The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.
April 07, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
The film “Crystal Swan” follows the story of a young woman, Velya, attempting to emigrate from Belarus to the United States in 1996. The heroine of the film has a typo in her visa which lands her in a backwater town in Belarus.
The film’s director, Darya Zhuk, has plenty in common with Velya. Zhuk left Belarus in the ’90s to study in the United States. Zhuk says, “Many times I had to stand in line for the US visa—and I found it one of the most stressful experiences over the years.”
Zhuk talks about how Americans do not understand how difficult it is to acquire a visa to the United States. “It’s personal experiences like that [that] led me to believe ‘Crystal Swan’ would be a good story to tell on screen.”
Travel to the United States for Belarusians is different today. Zhuk says that it is easier to find information with the Internet, and visas are simply more accessible. “There is less of a feeling that it’s now or never, it’s more fluid,” she remarks.
Though the visa situation may be somewhat changed, the story of Velya’s desire to travel the world still rings true. “The ideas of leaving your country to pursue a better life are very much in the air nowadays all over Eastern Europe, so the film resonates with young people,” Zhuk says. “The American Dream is something hugely relevant today, just like it was after the fall of the Soviet Union.”
The theme of following a dream is behind the production of this film as well. “Crystal Swan” is Zhuk’s first feature film, and though the financing was difficult, Zhuk found “at the end, I got a lot of creative freedom, so I feel lucky in how it came together. It’s always a challenge for filmmakers to make their first feature, and my advice is to keep the focus, and believe in your project.”
Zhuk’s website reads, “She strives to tell fun, unapologetically messy stories about always strong, diverse, and sometimes shocking, women.” When asked how the character Velya related, Zhuk responds, “Velya is a perfect embodiment of the type of characters I’d like to explore in my films.”
The film is layered with the goals of the character Velya, Zhuk’s past experiences, and Zhuk’s realized dream of creative direction on a feature film.
—W. Connor Drake
PHOTO: At 16, Darya Zhuk left her homeland in post-Soviet Belarus to study at Harvard University, where she discovered filmmaking. She holds a degree in economics from Harvard and an MFA in film directing from Columbia University, both with honors.
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