March 31, 2014

Capturing the Magic of Film: Our Interview with Out-of-This-World Filmmaker Gleb Osatinski

John Cassavetes once said, "Anyone who can make a film, I already love." The decision to make any movie is a leap of faith, and more so when you're a trained physicist who emigrated from the former Soviet Union and gives up a steady paycheck on Wall Street to follow your artistic, cinematic dreams. Such is the case with unlikely filmmaker Gleb Osatinski, whose new short is gaining him a lot of attention for its otherworldly appeal. We talk to him about life and film in the former USSR, the beauty of the open-ending, and risking everything for a dream.

A dilapidated house. A little boy alone in the woods. A cosmonaut wandering the stars. A visual mystery that doesn't provide any easy answers. These are just a few of the elements in filmmaker Gleb Osatinski's short, The House At The Edge Of The Galaxywhich is already garnering significant attention on the festival circuit, and is available to watch on Fandor.

Osatinski is an exemplary No Film School style filmmaker. A trained physicist, born and raised in the former Soviet Union, he came to the U.S. in 1994, where he studied at NYU Stern School of Business and worked for many years on Wall Street before deciding to chase his dream. He made his first short film, Pisces of an Unconscious Mind, a few years ago:

With the positive buzz that generated, Osatinski decided to make a much more ambitious short, The House At The Edge Of The Galaxy. Playing at the Sarasota Film Festival this week, we talk to Osatinski about his project, life in the former Soviet Union, the risk of giving it all up to follow a dream, and the beauty of ambiguity in cinema.

No Film School: Growing up in the former Soviet Union, what sort of films did you watch? Were many American films permitted?

Gleb Osatinski: I watched lots of different films growing up. I was a big fan of [Andrei] Tarkovsky, and there were always the more 'accessible' films from directors like Eldar Ryazanov, who was one of the biggest directors in Russia. As far as American films, yes, we did, but, of course, they had to go along with the ideology of the government. American films that satirized or showed the detrimental effects of capitalism and shallowness of life in the west were permitted -- I remember films like Midnight CowboyRain Man, and Kramer vs. Kramer were allowedAlso, the first two of The Godfather movies were very popular. There were classic films by Billy Wilder, old Sherlock Holmes movies, and on TV I remember we used to have Columbo [ed. note: whoever dubbed Peter Falk's voice in Russian is no doubt the greatest actor in history] and even Twin Peaks, which was my favorite TV show at the beginning of the 90s.

NFS: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

GO: I was always very interested in cinema, but for many years never considered it a real possibility. In 1994, I came to the U.S. from Russia. I have studied physics and business, and worked on Wall Street for several years before taking the leap and making my first short, Pisces of an Unconscious Mind, a few years ago. Then I made The House at the Edge of the Galaxy, and now I am looking towards my third film, which will be a bit longer and more complex.

NFS: Your film has a unique tone -- it feels like an art film, but there is a narrative, and as it progressed, I kept waiting for a twist, almost like a Twilight Zone episode, but the film leaves itself open to many interpretations. Was that your intention, and do you have one you’d care to share?

GO: Yes, that was my intention. It is very much an ‘art piece,’ that is, I was trying to get at something ineffable about the universe and life, and something personal to me. As far as interpretations, I think that is one of the most beautiful things about art, that we are able to bring our own meaning.  No one person’s is more valid than the other. I think that is the beauty of an open-ending. If the universe is ambiguous, shouldn’t art be, as well? For me, personally, the film is about the soul, memory, our need to run from ourselves. It is symbolic, allegorical. But that is only my meaning.

NFS:  That’s quite unusual, especially for a short that has production values this high. Many shorts are far more narrative, i.e., they tell a very definite story, especially since so many are made with an eye towards making a feature.

GO: Indeed, and there are thousands of talented filmmakers, each with their own vision. Me, myself, I felt I could not be untrue to my vision. As an artist, I have always wanted to put my vision on the screen, and by collaborating with others, to make it greater than it would ordinarily be. I want to give more, to get more, to fully be invested in the project. I think that is a way to be open to the ‘magic’ -- you cannot plan for it, but you can be ready for it when it knocks on the door, because it can come at any moment. If you could plan magic, it wouldn’t be magical. I am also a firm believer in rhythm, whether it refers to the editing of a film, or more generally, the rhythm of life itself, of the universe. I think, in cinema, too, that when it comes down to it, rhythm is more important than structure, at least for me.

NFS: Could you tell me a little about the location?

GO: Well, when I went scouting in Pennsylvania, I was struck by the otherworldly beauty of the location. It was slightly evocative, for me, of The MirrorTarkovsky’s film. The main set is a house, abandoned since 1959, that we happened upon. I had to shoot there, but there were worries about safety! But walking into that house, I knew we could not shoot anywhere else. So we had a carpenter come in to make sure everything was sound, and a few scenes we had to shoot up the hill at the house of a member of the family who owned our location. I’m not sure why they abandoned the house and never tore it down, but it’s good for me that they didn't! We had to spend an incredible amount of time prepping and getting all the equipment there, since it was not the most convenient location.

NFS: What about the production itself (the crew, cameras, etc.)?

