Maxim said two things that I remember: one was that someday we should make a movie together about Prypiat, which is the city where he was from. And the other was that he didn't believe he would live long.
Through your work on Chernobyl Heart and now White Horse, what have you discovered about these kinds of horrific accidents in terms of how they impact a person?
In Pripyat, I was unaware at the time I made Chernobyl Heart of just the kind of community this city was. Its population was around forty-eight thousand, sixteen-thousand of which were kids. Now just imagine a small town in the United States that one day gets evacuated and there's never anybody going back there again. It will be like that for thousands and thousands of years. It's really eerie and very unsettling that you could have this accident and then everyone's life would be changed forever. I didn't quite grasp that when I did the first Chernobyl film, about the evacuation, about the lives of children.
Maxim was ten years old at the time of accident. He was taken out of his home and his life basically fell apart after that. His mother died from cancer, and other relatives died. And in his mind (whether it's true or not we don't know for sure) he believes it was from the radiation. And I don't think he could ever really move on from that. I think he kinda got stuck in that place. And as far as we know, from his wife, he did die. He suffered some kind of heart seizure, and he died last year. And he was only thirty-two.
So, I think we'll never know the far-reaching effects of the accident, because people were dispersed all over the Soviet Union, and they haven't kept records, and it's very hard to say what's from radiation and what's not. We know that thyroid cancer is directly related, but there are other cancers there, and there's just no way to know. And being uprooted and just having the psychological mindset that you've been exposed to this radiation and that it will have devastating effects on your health is quite traumatizing.
This was your first film, Christophe. What did you learn in making it?
I am so glad that Maryann trusted me. I learned a lot from her. It was great and unique experience to work with her. The process was very difficult. We knew we had something in the footage but it was hard to agree on the right form. Our vision of the film was different and we don't have the same sensibility. But we found the right form beyond our differences. I really believe that we did something together that exists between us.
There are no easy answers, no happy ending in this film, only your observation of Maxim. Is that your preferred style of storytelling?
I guess I feel like what people take away from the film is their business. But it's a person's life. It's a story that many people wouldn't have known about, that there was this city, and it was called Pripyat, and it was the most modern city in the Soviet Union. And almost fifty-thousand people were living there and one day all that changed. And just to be aware that these things have happened in the world, and to think about our own lives, our own memories, our own childhoods. That's what matters to me.
People are free to think what they want of the film. There is no intentional meaning already thought. I just hope that people will share this journey. Nevertheless, I think the Chernobyl zone gives a right image of a possible future of our world. With Chernobyl what we thought that was impossible became possible. This is the most pessimistic part of my thought. I also think like Holderlin, "where the danger is there is also what will save us."