"Butterfly Games" is 34 year old director Andrei Proshkin's second film. He has just begun his career in the movie industry. It took Proshkin a long time, by movie industry standards, to reach his potential, but once he did, he achieved phenomenal success.
Andrei Proshkin was a student of such renowned filmmakers as Marlen Khutsiev, Karen Shahnazarov and his father, Alexander Proshkin. Proshkin's interest in young people is a huge factor in his success because he makes movies for and about young people. This theme was considered the least promising throughout the 1990s, a commerce-obsessed decade that was harsh on culture. Films made for young people did not make money. Andrei Proshkin was among the few filmmakers who rescued this dying genre.
He was rewarded. His debut film, "Spartacus and Kalashnikov," was released in 2002 and won a special prize at the Cinetaur, one of Russia's most influential film festivals. The public's enthusiasm for the film was evident in the numerous websites about the film. Nevertheless, it is notoriously difficult for Russian film distributors to earn money on Russian-made movies. This was not the case for "Spartacus and Kalashnikov" because a large number of children and their parents went to see the movie in the theater and a large number of people purchased the film on video as well.
The socially minded first time director chose a theme that was sure to succeed - an orphan. The hero of the film is Shurka Kalashnikov, an 11-year old boy. Ironically, his last name is the name of a machine gun. The boy escapes from an orphanage after the headmaster forbids him to keep Spartacus, his dog and only friend. The boy and his dog wander from one group of homeless children to another. An affluent woman eventually gives Shurka a job, and he finds shelter in an army unit, whose soldiers act like foster parents. Paradoxically, when Shurka's life appears to be turning around, the boy and dog run away again to rejoin the street children.
"Spartacus and Kalashnikov" and "Butterfly Games" are both about growing up. In both films children agonizingly search for their identity while coming to terms with their difficult environments. Proshkin's films focus on children to remind viewers that children grow up. "My little heroes will make the backbone of my country in a matter of 15 or even 10 years. That's what makes them interesting to me," he said.
The protagonist of "Butterfly Games" is a teenager from a small town who is anxious to leave his town to pursue a career in music. "The desire to change one's fate is the essence of my film," said the director.
Alexei Chadov has the lead role in "Butterfly Games." Chadov also appeared in "War", a recent film by Alexei Balabanov, the director of two successful "epics of the late 90s," "Brother" and "Brother 2." Sergei Shnurov, the leader of Leningrad, a Russian rock group, and a teen idol wrote the songs for "Butterfly Games". His music is intended to shock the audience and add intensity to the film. Shnurov's songs epitomize the spiritual disharmony and the love of life of the 1990s' generation. Filmmakers who have young characters in their films or are trying to appeal to a young audience like to use Shnurov's songs in their movies. Shnurov wrote music for Bimmer (Petr Buslov, director), one of the few Russian-made films that appealed to children.
The plot of "Butterfly Games" is based in part on the American dream - everyone had the opportunity to achieve success. "When you are 18, you naturally feel you can make it to any height," Andrei Proshkin remarked. He added a Russian moral to the American dream. Like classic Russian literary and cinematic classics, Proshkin makes a quest for love and the meaning of this life a central part of his film.
"Butterfly Games" is about "young people who can, sometimes, look deep into themselves and find new truths within," Proshkin said. His hero's songs will "develop into something new, and after he expresses himself he will not be a sheer success," he said.
"There was a time when the new Russian cinema lost its bearings. Filmmakers were blind to the 'what' and the 'what-for' of it. But things have changed, and the community is now eager to look good and be portrayed that way. We are embarking on a re-discovery of ourselves," said Andrei Proshkin.
Indeed, Russian movies no longer present thieves, prostitutes and murderers in a flattering romantic light. The cinema has begun making ethical movies again.
"Russia's Culture Ministry has resumed its efforts for a government policy encouraging the cinema for the youth. That is wonderful because it's the movies that first instill in children an interest in their native language and national culture," the director said.
Proshkin is not an optimist, "I don't think my film's fate with distributor will be a bed of roses." People under 25 make up the overwhelming majority of Russian moviegoers. Nourished on foreign blockbusters, they are hesitant to develop a preference for the more profound yet less striking Russian films. The adult public and filmmakers must come together and help children refine their tastes. Contemporary Russian cinema people are far more pragmatic than their predecessors. They want success here and now, and they want it big, so it is hard to say just how many directors will eventually join Andrei Proshkin on his noble cause-to make real good films for the young.