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Watch: Delphic's Video Shot In Chernobyl, Director & Ewan Pearson Interviewed
John Doran , July 24th, 2009 09:16

Quietus photographer Dave Ma got back from Chernobyl recently where he was filming a new video for Delphic. Here are the results with a gallery of stunning photographs and a commentary from DJ/producer Ewan Pearson

Johnny: In the same Book of Revelations, when the seven seals are broken open on the Day ofJudgment and the seven angels blow the trumpets when the third angel blows her bugle, wormwood will fall from the sky, wormwood will poison a third part of all the waters and a third part of all the land, and many, many, many people will die. Now, do you know what the Russian translation for "wormwood" is?

Security guard: No.

Johnny: Chernobyl. FACT!

Mike Leigh's Naked

When Manchester indie band Delphic wanted a unique music video for their futuristic-sounding new single, ‘This Momentary’ all they knew was that they didn't want to appear in it themselves.

This led to Pulse Films taking the unprecedented step of filming the music video in Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear explosion in Russia. Unusually, the video was shot in a documentary style. The director, Dave Ma and producer, Neil Andrews, spoke to Chernobyl inhabitants - visiting the abandoned town near the power plant, the deserted villages where elderly people still live and the towns where people were relocated – and the narrative was constructed around their lives. However, unlike the roving format of documentaries, the shots were composed in a very still manner, to lend the video a sense of time and tranquility.

The style of shoot meant that the crew had to carry all the equipment around the eerily deserted site. Filming inside the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion meant other challenges for the crew; at the end of every day the crew had to be screened for radiation.

The end result is a totally unique music video which captures the everyday lives of ordinary people living in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Top notch DJ/producer Ewan Pearson, who produced the single, was bowled over by the video and told us: "I've produced and mixed 'This Momentary' and the rest of the forthcoming Delphic album; indirectly, I had a hand in the video too. While we were in Rockfield studios recording we were talking about videos and Matt from the band was complaining about the poor quality of treatments they were getting. The band don't want to appear in their videos at the moment and what people were suggesting instead had been pretty apalling.

"I suggested he look at Dave Ma's stuff - I know Dave because he's the brother of Jono from Lost Valentinos (the Sydney band I produced prior to Delphic) and he just did a beautiful video for their single 'Serio'. I heard nothing more from them and assumed nothing had happened until a few weeks later when we were mixing and the band told me Dave had signed up to make the video for 'This Momentary' and that he was going to film in and around Chernobyl, almost documentary-style.

"A rough cut arrived when we were mixing and everyone just stood there in awe really; he's made something which is really beautiful but packs a mighty emotional punch - it really complements the song and makes it more effective. The moment when the girls in school suddenly lip-sync "let's do something real" really catches you unawares and at that point my eyes started to tear up. In these days when promo is so cynically about performance or glamour or cheese it's great to see a band and a director interested in making something beautiful or moving for its own sake. Everyone who's seen it has been floored by it really."

Dave Ma, the video director, shared some memories of the experience with us as well.

How did you come up with the concept for the video?

DM: I knew I wanted to film something that had a strong human element in a well known place with a dark past. Initially I thought of going to the West Bank in Palestine but that just wasn't feasible this time round so I had a look at some images of the Chernobyl area and read about elderly people moving back into the exclusion zone and knew it would be an interesting concept.

Almost everyone knows of Chernobyl, but not a lot of people know what happened or what the place is actually like. That seemed an interesting thing to try and capture in a music video and the band were kind enough to agree.

Why did you feel the setting fitted the song?

DM: The song seemed quite haunting yet positive to me and I like the idea that even in the most fucked up places and situations people just get on with things. Ultimately, on some level, they have the same needs and wants as anyone even if there is more struggle. The sense of reflection on that and the idea of everything changing in a moment worked well with the track.

The line 'Let's do something real' became a kind of mantra for the project and was the perfect way to join the footage to the track. Ultimately it was about the human element and the people that perfectly complimented the vocal lines in the song.

How did you approach working in a place like Chernobyl?

DM: A lot of research before flying out and we made sure our guide/translator knew the area well.

Once there, in Pripyat the abandoned town, we were lugging a lot of equipment up into abandoned buildings that were not so structurally sound at times. Constantly you're thinking about the radiation because you've got a geiger counter freaking out in your hand. I went out there with two pairs of Dunlop Volleys and came back with one pair. I wanted to film area in a very composed way rather than just swinging the camera around at whatever we saw. That took time and was frustrating at times but I think the results were great. Ross McLennan, the Director of Photography on the job, was incredible as always.

How different was it from how you expected?

DM: The Chernobyl area is very large and the first thing you realise is just how much nature has taken over. Pripyat is the perfect example of what would happen to a city if everyone just left. Trees and plants and decaying concrete. The other thing that struck me was how active the area is in places. There are still people working around the Nuclear Power Plant and it was still operating up until the year 2000! That was a revelation.

What's the longest you can spend in the exclusion zone?

DM: People live there, so I'm assuming quite a while. Though I wouldn't want to hang out round the power plant too long. All the workers had little badges that measured cumulative radiation and we had to stand on a screening device each day to measure our radiation levels. We all got the OK on that one.

But really - the whole thing is like a massive human experiment. Who knows what kind of long term affects they're going to discover down the line. I think our guide said he had aged more quickly during the time he lived in Chernobyl town.

What was the most challenging aspect of shooting there?

DM: The uncontrollability and language barrier. The language barrier made it hard to quickly adapt to situations. With the people I had to make sure our translator understood what I was trying to do with the portrait shots which at first he didn't get. After a while I worked out some good hand signals and ways of asking people to stare into the camera for 10 seconds without smiling. I think he assumed we would be a documentary crew and happy to shoot wandering camera stuff but I wanted to get really well composed frames and a stillness to the subject.

What response did you get from the people who appeared in the video?

DM: I was surprised how willing people were to be filmed. No-one questioned us wanting them to stare at the camera or drive their car around for us. People were so welcoming and quite insistent on making us drink vodka to protect us from the radiation.

At the school I was asked if this was going to be a positive or negative film - and I assured them I wanted it to be positive and show the area not as a desolate wasteland because it isn't. They seemed pleased and that made me feel an even greater responsibility to try and make the video meaningful.

What did you take from the experience?

DM: I don't think anyone could go to the area around Chernobyl and not feel a connection with the place and people there. Ross, Neil Andrews the producer and I have all discussed going back there when we can to film another project.

It was incredible to have the chance to make a music video on such a real and meaningful topic. Credit to Delphic and Jill Kaplan the commissioner for placing a lot of trust in the idea and letting us get on with the job at hand.

Click below to see some pictures of Chernobyl

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