Elena Beloff, a graduate of the New School University where she had studied film production, wanted to make movies since she was a little girl in her hometown in Tatarstan, Russia. When she was in high school she came to the USA as an exchange student and returned later to pursue her dreams. While living in New York Elena came across the infamous phenomena of the Russian women stereotype as materialistic gold-diggers and mail-order brides so she decided to make a film to explore the alleged stereotypes. As she was composing her student version of Zaritsas, she worked as an extra on the set of Law & Order where she met Vincent D’Onofrio who also starred in Men in Black and produced The Whole Wide World, and who became interested in her work and sponsored her film.
Elena’s documentary tells the stories of five Russian women in New York. Sasha, an exchange student loved the city and decided to stay. Katya’s dream is to quit her prestigious job at La Perla and become a photographer. The rapper Elena Ouri lives and breathes her songs and music – many about her vision of God. Tatiana rebuilt herself from rape and loss of her husband. Irina, an exotic dancer, takes refuge at a spiritual retreat to rebuild herself, and finds a job in the New York Jewelry district – with the emotional support of all the other women in the film.
The film is named Zaritsas, (The Queens) because of a Russian song about women locked in a cage of societal judgment much like the medieval Queens were trapped in their castles. Full of personal dilemmas and intense emotions, the film was an interesting cultural insight, and Elena Beloff was excited to answer the questions it raised.
What prompted you to make this movie? Did you feel bogged down by the stereotypes? Were you yourself tired of being placed in a stereotype bucket after telling people you are Russian?
EB: When I first came to the US, I began hearing stories about Russian mail-order brides and how easy it was to get a Russian wife if one wanted to. Then, in New York in 2000 I often heard about the article “From Russia with Sex” by Michael Gross which depicted Russian women as cold hearted gold-diggers. Also, while living in Brooklyn for a few years I became aware of strippers’ phenomenon – so many Russian girls were doing it that it seemed like a norm. I became curious about the stereotypes and how and why they developed. Over the years I met Russian women who married or went out with older rich men to better their lives without being really in love. My heart was aching when I saw women in such situations.
You followed several Russian women in New York to tell their life stories and journeys. That took a lot of time and effort. How long did it take you to make the film, how did you manage your life while making it?
It took me two years to make this film. It was certainly a lot of work, but it was worth it. I was working on my film full time and also supported myself doing hypnosis sessions. I am also trained hypnotist.
You mentioned that the film was produced by Vincent D’Onofrio. How did you find him and convince him to be your producer – or was it his idea?
I met D’Onofrio on the set of Law & Order, I was an extra there. I was still studying the New School University at the time and just finished a student version of my film about Russian women. He saw a trailer and believed in my film. His production company sponsored it.
A few personal tidbits: where were you born, why and how did you come to New York and what made you choose film-making as your career?
I was born in Russia in Tatarstan. I came to the US originally as an exchange student and went to high school in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Later, I came back again to pursue my dreams in NYC. Filmmaking is my passion. I chose it because I can communicate my vision, beliefs and love for art through film.
Will you be joining us at the festival?
Yes, I will join the festival. The ladies [from the documentary] will come as well. I will bring friends and they will vote for me.
What are your aspirations and what’s the next big project?
My aspirations are to make more films, documentary and feature films. Right now we are in production of my documentary film about Hypnosis.