Somewhere we cannot explain, in a future defined by past idioms, when the consequences of reality have had time to wash over, there lived five women; a family of some sort. Ascending from youngest to oldest, there was Silisa, the tiptoer; Kysham the thinker; Titsa the brave; Anyela the strong; finally Yaba the willful. No one knows how to reach this world; rather the women that live in it have learned how to sustain their livelihood. They rely on each other to survive.
For generations, these women have all consumed the sun, which is their driving force. Each day, they collect objects that fill-up their entire home, the most mysterious being the lost postcards. These cards appear in the sand each day with messages from Crimea, signaling to other worlds; other times. These messages are the portal between their world and ours; through past present and future; symbols of memories and trauma.
Silisa, being the youngest, often ran far distances and played in her own secretive universes. When her family suddenly disappears one afternoon, she is forced to fend for herself. Feeling ungrounded and hopeless, she leans on the found objects for clues. On the coastline of what looks like we could be anywhere, the activity of a small group of women are the most significant movements that are left in this world.
Interview questions by Sarah Jayne Portelli
1. What was the inspiration behind the story for Red Dunes?
My mother emigrated from the Ukraine when she was 17, and my father left Russia for Israel
when he was 12, eventually moving to the U.S. in his early 20s. Growing up, I didn’t know a lot about
Ukraine’s history. I mainly heard stories through my books of Ukrainian folklore that were mostly written
in Russian. I knew that my mother was born in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, now renamed as Dnipro, and
that they left when she was seventeen headed for Boston. When they left the Ukraine, it was still part of
the Soviet Union. Under those circumstances, Ukraine’s identity was very much dominated by a Russian
presence. Considering my father’s side–which is all Russian–I grew up mainly identifying with Russia as
my heritage, rarely acknowledging the Ukrainian side.
In order to understand more about what that part of me meant, I looked to the objects that
surrounded me. I grew up with many traditional and colloquial Ukrainian knick knacks. One that I always
held onto was the Matryoshka doll–commonly known as nesting doll–my grandmother gave to me before
passing. Each doll fits into the next, and they all have similarly painted dressings, but very uniquely
different facial expressions. Starting with a concrete image, I was inspired by the visual impact of having
five or six women who were all dressed similarly, and felt almost like a family, yet with completely
different faces. This started me on the track to develop each character of the film. In the story of Red
Dunes, we mainly follow a young girl, Silisa. When we see all the women together, they feel more like a
family functioning within the world of the film. Individually, they come to represent each phase in a
Looking deeply into Ukrainian folklore, I found that there was a lot of language surrounding the
sun. Often in stories, the sun came to represent a life form. Taking that idea, I wanted to create a world in
which the women live and feed off of. At one point in the film, they collectively eat the sun. Using that as
a framework, and with the help of my beautiful sister who assisted with set building and decoration, and
my mother who helped with costumes, I began to color the film with my knowledge of folkloric
characters, storytelling, and visual elements to bring the world to life. Through stringing together different
narratives from various generations, both from my own family and from a historical point of view, I tried
to construct a bridge between a collective state-imposed trauma with a personal one. I wanted to create a
space where various timelines converged and erupted into an amorphous time capsule.
2. Why was this story important for you to share with an audience?
This story was incredibly important for me to share because I wanted to look beyond my own personal
family history and engage with a culturally traumatic moment that I felt so distant from. A few years ago,
in 2014, I visited my paternal grandmother in Florida for her seventy-fifth birthday dinner. At the party,
my sister and I spoke to a family friend, who is Ukrainian. When my sister gently asked about her
feelings on what was happening in Ukraine, she burst into tears. It was then that I began to look further
into the crisis and uncovered more about Ukraine’s history. It was at this time that Russia unlawfully
annexed Crimea, and began to move into the territory, causing mass displacement and dislocation of its
original inhabitants. Individuals of Crimean Tatar descent were the most scrutinized and tortured by the
government.. The Black Sea was a contentious space where much of Russian dominance was beginning
to become more visible, such as the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge in 2018, and the takeover of
offshore oil rigs along the coast. But beyond the contentious conflict in 2014, for the last century, people
of Crimea and political dissidents of the Ukraine have been forced to flee for the sake of their livelihood
After my grandmother’s death, a few years later my grandfather suffered from a stroke which resulted in
dementia. As my Ukrainian side has slowly passed, I am attempting to hold onto moments of the past that
can help shine a light on the present situation. I have the stories that my mother tells me, but beyond her
time, I am unable to see everything through my grandmother’s eyes; or the eyes of previous generations.
Through a cultural and familial connection to Ukraine, I hope to uncover elements of my family through
both personal and historical moments in time. Telling their stories allows for collective reconciliation, and
for others to understand the true meaning of losing the security of one’s motherland. Finding a connection
between mothers and the motherland provides a sense of humanity toward the refugee crisis that is still
going on in Europe and around the world.
3. Some directors like to have the score for the film, or the key tracks recorded before they get
onto set and then direct the action around the mood and movement of the track. So I want
to know, that came first, the sound track or the visuals?
