Where should I place that light again? Are we teaching?

Phil’s a teacher. I’m at teacher. So we’ve been teaching, a bit.

I gave a short lecture on American life and culture, which I titled: “America: is it just like in the movies?” I’ve often fielded this question, and to be honest its somewhat hard to answer, as the films are filmed in America, in neighborhoods where we live, in places we go to daily (like that 50 cent movie that was filmed at Grand Valley), and with many conceptual ideas that reflect American life.  Naturally, the film industry is exaggerated; yet, in many ways foreigners can learn much about American life through movies.


I toyed with this theme for a bit, showing them different types of American residences, schools, and youth, pulling from some of my own photos and experiences. We then transitioned into various questions about America and Russia.


Notwithstanding an unsuccessful attempt to deviate one young man from ranting on the media and politics, we also were able to cover interesting topics, such as “What do you grow in your gardens?” and “Do you can things and store them for winter?” “Do you really put mayonnaise on everything – ‘not real butter’?”

Phil also gave a lecture on creating a film backwards; thus, first putting your client through a “Data Dump” in order really understand what they’re seeking from their film, and then working backwards from the final idea to actually the start of the filming process.  The students watched and listened attentively, though did not at all actively participate in the lesson; however, at the end there were numerous questions for Phil that primarily related to how many people were on his filming team and the amount of equipment that he had.  Phil showed him a video he created for the San Diego Home Brewers Convention and also his own personal reel, and they seemed to enjoy actually seeing Phil’s work. Phil thought it was interesting as most of the youth there were interested in film from an artistic perspective, and when inquired whether they were looking to do this professionally, most of them declined.



Sunday we attended a small theatre performance titled: “Theatre Sweethearts”.  The program was a compilation of small skits written by adults, but performed by a mix of adults and kids, a lot of whom had disabilities.  Sasha also performed with one group, as they explained various morals through the stories of animals. Another skit featured six young girls who told the story of women soldiers in World War One, and explained different perspectives of going to the front; there was also a lengthy, chaotic skit about love and relationships, set at a village fair; and the final act featured only four performers and told the story of a misbehaved boy with an attitude, a prim and proper school teacher who was a incessant crier, and a principal that just wasn’t sure how to handle the situation.


“Theatre Sweethearts”


Morals of Life, as told through animals.


Women on the Russian Front


The Impossible Young Man


A Crazy Village Fair

In our free time, Phil and I spent a lot of time recording video, especially of our own experiences.  Phil has started on a compilation of my fellowship experience, and also filmed his own thoughts and perspectives here in Petrozavodsk, which he hopes to turn into a video blog.  While we concocted lofty plans for video and written collaboration, we realized time was disappearing; sure enough, we were able to get everything filmed, but didn’t quite complete any projects – yet.

Monday, we headed to the Eco-Biological Center and quickly joined a school tour of the facilities. Housed in the center were some gorgeous foxes, a few giant ravens or crows, two ponies, a plethora of rabbits, two PORCUPINES (THEY’RE ADORABLE), a sundry of exotic of birds, a few “North American” roosters, some repulsive bugs, and two male turtles fighting to mate with a female turtle, among many other creatures.  Our guide, Max (perhaps that was his name; we were never formally introduced), took the kids around, explaining the animals and asking questions about their mannerisms or habitats.  The kids had a worksheet they needed to fill out at the end of the excursion, and were attempting to jot down answers as we went along, or probe Max for the right answer.


astonishing mural on the outside of the Eco-Biological Center


foxy foxy

IMG_0748 IMG_0754IMG_0761After the tour, we met with the director of the Center, Svetlana.  This woman is astounding.  We sat in her office drinking brewed coffee and discussed the workings of the Center as I attempted to translate for both her and Phil.  She took over approximately two years ago and has since been reconstructing the organization.  Essentially the prior location and/or director were told that they either had to move or shut down, as the Center was in such poor shape.  It moved to the building where it’s currently located, and Svetlana has completely revamped its substance, as well as the programs for school-children.

