Film is everything to Russian cinematographer Olesia Saveleva. She sees the world around her in angles and frames, and her camera has become almost an extension of her body. Saveleva always knew filmmaking was her calling, and when she discovered cinematography everything just fell into place.
“When I started to make movies my life changed,” Saveleva said. “To be able to share people’s stories on a 2D screen, to capture the right emotion with the right light through the right framing — it’s fascinating.”
One of Saveleva’s most compelling works, the 2015 drama “In Girum Imus Nocte” tells the intertwined stories of two young idealists whose combined passions may allow them to accomplish together what neither could alone. The film’s protagonists both want to change the world, but their motivations and methods couldn’t be more different.
“Maria is a young, radical philosopher who wants to change people’s way of thinking. Jeremy, a gadget-addict and blogger, wants to create a new trend and become – or make someone else – famous,” Saveleva explained. “[Neither] knows how to interact with people or deal with the realities of life.”
The story begins in earnest when the unlikely pair meet at the funeral for Jeremy’s mother. Caught outside the church distributing posters reading ‘God is dead’, Maria is beaten up by a member of Jeremy’s grieving family. The meeting of Jeremy and Maria is at once serendipitous and ironic, mirroring the overarching reserved-yet- optimistic tone of “In Girum Imus Nocte.” Saveleva was entrusted with the monumental task of capturing that dichotomy and inner conflict on film, and she delivered. The result is a cinematic experience that guides viewers from scene to scene using subtle, yet calculated and deliberate cues.
“We wanted to be close to characters’ faces and the environment around them, so we used wide lenses a lot. We also chose to differentiate characters with colors. For Jeremy we tried to use blue colors in set design and in lighting [to represent] his addiction to technology, so I used LED and computer screen lights,” Saveleva said. “The main color for Maria was red. Her life is painful, and she is very passionate about what she stands for. So I used red candles and warm tungsten lights to light her house.”
Due in no small part to Saveleva’s camerawork, “In Girum Imus Nocte” received the highly- prized Award of Recognition from judges of the internationally-renowned IndieFEST Film Awards in 2016. But never one to take time away from her work, Saveleva soon followed up the successful film with this year’s “Steady Eddie.”
Inspirational and at times gut-wrenching, “Steady Eddy” is a powerful drama about a young autistic man torn from his family. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the jarring film beautifully illustrates – and subsequently shatters – misconceptions of autism as a limitation. The film centers on Jesse, who’s determined to prevent his autistic older brother Ed from the draft.
“For this project, we wanted to maintain the perspective of the younger brother, so the camera was much closer to him. In every scene we have his point of view shot and his reactions, so the audience can identify with him and feel what he feels. We wanted the film to be somber and to leave the audience thinking about the future of this family,” Saveleva explained, before going on to describe her cinematographic technique on the film. “The story takes place in 1969, so I relied a lot on color correction. I… simulated [the look of] Kodak film… [and] the final color correction was done in Technicolor.”
The innumerable hours and immeasurable consideration that Saveleva invests in each scene, each frame, is simply staggering. Few others in the industry can match her experience, and fewer can rival her visionary instincts behind the camera lens. But for Saveleva, filmmaking is a collaborative, not a competitive endeavor.
“I don’t think about anything else but the story and how to make the audience feel the emotions we want to convey. I forget to eat, to sleep, I forget myself. I forget everything when I am on set,” Saveleva described. “Being in [that] creative mode is like flying to another planet. Or like being in love. I can’t even explain that feeling with words.”
You can find Olesia Saveleva’s work in many films, but for a glance, her reel can be viewed here. Photos provided by Olesia Saveleva.