Based off of the timeline of the film shoot, the visuals c ame first in the process of production. When I
made the decision to shoot 16mm on a Bolex, I knew right away that trying to make a film with dialogue
would be nearly impossible. Therefore, it became clearer to me as I worked on the film, that I would have
to craft a complex and atmospheric soundscape to balance out the fact that my characters never spoke to
one another. On set, we captured some diegetic ambient sounds, and certain actions, but eventually, I
designed, found, or foleyed most of the sound you hear in the film, except for the music! That was done
by the amazing Maeve Schallert. The way they were able to enhance the mood of the film was so
incredible. We collaborated after I shot and mostly edited the work, and through a few trials of songs, we
eventually ended up on a few that were worked in throughout the film.
In terms of sound design, I was incredibly stressed out at first. I had shot my whole film and hadn’t
started editing or sound designing yet when the first lockdown of Covid-19 hit. I was at Bard College at
the time finishing my last semester, and it was really chaotic figuring out how I would even proceed with
editing without the facilities. Luckily, I was able to sound design the work on my own laptop. Through
different resources, I decided to create a soundtrack that would ground the viewer more in the world of
the film. I was interested in the relationship between cacophony and silence; how sometimes the
unspoken is more important than any words. I tried to create sonifications for fantastical environments
that created dissonance between sound and image. Rarely would there be a moment of syncresis in the
work, but when there is, it is made more quiet than any other sound. Uncontrollable transmissions from a
radio and mysterious sounds of machines that have not been touched for years echo over the film’s world.
Voices only come in narrating forms, both in Ukrainian, voiced by my mother, and in English, voiced by
my sister. I used sun sonifications and planet frequencies to create moments of tension or highlight the
parts of the film where the women directly interact with the sun. Sounds taken directly from the Black
Sea or offshore oil rigs were interspersed. I believe in a soundscape that is as deeply curated as its visuals.
4. Is there a particular reason, other than aesthetics, that you chose to have your stories
brought to life on the screen in 16mm film format?
I just recently graduated from Bard College and was a film major there. When I first arrived at the
film department, there was so much I didn’t know both creatively and technicaly. I was so naive! Having
to understand all the different technical aspects of all types of cameras, lights, mics, etc. was definitely
overwhelming, but exciting. I felt a little intimidated by my lack of technical knowledge that I feel as
though it weighed on my creativity within film. It wasn’t until I took my first 16mm course that I felt like
I broke new creative ground for myself! My professor, Ephraim Asili, gave us many constraints when
approaching assignments. We were learning the basics, and had to do in camera editing as we shot.
Basically, that means you shoot your work in the order you want your piece to go. It helped me develop
an eye for editing and understanding how to push the boundaries of creativity. I love the limitations that
16mm gives you. I need structure to get to a creative place most of the time. With 16 mm, even though
there are constraints, there are also endless possibilities. It also just aided the narrative flow of the film so
much. My incredibly talented director of photography, Peymaan Motevalli-Aliabadi, was so incredible to
collaborate with and had such a unique sense of light and space!
5. Is there a difference in the way you have to direct actors when shooting on 16mm film
format compared to digital formats? If you have only directed for 16mm film format,
discuss briefly what challenges you have faced directing for 16mm film format, if any.
Absolutely! Directing actors is a huge challenge with 16mm, specifically if shooting on a Bolex with only
300 foot rolls. Each roll of film only records three minutes of footage, and the mechanics of the camera
only allow for a shot to be taken for thirty seconds maximum. Prior to even getting to set, I had to make
an extensive shot list where I detailed how many seconds could be allotted to a certain take, and how
many takes we were able to get off it. Since 16mm is incredibly expensive, we had to be both frugal and
deliberate about how we took certain shots. It forced Peymaan and I to really hone in on what we were
trying to capture. In regards to working with the actors, we had to be really communicative with their
movements and actions. Prior to set, we had a couple rehearsals where I gave them character sheets to
work on and think through. Through a lot of discussion and questioning, especially from my youngest
actor, Lida Strodl, who played Silisa, we were able to explore while also have a plan for each take. On set,
we would practice takes over and over before taking a shot. Since there was no dialogue, I had to ask my
actors to focus more on their facial expressions without over-exaggeration. It was definitely a challenge,
but taught me more about how to express my own creative vision and really build a relationship with my
Born in Boston, MA, Dalia Glazman always had a passion for storytelling. She would spend hours in her own spaces crafting worlds for her characters. This has now manifested through her filmmaking. During her time at Bard, she investigated her Russian and Ukrainian heritage through manipulating elements of time, researching family history, and weaving in cultural references. She is most invested in merging different time periods to create new fantasy worlds in her experimental narrative works. Glazman mainly works in 16mm film and always creates her own sound designs. For Glazman, sound is the backbone of a narrative.
Music Inspiration while making the film: Funny enough I was so inspired by Neil Young's guitar riffs from the Dead Man soundtrack! They're so atmospheric and it's crazy how he just completely improvised as he watched the film. It was really interesting and definitely had an impact on the music for my film. Specifically, Guitar Solo No. 1 & 5 were the most inspirational for me.
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