She is lighthearted, vivacious, and hilarious, telling us one story after another. She has a few Masters students working under her as teachers and tour guides.  Upon coming in for an interview she promptly told them,

“The salary is small, the work-load is large, but we have fun.”

She guffawed, “They’ve been here for two years now!” We inquired as to where they get the animals from: many have been donated by various people, others they’ve bought from vendors in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Their health certificates take precedence, as the Center only takes in healthy animals; many ill animals have been sent their way, only to be denied.  “We’re working with children – we have to make sure the quality is the best it can be.”

Svetlana also opened up to us about her true passion: “The Center is my full-time job, but what I really love to do is theatre.  I graduated from two different theatre institutes, and it’s my real passion.”  She continued, “This is the best thing about practicing extra-curricular education. Let me tell you a secret: we’re connected to the municipality, but in reality, as long as we follow simple guidelines, we can do whatever we want!  So I can’t complain, because we’re able to pursue our own passions as well as help children learn and grow.”

She stated that the same went for Denis.  As long as “Doroga” operates, there’s a ton of leg-room for programs, lessons, and organizations that they’re directly interested in. The passion that they both have for these Centers is written all over their faces, and it has been a refreshing breath of air. Logically, they do what they love, they perform passionately, and the kids gain significantly from their ardor and dedication.


Svetlana: “We have two bears and they were gifted to us from a previous mayor. Then, he vacillated stating they were a gift of a son’s friend’s cousin’s brother (…) and that maybe he wanted them back. I told him, ‘Listen, if you keep them here we’ll tell everyone that the mayor gifted us two awesome bears. And if you take them back, we’ll still tell everyone that here should be two awesome bears that the mayor gifted, but look – they’re not here!'” She chuckled, “They’re still here.”

The jokes and stories continued, from stories of their travels abroad, to playfully making fun of certain Russian stereotypes. I didn’t want to leave her office. But alas, we were due at Doroga for Phil’s next classes and some interviews with Sasha and Denis.

Phil gave his first class on three-point lighting, using one of the students as a test subject. He ran through a brief PowerPoint, and with the help of Denis the information got across. Two of the students present will be attending the Student Television Network next week, and they were listening ardently.

IMG_0765   IMG_0772

Then, we hauled all of Phil’s equipment (he has TWO suitcases, a big backpack, AND another bag for his tripods – I can give him hell, as I helped carry around that luggage often) to the first floor to find the darkest room: the Boy Scout’s activity center, which houses barely no windows and a rock-climbing wall. After struggling for about a half hour with set-up, short circuits, duct-tape, and extension cords, we (Phil) got everything set up.  I sat as his test subject as he moved the light around, asking the students which one look best.



A Russian Mary Poppins, perfectly suited for Denis.

Denis continuously found new props for me to pose with, including an half-decapitated bear, a portrait of Putin, a welding mask, a Soviet gas mask, and Phil’s white umbrella used for lighting. We jammed to some Dave Matthews Band as I got fidgety and Phil had to constantly remind me to hold still. I don’t think I ever volunteer as a test subject again.  Nevertheless the students enjoyed providing input and being able to visualize the differences in light.  They had worked with the Center’s camera before, but Phil’s equipment was impressive, and they were all ecstatic to check it out.

IMG_0778 IMG_0779Phil and I then got in two long interviews with Sasha and Denis, as we tried to pull from them the essence of their work and their ideas.  It wasn’t too hard, as I said before, they both work so vehemently to ensure their programs are successful and they measure success through the happiness of their students and their own personal gains.

Tuesday, after a nice lunch with Sasha and his girlfriend, I dropped Phil off at the train station, hoping he would make it to Moscow in one piece, with all his luggage, and especially his cell phone, which he already had left behind in Saint Petersburg.

It’s been nice having Phil around for the last couple of days and being able to help him discover a different form of Russian culture than that present in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Furthermore, being able to discuss the events we attended and the people we met, has helped both of us categorize things, and also analyze and reflect on our experiences.  I’m really looking forward to some of Phil final projects and videos, as I am certain they’ll be vibrant, emotional, and captivating.

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