On the 14-16 December Moscow welcomed the very best ice climbers across the lead and speed disciplines in 2018 UIAA Ice Climbing World Combined Championship.
The competition took place within the Luzhniki stadium area, the home of the opening and closing matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
A crew from Quebec (Canada) came to film the last episode of their show “The Unknown Champions 2” for Channel 5 which show their audience the most fascinating world championships from all around the world. Our Producer/fixer Alyona Pimanova spent time with the crew to coordinate the shooting, translate interviews and arrange transportation.
During these 3 days we were following the Canadian athlete who was one of the competitors. We also got to know a Russian champion athlete from Tymen – Nikolay Kuzhovlev who won this competition.
In spite of really chilly whether it is a fascinating sport which demands a huge amount of strength and total focus and the cold didn’t diminish the pleasure of meeting so many great sportspeople and see them compete.
On a Sunday morning (perfect time without traffic and relaxed policemen) we grabbed some beauty shots of Moscow. We were really lucky to get some drone shots of the city and the river. Without a permit it’s not possible but sometimes you get 10-15 minutes before the security guys suddenly appear from nowhere and asks you to stop. Something we don’t advise but if the crew really want to give it a go then they can.
It’s always been our dream to visit Lake Baikal and with Swiss TV we had the chance to see it twice this summer.
Located in South-central Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border and surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest fresh water lake in the world and is famous for its breath taking natural beauty and wildlife.
In June we went to Ulan-Ude with Corinne Eisenring, Swiss correspondent, to film a story about a local shaman and her rite of passage. We flew to Ulan-Ude and stayed at the hotel Praga which is very close to the shamans who were happy to accept us in their big shaman family for the next 3 days.
For Buryat shamans the rite of passage lasts for 3 days during which the shaman who takes the rite of passage is helped by around 20 people. These people are mainly their relatives and other shamans who help them to go through this important event in their life.
During the whole summer shamans get into the process of the rituals, one shaman after another take the rite of passage to rise to the next level of shaman hierarchy.
The first day is devoted to preparations. We were really impressed how much care for detail is taken into consideration and how carefully they treat each step. The shamans with their families and friends decorate birch trees that they bring from the forest with red and blue ribbons and then replant them in the ground as later they will circle around the trees and get into a trance. One tree should be big and stable enough for the shaman to climb up it when they get into this trance state of mind.
The next two days while the shaman we were following was getting into a trance many times, other people were constantly singing to help her reach this state of mind. When this happens the shaman starts talking with their ancestral spirit. The tribal music stayed with us for the rest of the trip and in my memory it was the most interesting experience that we shared with this community and feel honoured to have been allowed so close to this very personal event.
After the shamans we went to scout several locations and got to see two villages not far from Ulan-Ude where old believers (followers of old Russian Orthodox traditions) live according to information we found on the Internet. Although it turned out that they were not genuine old believers but something more like a promotion for tourists. The real old believers are very close knit community and don’t often communicate with people from the outside world.
We also visited Ivolginskiy dastan which is known to be the home for the last 7 years to Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov Lama, the chief figure of Russian Buddhism before the October Revolution in 1917. After being buried for decades, his body was exhumed, only to find that there were no signs of decay at all. Now he is worshipped as a saint, 7 times a year on special days Buddhists come to see how the incorruptible body of Hambo Lama Itigilov in lotus position in the cedar casket is taken out of the temple.
In August we came back to Olchon, a place known for its shaman rock and spirituality.
This time we flew to Irkutsk. The road to Olchon takes 4-5 hours from Irkutsk to the ferry and then 40 minutes by a local car. This is where you should be ready for a very bumpy stretch of road. There is a lot of talk about road construction in this part (from ferry to Huzhir) so maybe next year it will be much better.
This time there were more tourists on the ferry and the water of Baikal seemed to have changed colour. When we were leaving this place (on the 24th of August) it felt like mid-autumn, mainly because of the strong wind and the grey colour of the lake.
The most touristic season at the lake is considered to be from 20th of June until 20th of August. Then the weather can change very suddenly and the temperature can drop up to 0, -1C in the end of August.
We had two main stories to film at the island Olchon. One was about a Buddhist who came to the island for the summer to enjoy living the simple life and to do stand-up paddling. He showed to us the beauty of Baikal from the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it overserves but we did experience that very unique and peaceful feeling of the lake that he was talking about, when we were on the boat to get the shots of a very happy Victor on water.
We went by jeep to the bay from where we could see the white silhouette of the Buddhist stupa on the island Ogoy. From there Victor and his two friends reached the island on their boards in about 30 minutes and we climbed to the highest point of the island. The Buddhist Stupa of Enlightenment was built in the summer of 2005 with the initiative of the Moscow Buddhist centre.
Besides Olchon, we experienced a wild Baikal when we went to Onguren to film the story about a priest. The way to Onguren took us the whole day. The road stretched through the massive rocks and deep roots of trees, with deep forest on one side and the lake on another side. At times the scenery reminded a dry and dusty red planet like Mars.
