Interview with producer Ekaterina Yarostkaya for her movie LETO
Born in Moscow in 1984, Ekaterina comes from a family of scientists. Her mom was a cancer researcher and her dad was a chemist looking for new medicines. According to Ekaterina, her grandmother has been the most influential person in her life. An example to follow, she was a renowned surgeon in her home country, a source of strength, and a role model for the power of women.
Leto is based in a rock musician from the eighties named Viktor Tsoi, for many the Jesus Christ of music. Ekaterina is one of the producers of Leto, whose director Kirill Sebrenikov is under house arrest at the moment due to differences with the Russian government. The movie premiered recently at the Cannes Film Festival. Leto takes places during the Perestroika and tells the story about a famous singer Viktor Tsoi and his famous underground rock band during the eighties in Leningrand.
Leto has been at the past Cannes Film Festival. His director Kirill Serebrennikov is under house arrest in Moscow, right?
I have been very lucky to be part of the production of Leto. For me it has been a dream come true to be part of this group of talented people. Unfortunately Kirill was arrested while he was shooting the film last August, but apart from the set back we were able to finish the film, so we are very proud of it.
Have you had the opportunity to talk to him after his arrest?
Unfortunately being under house arrest means he cannot have communication with anyone.
Can you tell me a little bit about Leto?
It is based on a very famous musician called Viktor Soi, for many Russians is almost like the Jesus Christ of music. He is like a poet, in the likes of Bob Dylan. I have always thought that music has the capacity to bring people together. Leto is a way to show our music to an audience for which our rock was completely unknown. So from now on with this film I am hoping that people get more interest in Russian music.
Would you say that Putin is affecting somehow the way cinema is done in Russia?
I want to think the culture shouldn’t be affected but politics in my country. Having said that, I am not implying that it does not happen. Leto is being distributed by Sony Pictures and we are confident that it will be released in many countries. If I am honest I wish you never had to ask me this question and that the actual situation of our director was totally different. I am hopeful that everything gets solved sooner than later. People should have the right to express themselves with complete freedom.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a producer?
I was born and raised in Moscow. I started my professional career as a journalist. I attended the University of Moscow where I graduated with a Masters in journalism. I started writing at a very early age, probably around fifteen years old. I noticed that I was always writing about movies. When I was in high school I took a class by the amazing directors Boris Khlebnikov and Andrei Zaitsev, and that for me was my first introduction to the world of cinema. They talked in depth about other directors like Fellini o Antonioni. From that moment on my love affair with cinema started.
I love that movies have the ability to tell interesting, heart-touching stories that reach people, that has always fascinated me. After years of working as an entertainment journalist I noticed that I was always the most fascinated interviewing producers, because they are the ones putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and creating these little pieces of art. They are the ones in charge of finding interesting stories and build them up from a script. When I decided to become a producer I have to admit that I was a bit scared to do it on my own so I first joined the publicity and marketing department at Sony, Russia. That is where I got the opportunity to start observing how producers worked and I thought it was not as complicated as I anticipated so I went for it and my experience has been very exciting ever since.
Is it complicated to be a Russian producer in the US?
I don’t think so, my Russian background has helped me a lot. I consider Russian culture to be very enriching. From music to art and literature, I actually think it has given me an advantage. For me being from Russian is something way more positive than negative. I think in the cinema word being Russian is more an advantage than something that raises suspicion.
Do you think that the tense situation between Russia and the US is affecting the movie industry?
I think that when there’s a political crisis between countries, movies or culture in general is in charge of diluting those differences. Movies exist to unite cultures not separate them.
You have another film coming up called Bushwick Beats that touches precisely the union of cultures and unconditional love.
Yes, the movie is almost ready. It was produced by two Russians and an American. It’s a movie where diversity thrives. It takes place in Bushwick Beats, New York and I would say that the essence of the film is to show that it is possible for people from different cultures to coexist, independently of religion, race, or nationality. It is directed by six different directors that have had the opportunity to explore what unconditional love means. Their six different stories show unconditional love between mother and son, two women, woman and man, and siblings. We have tried to unite different voices. I am a huge believer in bringing people from different backgrounds together.
As a young attractive female producer, have you ever experienced some type of power abuse?
I am very proud of being a woman and being a producer. I have been pretty lucky cause I have not encountered any problems due to the fact that I am a woman. Due to the recent #Metoo campaign women have now a lot of support from other women. It has given us the opportunity to stay strong and demand our rights. In my time as an entertainment journalist I have to admit that I experienced some uncomfortable situations, that’s why I think that #metoo is key and I wish it has started way sooner cause I personally know a lot of women that have gone through similar situations. I know how hard it is for aspiring actresses that are trying to get into the acting world encounter these type of abusive men.
Some people have criticized the movement, saying that it is been given too much emphasis.
Yeah, I have heard that. I think that in order to put a stop to all this abuse is necessary to give as much emphasis as we can now so we can finally put it behind us. It’s very sad that back in the day a lot of people decided not to speak up about Harvey Weinstein, because everyone in this industry knew about it. The New York Times has been very brave in exposing the story and giving a chance to these women to talk about it. This movement is changing the industry for the better. From now on we will be able to see more female producers and female directors without being surprised. It will be totally normal.