Film focuses on hidden Russian street life
By Paula King
Staff Writer
Contra Costa Times (California)

August 20, 2003

Following the first rule of storytelling, Marianna Yarovskaya went back to her homeland of Russia to tell a tale that the natives know all too well and try to ignore.

"All of my life, I have liked non-fiction," she said. "I wanted to tell a story about anything dealing with extremes like poverty or war. It was a look in from the outside."

With a Russian-American crew, the Orinda filmmaker followed the lives of four teenage runaways in different parts of the country. The 23-minute documentary reveals how these homeless youths are exiled out of Moscow by Russian police in preparation for high profile events, like the 1998 International Youth Olympics.

The student film was produced five years ago as a thesis project while Yarovskaya attended USC's film school. Undesirables went on to earn a Student Oscar in 2001, College Emmy in 2000 and was featured at the Cannes International Film Festival as part of the Kodak Emerging Filmmakers Showcase.

It is one of the featured documentaries at this year's Orinda Film Festival in September. Festival officials are calling the award-winning film "informative, engrossing and fascinating."

Shot in the juvenile detention centers, where the teens are herded to keep them off the streets during official events, Undesirables is a sobering look at their hopeless lives. The short also documents how they are eventually deported from Moscow and sent back to abusive homes or faraway reform schools.

As a former correspondent for Russian television, Yarovskaya has often appreciated the ease of telling a story with real characters. By using her former contacts in journalism, she was trusted by sources more quickly.

Although Yarovskaya tried to be sensitive while looking at one of Russia's social problems at the present time, some of her people were outraged by her willingness to expose those troubles.

"The problem for the Russian people in dealing with our social ills is denial, that see-no-evil attitude that allows such travesties to fester," she said. "A lot of it has to do with pride and a historical habit of showing outsiders that everything is fine."

Yarovskaya went into the project knowing that it wasn't being created for the Russian media, it was so Americans could get more information on Russia from an informed director and producer. She found that her subjects were more willing to open up and speak candidly, since it would not be aired in their country.

"I like the idea of bridging cultures. I got a letter from Singapore and someone wrote that they had a similar problem there. That surprised me. I didn't expect for them to respond that way," she said. "You never know what is going to be embraced. It was a mystery."

She is currently in post-production on a feature-length documentary about former Russian snipers who have found protection in religion after fighting in various wars and military conflicts in Chechnya and Afghanistan following the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the three men is now an Orthodox priest and the others are a shaman and Muslim.

"I was trying to see these former veterans after war," Yarovskaya said. "I was also trying to address the mandatory recruitment process in Russia."

After working for three years as a video producer for the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, the 31-year-old filmmaker is now a segment producer and researcher for a Discovery Channel show entitled Unsolved History. This in-depth documentary series uses technologie, like forensic science to explore the world's long-time mysteries.