3OHA, a haunting new film by New York-born artist and filmmaker Clayton Vomero, will receive its official UK premiere on 8 June 2019 at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Shot on location in Russia and Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, 3OHA is a kaleidoscopic depiction of outsider culture revealed through the lives of young people living in Kiev, Moscow, Vladimir and St. Petersburg.
The film is comprised of two parts, beginning with a fragmentary, dream-like account of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Using archive footage and interviews with notable cultural commentators and artists such as Artemy Troitsky and Igor Shelinsky, as well as the rap artist Husky, Vomero documents the early adopters of Western consumerist culture.
The second part seeks to examine the world of their ‘children’— the inheritors of this legacy. We sat down with Clayton Vomero to hear more about his thought provoking film and his creative process.
Clayton how would you summarise 3OHA in one paragraph?
It’s a really hard thing to summarize a film before it comes out as there are so many pieces working together that are only relevant if they connect to people when they watch it. And this film more than anything else I’ve made plays with these subliminal codes of culture and politics and attempts to take them apart in regard to one transformative historical event which is the coup in 1991. So in that sense, in August 1991 a series of events were set into motion by a long simmering desire for consumer goods and the freedom they represented, and this led to a rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union. As one -ism fell apart, another in the form of capitalism took hold creating an abstract mix of western culture and Russian values that continues to evolve and be re-exported to this day.
What inspired you to tell this story?
I was interested in two things. The fascination that the west had with things deemed “post-soviet”. And the current political world-view that Putin is disseminating through various agit-prop lunatics like Nigel Farage, Viktor Orban, Steve Bannon, etc. and this concept of “post-truth”. I felt like I could examine these ideas indirectly by talking to real people who are caught in the middle of it all. And not real people like factory workers, but the real people who work in the image factory of the internet that are often unwitting accomplices in the dismantling of reality.
Why is now the right moment to tell this story?
I’m really interested in this conflict between real and fake, this growing ability to live as a fantasy of who we actually are and this avatar-ness that is replacing us as people. It feels like we’re increasingly disappointed with ourselves in real life situations to the point that we barely want to leave our homes. It’s so much easier to broadcast ourselves and our value out to the world than it is to have the reality of it go unvalidated in everyday life and then question interactions as to why someone didn’t respond. It’s like the fear of silence or lack of approval has caused constant anxiety.
Who are the key players in the process - both in front of, and behind, the camera?
The key players were absolutely Maria Babikova and Alexander Khudokon. Maria and I did research together for months before shooting and then she was with me through the entire 2 month shoot and then the 6 month edit. We heavily referenced Generation "П" by Victor Pelevin and Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexeivich and did research right up until the very end of the edit. It was just constant unwrapping and discussing and really it would be a completely different film without her. The same goes for Sasha who was the cinematographer. We talked so much about images and meaning and came up with very intricate languages for each section of the film and he showed me completely different ways to look at what we were doing. Also, Husky is just a phenomenal mind. He was our first interview, our first shoot day. And it set the tone for how seriously we could take the entire film. He set an incredibly high bar for everyone else.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
I can’t remember. I watched so many movies as a kid. We didn’t have much money growing up and so all we could do was rent movies, etc. I think I’ve had one family vacation. So it just always meant so much to invest in sitting down to watch a film. It was really a way to discover myself and to feel that there was another world outside of Staten Island. And then as I got into creative circles in NY I started to feel like I wanted to see myself better represented in media by people actually like me. I’ve always found myself having to fight for the most accurate and least contrived representation of a story. To not allow money people to succeed at trying to make people into better entertainment. I want everyone in my films to feel as if they’re speaking for themselves and not fitting in to some idea or misreading that I have of them. I just think people are so much more interesting than what the status quo imagines them to be.
What do you feel are the necessary skills to pursue this line of creative work?
Empathy, a sense of honesty, and an ability to let a film becomes its own and not “yours”.
What has been the best feedback you’ve ever received on your work?
When my short film GANG was released I came to London for a screening and some kids from South London pulled me aside after the screening and just heaped so much praise on the film and what it meant to them. One guy just said in a really tough way “Your film…I’m not sure how to say this cuz I know how it sounds. But I’ve never felt so free before, it made me feel like I could fly out of my flat, like I could be just as magical as the people in your film.” It always really stuck with me where that sits between making something that intellectually challenges people but gets past entertainment and into a place that really means something. And for a film about some kids from Staten Island to mean so much to kids from South London, really showed me how powerful human empathy can be.
Can you tell us what you’re going to be working on next?
There’s a new script for a feature film called Sacer that I’m finishing up now and hope to start shooting by the end of the year. It’s a culmination of everything I’ve done to this point in one big fucked up story about what it’s like to be poor in NY.
Image Credit: 30HA, 2017 - 2018. c.a 60 mins, film still