Desserted villages of Kolyma mark out the main route of the region. It’s enough to swerve few miles the North to find oneself in the gold bearing terrains of Siberia. The locals call it the land of pirates: neither police nor army ever come here. Far from the roads, armed gangs and wranglers set their rules. Travelling down a dry river bed, the filmmakers reached one the small camp bases of gold seekers, with just few fellows and a cooking maid living there.
Gold seekers usually work closely in teams. However, it was a lonely seeker, living far from the group, who caught the filmmaker’s attention. The man lives in a little hut in the middle of the wastes. Being accompanied only by his faithful dog, he seeks the precious ore.
The story of this man turns out to be as simple as his work: the friendship ends where the money and gold begin. The film has a flair of a story for young boys. It shows gold seeker’s rowdy life: it’s surprisingly focused, dry and free from needless movements. At the same time we can see his state of mind, which is wary and focused, but full of fears and mistrust. The filmmakers managed to brake through that wall in their hero. They shoot the story of the man trapped in his Siberian loneliness. The result is the ambiguous film, full off hidden tension. It is also a very unique work, analytical, unusually beautiful and almost wordless film that portrait the unknown world of gold seekers.
Siberian Gold Fever, Jakub Wiewiórski, Gazeta Wyborcza
Wojciech Kasperski, a 26 year old graduate of Lodz Film School, became famous two years ago with his documentary The Seeds. Together with Szymon Lenkowski, his cinematographer, he spent one month staying with a misterious family who, cursed by their neighbours, lives at the end of an Altai village. The film was made under the program “Russia – Poland: New Gaze” and has been prized many awards at Polish and international festivals.
Kasperski has made his next film in the East again. Accompanied by cinematographer Radek Ladczuk, he flew to Magadan and tracked gold seekers. They spent six weeks in far Siberia. The film is supposed to be ready in February.
Q: Why did you decide to make a film on gold seekers?
A: I wanted to shoot a film about an every day, arduous work which brings spectacualar results. That is why we travelled ten thousand kilometres to Kolyma and the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. We landed in Magadan after seven hour flight from Moscow. We stayed at the American priests’ place as the hotels are terribly expensive there. This spot had recommended us one Polish parson whom I met while shooting The Seeds.
Four days later we set out to taiga: our guide and interpreter, Radek and me. Magadan Region is as big as France. There is only one rout and one make a big circle following it. We made about three thousands kilometres to see the world which is found difficult to get used to. There are villages that had been inhabited by thousands of people and now they are standing completely empty. You may enter a house, where only a pillow lies in its empty bedroom or come across a ball hall with a couple of speakers on the walls, a gramophone in the corner and some records lying around.
We were not that type of tourists nobody likes. We did not drive a cruiser with emergency lights on its top. When we got hungry we would buy pate, a loaf of bread and eat it on the mask of our car. It won the local’s favour and trust. We listened to their stories and tried to trace the gold seekers.
Q: How did you find them?
A:We knew we would find them in the so-called land of pirates, an empty territory at the end of Jakutia, far from any power. There is a place which lies 600 km away from the closest town. The police don’t go any further. From that place one needs to go 600 km more to reach the next town where police comes to from another biggetr city. So, there are hundreds of square kilometers without any power. There is no army or OMON either. Even mobiles don’t work there.
People who have been escaping from something find their hideout there. They are called “tishnitsy”. This word refers to those were forced to hide in the “grey zone”. There are also gangs who make big fortunes exploring gold and caviar. Once we came across people who were transporting gold from one their “vaults”. The made us stop and we stood face to face, car to car with them. I was afraid of the worst. Fortunately, that one time, we were escorted by a man who knew them. Them allowed us drive away.
Q: Had not you been afraid of going to the desert land?
A: We went to the land that belonged to one owner. He was our “security guarantee”. He had his people working only for him. He owned roads, mills, animals, a power station and a satelite. We named him the King of Gold. He went with us across the desert land. We “leaped” from one place to the other, travelling by urals or track chains to the North. Just like in the adventure books for boys, you are travelling down a dry river bed and suddenly the driver swerves and you find a little hut, which is not marked on the map but every local knows where it is.
Q: How does the gold seekers’ base camp looks like?
A: It is usually a dozen of fellows with huge, tattooed arms and a cooking maid who live there. They have bulldozers and dynamite. They dig through taiga and wash sand in rivers in order to find gold. Everything is quasi-legal. In winter they usually come back to their homes. Two of them stay at the base camp as the guards. At the base where we stayed, the boss was a one-eyed guy. There was a herd of dogs, half wolfs half huskies, living with those people. One night the dogs bit to death too many pigs, so the boss shot all of them.
The main rule is not to swear in taiga. Why? There are only men living in small groups. Those people have to put up with each other for six months, or even longer. They are armed, but stay friendly as long as you have as much gold as them. If you get more, you are in trouble.
We spent three weeks at the camp base that lies farthest to the North. That is where we met our hero Victor. He dwells just with his dog out of the base. He is one the most independent people I have ever met in my life. The boundary of his privacy was 20 m. We did not get on well together. First he had agreed to be filmed, but then he regretted it. However, he would have felt dishonest if changed his mind. So we had to wake up at five o’clock in the morning and get across two rivers, carrying all our equipment with us. Only then we got to his place. He wandered, hunted and we followed him.
Q: How about gold?
A: We saw a lot of gold. Once we were given a lift by a truck where we sat on the crates containing 25 kg of gold. We tried to stay away from gold. When we stayed at the base, somebody stold gold. It was the first robbery since five years. There was not that much stolen, however, we had to stop shooting for three days.
We also saw people sick of gold fever. It was just like in the movies. People go crazy and they are able to do anything. Even the smallest things can drive to conflicts. Men pull out their guns. It’s nothing to be trifled with.
Q: Do they make fortunes?
A: They can earn enough to get a good car even after one season. The legends of people who made great fortunes are the part of the local folklore. They live according to the rule that “one day can feed one year”. They usually invest in their kids, sending them to good private schools in Moscow. For that they never had to throw the stones from one place to another.
Written and Directed by Wojciech Kasperski Director of Photography Radek Ładczuk Edited by Tymoteusz Wiskirski Music by HATI Sound designed by Iwo Klimek Translated by Inesa Piątkowska, Anna Krause Production Manager Dawid Janicki, Wojciech Kasperski Production Assistant Wladimir Goncar Producer Dawid Janicki
Country Poland, UK Production Year 2009 Genere documentary Running time 34’ Production Companies Vostok Films Ltd. Film co-financed by Polish Film Institute Film represented by Krakow Film Foundation World Sales Krakow Film Foundation
- East Silver Market 2009, Czech Republic, 2009 (screening)
- International Film Festival of Fine Arts in Szolnok, Hungary, 2010 (screening)
- X International Documentary Film Festival FLAHERTIANA, Russia, 2010 (screening)
- Trento Film Festival, Italy, 2012 (screening)
- Era New Horizons International Film Festival, Poland, 2009 (competition)
- ZagrebDox International Festival of Documentary Films, Croatia, 2010 (“Little Stamp” Award)
- Huesca International Film Festival, Spain, 2010 (competition)
- XXIV Pärnu International Film Festival, Estonia, 2010 (competition)
- Film Festiva della Lessinia, Italy, 2010 (competition)
- dokumentART – European Documentary Film Festival, Germany / Poland, 2010 (competition)
- DOCSDF, Mexico, 2010 (competition)