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Member Spotlight: Agniia Galdanova and Igor Myakotin

By Anisa Hosseinnezhad

Agniia Galdanova and Igor Myakotin

Agniia Galdanova is a Sundance and IDFA-supported documentary film director. Her previous film, One Step Forward, One Step Back (2020), about a family’s dream to live far from civilization in the Altai Mountains, premiered at the Message to Man International Film Festival.

Igor Myakotin is an Emmy-nominated BAFTA-winning filmmaker who produced the feature-length documentary Queendom (2023), which had its world premiere at SXSW 2023 and won the NEXT:WAVE Jury Award at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen. Igor also co-produced Welcome to Chechnya (2020), which HBO acquired before its world premiere in a 2020 Sundance Film Festival documentary competition. Welcome to Chechnya has also been awarded the Peabody Award and BAFTA and received an Emmy nomination. Igor is a 2022 Sundance Producing Fellow and was named as one of the “40 Under 40” working in the documentary industry by DOC NYC. He believes that cinema is not a way to escape reality but a way to embrace it with all its peculiarities and its darkness.

IDA: Please tell us a little about yourselves; how and when did you start to work in the documentary field?

Agniia Galdanova: I realized I wanted to make documentary films when I met my future mentor Marina Razbezhkina at the DokLeipzig Festival in 2016, where she was showing a retrospective of her films. It made a significant impact on me as a filmmaker. Soon after that, I moved from Berlin back to Moscow to enroll in the Documentary Film School of Marina Razbezhkina and Michail Ugarov. And that’s where my passion for non-fiction started. I made my first two films there, one short and a thesis documentary that I had to direct, produce, film, and edit independently. It was an invaluable experience that formed my understanding of documentary form and the power of cinema. While making Queendom, I stayed true to the observational approach, but I also knew that I wanted to develop a new visual language that reflects my vision of Gena’s world.

Igor Myakotin: I started working in the documentary field while studying journalism at the American University in Bulgaria. Melody Gilbert, the documentary filmmaker teaching at the time in Bulgaria, introduced me to the world of film, and we have collaborated on several films since then. The latest is Judy’s Thoughts, an experimental short documentary based on the audiotape Melody’s mother left behind shortly before she died of cancer at 40. It's an emotional, bittersweet, and transformative film. In 2017, while living in Provincetown on Cape Cod, I met David France, the director of an Oscar-nominated documentary called How to Survive a Plague. A fateful meeting brought me to New York to work on what would be Welcome to Chechnya, which David directed and Alice Henty produced. I never thought I would be a producer but working alongside David and Alice and learning a great deal about filmmaking from them, and witnessing the power of storytelling made me appreciate the documentary form - and producing in particular.

IDA: How did you meet each other?

AG: Our common friends, brilliant film directors Askold Kurov and David France, introduced us to each other. I sent a short clip to Igor to have a glimpse of what we had already filmed. And I could not believe Igor was from the same town as Gena. Magadan is such an unpopular destination, thousands of miles away from Moscow. You rarely meet many people from there in such a short time. I found it a sign of destiny and didn't have any doubts that this collaboration was meant to be. 

IDA: Did your collaboration start with Queendom? Please give us some background on how you came to work and collaborate on the film.

IM: Our collaboration started with Queendom in the summer of 2021. We haven’t worked together before, but we quickly felt comfortable around each other (even though we met in person only after 1.5 years of working remotely!). It was a very organic, collaborative process.

IDA: The landscape of Magadan in the film is stunning! What is your relationship with the location? Have either of you been to Magadan before making the film?

IM: I was born and raised in Magadan - so seeing it being depicted in the film and seeing how incredible Gena is and that she’s also from that town… that was a shock to me! I can see my apartment building in the opening shot of the film! It’s wild.

AG: I have never been to Magadan before, and I guess I would never go there if I hadn’t met Gena. But I know about the horrors of the past that took place there—especially after reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago about the Soviet forced labor camp system known as Gulag. He calls this region the "pole of cold and cruelty," where thousands died in the labor camps. Before we went to Magadan for the first time, I already had a certain metaphorical idea in mind: how fear, which is born in this place and passed down from generation to generation, does not want to let Gena go. Her fear became a metaphor for the whole of Russia and the emotional state of its citizens living in fear. When I got there, I witnessed the trauma that people were still carrying, but I was also mesmerized by our warm welcome and how caring and kind the people were.

IDA: In 2022, you were one of the recipients of IDA’s Enterprise Documentary Fund Grantees. Congratulations! Tell us a little about your experience as a grantee.

IM & AG: Thank you so much! The grant came at a critical time in production when we were filming the last scenes for the film and didn’t know if we could continue. We were filming critical moments in Gena’s life when she had to safely flee the country and find shelter in Paris, France. From travel to actual filming to working closely with safety consultants and attorneys - all of this is expensive. Especially when it needed to be done urgently, this required a lot of planning and resources. We wouldn’t be able to finish production without IDA. We want to thank Keisha Knight, Katherine Hurley, Maria Santos, and everyone at IDA who is working with filmmakers and is being really attuned and attentive to our needs in the industry's current state. Besides monetary value, IDA provided us with invaluable resources concerning legal and creative questions, navigating the industry, and amplifying the film.

IDA: Congratulations on the world premiere of Queendom at SXSW! Tell us a little about the reception of the film in Russia. 

IM & AG: It was a dream to premiere Queendom at SXSW! It is such a special place with the most invested and dedicated audiences. Austin lives and breathes art; it’s everywhere. And yes, we both did a rodeo ride! Guess who stayed the longest? 

It was also a very poignant moment to share the film in Texas, which just passed bills banning drag performances in front of children and restricting reproductive rights. We partnered with Austin-local LGBTQIA+ activist and drag performer Cynthia Lee Fontaine to talk about the issues that people are facing in Texas and across the country. 

Queendom hasn’t been shown in Russia yet because of the extreme crackdown on freedom of expression and human rights, targeting the LGBTQIA+ population, in particular by the Kremlin. With all independent media banned, anything that has LGBTQIA+ themes, characters, or is critical of the current government wouldn’t be allowed to be shown in the country. But we are certain the film will be seen in Russia, one way or another. It is our priority; it is one of the reasons why we made the film.