We made really good contacts at Olchon and it was a little bit sad to leave this beautiful, peaceful and very special place in Russia.
Tips for visiting Olchon, Baikal
- Usually there are 3 ferries that take cars and people every 20 minutes but during the hot summer season (20 June – 20 August) it becomes really busy and cars get into long queues. We didn’t experience this ourselves but we were told that if it’s so busy, it’s better to leave your car by the ferry and swap to another car on the island to avoid a long wait.
- The wind is really strong at lake Baikal and it feels colder than you expect. So a wind proof coat, warm jumper and a hat will be very welcome. Also make sure you have sun cream and cover your shoulders as you can get burnt very quickly.
- In some remote areas (like Onguren) there is no electricity. They have solar batteries and give electricity only for 5 hours a day which is sometimes not stable so better to take extra batteries with you.
- We stayed at the homestead of Nikita and found it was a perfect location (reachable from everywhere) and with their breakfasts and dinners in the canteen it was very convenient before and after the shoot.
- There are a few places in Huzhir where they make fresh coffee: Bistro at Homestead Nikita, Art café (Pushkinskaya street), and hotel Baikal view and café from their brand on the hill.
- Some areas are national parks and you need a permit to visit (a small fee you need to pay in advance). Each region has its forest district who you can apply for the permit. Or you can send your details to the touristic company in Irkutsk, for example to this: firstname.lastname@example.org
We have just finished another project with London based production company Pilot. We headed to Saint-Petersburg on Easter Day for the new TV series “Empire Builders” which looks into the achievements of mighty Empires through its iconic buildings.
Not only is this our third project with the same production company, but also with British cameraman Nigel Kinnings. We have already shot Tough Trains and Ottomans Vs Christians together and shared some adventures.
This time in Saint-Petersburg we filmed two of the most magnificent buildings, the Winter Palace and the Catherine Palace. Then we headed to Moscow where we filmed St. Basils Cathedral and The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
In Saint-Petersburg we interviewed art historian and Professor Aleksey Lepork who was a real pleasure to work with. He has so much useful knowledge and a good understating of film processes which is a great help.
We filmed in The Winter Palace on a Monday which is when the museum is closed to the public. This gave us a very unique opportunity to use the space without the rush of tourists. We had this experience last summer when filming “Ottomans Vs Christians”, trying to capture the atmosphere of these majestic rooms with crowds of tourists passing through is hard work. Keeping them back to get a shot is often impossible, so to shoot there when it is just the crew, a few members of staff and some cleaners is a pleasure like no other. It’s a strange feeling to walk through these sumptuous imperial hallways alone, you can almost capture the emotion of what it must have been like when they were the homes of the Russian Emperors.
Our favourite team member in Saint-Petersburg Igor assisted us with moving equipment because in the Hermitage/Winter Palace they don’t let crews use their trolleys. The space is so vast to move from one room to another with a lot of equipment it can be very challenging. So having another good pair of hands made it really quick and convenient.
4 hours by Sapsan train brought us back to Moscow quick and easy to shoot the Cathedrals, then a morning of B Roll of the Kremlin and the cameraman and director were on a flight back to the UK.
Building long term working relationships is at the heart of our business, so when we were contacted by a production company from the UK that we had already filmed an episode of Tough Trains with, we were over the moon.
This shoot would be a historical documentary series that would take us to St Petersburg to look into Tsar Nicholas I and the Russian Orthodox Church in the 19th century.
First day of filming was at the New Jerusalem Monastery, about 60 km from Moscow, also known as the Voskresensky (Resurrection) Monastery and identical to the Cathedral of the same name in Jerusalem. It is one of the most beautiful and unique cathedrals near Moscow and was built at the end of the 17th century.
Some parts of its territory were under reconstruction so we were unable to film the exterior in full. We applied to the Patriarchy and gained their support and permission to film inside the Monastery, which took more than a month but which was worth all the paperwork and waiting. We were guided by one of the monasteries custodians who had a great knowledge of the history of the Monastery and was interviewed by the host of the series – Julian Davison – an architect, writer and tv presenter.
That same day we headed to St Petersburg on the fast train from Leningradsky station. The shoot would then take us to the Hermitage and Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress and Kronstadt. All are places in Saint-Petersburg that need filming permits and as with the Peter and Paul Fortress it was simple and quickly organised, with the Hermitage it took us quite a time to agree all the terms.
Filming in the Winter palace for TV can be challenging. You pay quite a lot of money but this doesn’t include closing the rooms you wish to film in. They are still open for the public and it is a struggle to stop them getting into shot. As this was a documentary shoot it had a small crew of just 4 of us. So knowing the distance through the many lavishly decorated halls and rooms we would have to carry a lot of equipment, we obtained the help of one of our trusted contacts in St Petersburg to be another pair of hands. He also became helpful with shepherding the tourists out of shot. But after three hours of filming in such an extraordinary place leaves you feeling more than a little awestruck.
