the story of this lost generation to what is happening right now in Russia?

“That is a difficult question. Russia is of course a much more repressive country since the war but also from the country we see in this film. It’s a different place, where life really is difficult but you can see in this film sadly where it is all heading. There’s a moment in the film where Putin just becomes President and is promising freedom for press and the importance of human rights. It’s a cruel irony, funny in a very depressive way. Life is very absurd.”

5. You speak about how this process has been bittersweet, reflecting back now how do you compare that beginning with the end, now that is finished and people have been watching it?

“You know the thing that really helps me is that a lot of people who watch the film that come up to me at the end share how they’ve been through something similar or know someone else processing grief and this film has really helped them to understand themselves or what their loved ones have gone through. It’s very heartwarming to hear that my film has helped somebody else too. It’s not just my form of self-therapy but it’s helping other people. I’m just glad it does something for other people too.

To hear more from Marusya, you can listen to the podcast in full here.

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