In the Peter and Paul Fortress we filmed the cannon salute which happens every day in Saint-Petersburg at mid-day. They opened the fence for us so we could get close to the cannons just 15 minutes before it was fired, so it was an absolute shock when we heard the 3-ton cannon fire just 2 meters away.
In Kronstadt, which is about 1 -1,5 hours of drive from the city, we took a boat to the abandoned fort Alexander. They do some excursions inside the fort, but with a filming crew you need to agree with the administration in advance and pay a fee. The easiest way to get to fort Alexander by boat is to drive to Fort Konstantin.
- It is really important to find a hotel in Saint-Petersburg with a central location that have proper breakfast. The city is full of cosy bakeries but most cafes are opened from 10am. For a crew who normally have very early starts, it is almost impossible to find good breakfast en route unless you have it in your hotel.
- If you film the cannon salute at a close distance, make sure you have hearing protection with you.
- If you are going to film in Winter palace, avoid filming on Tuesday as it is considered to be one of the busiest days with tourists and groups. If possible don’t film in summer as this has the most tourists visiting.
Tashkent and Chorsu Market
In November we flew to Tashkent for a week to assist a Canadian crew filming a program for their series about the Worlds Markets for TV5. The program in Uzbekistan was about the Chorsu bazaar – one of the largest markets in Central Asia and the oldest in the region.
In the past only men were allowed to be at the market (selling and buying), women were not allowed but were at home cooking. The man’s duty was to earn money and bring food home. As there were no fridges, they used to bring food only for the week and they kept the products in the ditch, dug near the river.
Nowadays thankfully you can see lots of women in the market, selling and buying cooked food, milk products, bread, fruits and vegetables.
The territory of the market is so huge that it is not easy to understand straight away how it is organised. There are 3 main sections which are located in different areas. The biggest section is the food section which is divided into different parts: under the big dome they sell milk products, meat and dried fruits. Around the dome they have market stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, rice and spices and a section where they make bread. The second big section is the silk section where they sell textile, carpets, Suzanne as well as traditional wedding dresses. By crossing the street you can find the third section which is crafts. The development of folk art and crafts in Uzbekistan is very important. Ceramics, silk and cotton weaving, metal engraving are just some which have been passed down from ancient times.
In summer we were there to scout the locations and to find the characters for the show: merchants, producers, buyers and here we must say that they are a very welcoming people and genuinely interested in sharing their stories with us.
Fergana Valley and Silk Production
Uzbekistan is one of the world’s top three producers of silk cocoons, with the output for 2015 expected to exceed 26,000 tons. One important branch of the Silk Road transited in the Fergana Valley. Silkworm breeding and silk weaving was started in ancient times in Fergana Valley.
We drove to the Fergana Valley from Tashkent crossing a high mountain pass with a spectacular view which took us around 6 hours. You have to stop two times at check points where they check passports and the car goes much slower though the mountain pass.
We were welcomed by Yodgorlik Factory of Silk production in Margilan where we were lucky to see all the steps from getting threads out of cocoons right up to the final product. Silkworms grow in spring, so we could not see the full process but got a very good idea of how it works.
Rules and Accreditation
If you are coming as a film crew, you need to apply for accreditation to Ministry of foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan through a local touristic agency. There are a few touristic companies that can help with this. But all necessary documents should be sent to them 2-3 months before the crew intends to film.
5 Tips When You Travel to Uzbekistan
- There are some strict rules about what you can and cannot photograph so keep in mind that some administrative buildings as well as inside the metro are not allowed.
- Bring with you dollars, not euros. Due to 1USD being 2755 Uzbek sum (as of 29 December 2015) changing up a lot of money in one go, you will find you need a basket to carry it around in. Change 100 USD at a time – it can be enough for 3-4 days for food and drinks. There are exchange points in all big hotels. For example, in hotel Uzbekiston it works 24 hours.
- Uzbek food is very rich and oily, so when you eat their plov, it is good to have it with lots of green tea. If you are a vegetarian, make sure their vegetable pies like samsa with potatoes don’t contain lamb fat which is one of the main things they use for cooking in Uzbekistan.
- Uzbek people prefer tea to coffee so real coffee is often not easy to find. Coffee Bon on Chekhova Street is a place where you will be satisfied with a good cappuchino or latte; They also offer European food with lots of fresh salads and sandwiches.
- When you travel in summer make sure you have a hat, sunglasses and a bottle of water with you – the sun is very strong.
In October we helped a journalist from Austria’s main TV broadcaster with a project he was working on titled ‘Media and Propaganda’. How different news agencies tell the same story with a focus on international news coverage of events in Ukraine.
We got two interviews at RT (Russia Today). One with RT’s senior political correspondent, Anissa Naouai who has won a Silver World Medal in the Best News Anchor category for her nightly news magazine ‘In the Now’, and another with Ilya Petrenko about his reportage in Ukraine. We then headed to Sputnik, a relatively new agency aimed at foreign audiences to get another point of view.
We also had time to look into Putinversteher (a German word meaning a Putin sympathiser) which is a fashion brand with clothing featuring the face of the Russian president. Their best selling item is a silver ring with the presidents face.