GO: We had a crew of 24 people in all, shooting for 6 days. I was, of course, wearing many hats. My wife was also an invaluable member of the team! My DP, Jaren Blaschke, was amazing, as was my editor, Laura Israel, my A.D. Eric Edward LaFranchi, Production Designer Robert Eggers, everyone, really. Too many to name! The film was shot on a  D-21 -- there are no handheld shots, by the way, it is all either sticks or dolly, and laying tracks in the woods is not easy! We used prime lenses, between 35-50 mm. The movie was cut with Final Cut Pro. Color correction was at DuArt, by the talented Jane Tolmachyov. The soundtrack was composed by Romain Collin, with sound design by Greg Smith and Margaret Crimmins at Dog Bark Sound, and mix by Jeremy Lucas. For the music, I wanted something that reminded me of an old ballad. We made a recording of a grand piano, then output it to analog tape, then re-digitized it to the slightly worn, decayed, effect I was after -- I was influenced by John Cage [the 20th-century American avant-garde composer], from whom Romain got the idea to put screws, nails, etc. in between the strings of the piano, to give us a unique sound. And I think we succeeded!

NFS: How did you find your cast?

GO: I cast the boy, Grayson Sides, and Richard Manichello and I worked together for the second time. This was the first role for Grayson, and I think he did a fantastic job. It was not an easy set for him, but he was stoic and extremely professional. He was just seven! I really hope that after this film he will continue to be an actor and this film will be a great start for him. The kid has talent. Richard and I worked in Pisces together. I love Richard's work. He just knows the character. I love how he mixes elements of something surreal and yet dramatic at the same time. I have been always very inspired by his transformations on the set.

NFS: What’s next for you?

GO: Right now, I’m working on a script for a new film, it is slightly different than my previous work but, of course, you cannot help but be yourself. I am co-writing the script with Danielle Ellen, who is an excellent writer and a great help. The most open important thing is to be open, as I’ve said. The magic might come at any moment, and you want to be ready for it!

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The House at the Edge of the Galaxy is showing this week at the Sarasota Film Festival. Osatinski is currently looking for additional funding for his next film, and can be contacted here. What do you think? Would you give it all up to chase a dream? Do you think it's brave or foolhardy to use so many resources to make what are essentially art films? If you have given up a "normal" career to make films, what was your drive? Let us know, in the comments!

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30 Comments

Thanks for the article. I just watched "Pisces". It's pretty good.

As for the question, Do you think it's foolhardy to make "Art" films? Well, almost no short films make a profit, so you may as well make the film that you want to make. And if you're making a feature, if it's good people will watch it, whatever the genre. The risky thing is to have no narrative, but this short actually has quite a structured narrative. Even though it's dramatized through symbolism, the symbolism is pretty accessible.

March 31, 2014 at 11:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tom

By "this short", I mean Pisces of an Unconscious Mind, the only one I watched so far.

March 31, 2014 at 12:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tom

Hey Tom, thank you for the comment. I think you said it right, you make the film you want to make, and sometimes, it is good to take risks.

March 31, 2014 at 12:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Looks interesting!

Is there any chance nfs could ask more questions about how these larger scale shorts are funded in future articles? I think it's something many people would like to hear more about.

Thanks!

March 31, 2014 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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eckel

Hi Eckel, thank you for your comment. I used RocketHub.com to raise some portion of the budget for both films. 4 or 5 Credit Cards to cover the rest as well as some money I had on my own.

March 31, 2014 at 1:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gleb, thanks for the reply. I liked pisces a lot, glad to see people still interested in making these types of films. Lynch, Tarkovski and Fellini all come to mind. I look forward to seeing your next film, production values look great.

March 31, 2014 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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eckel

I'm sure the film is lovely and the trailer haunting, but I guess my major comment is, how does this filmmaker's deep pockets and deep-pocketed short apply to no-budget filmmaking? I'd love to parlay my Wall Street career into filmmaking, except I can't since I didn't work there, nor have access to the rich friends one finds in that environment to afford an Alexa, and primes, and dollies (in the woods!), and a color-correct at DuArt, etc etc etc. There's a difference between "anyone who can make a film" and a man who can pay people to do it for him. No disrespect to the filmmaker - if you got it, flaunt it - but it would have been nice to hear how this methodology applied to those without the money to go to film school. I can watch richer shorts from countries that help pay for them, but that's not why I visit this site.

March 31, 2014 at 2:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sarasotan

Budget is a sensitive topic, and i understand your comment, Sarasotan, and want to thank you for that comment. My main point is that everyone has their own ways to make their film, and that is what makes us different filmmakers from each other. If Galaxy looked expensive, for you, fine, in reality, we used old D-21 Alexa and the whole equipment and the light packages were at a deep discounts from the rental houses. it looks more than it costed us. The location was a key factor. The house was abandoned, and we didn't have to bring a lot of props, everything was already inside, we just used the material to decorate the set. A few people worked for free, if this matters, and we wanted to have a budget and wanted people to be paid for their work, but it was not deep pockets, you mentioned. Yet, with budget or without, you still have a chance to make your film, and the film can be good or bad - this still equally probable - is up to you. Finding ways to make art - why won't we stay on the topic here? And if you want a greater detail about our production, please send me a private message so we can discuss.

March 31, 2014 at 3:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Good response and I agree with everything you're saying. If you're passionate enough about something, you will make it work and you will find what you need. You can never be afraid to ask in this industry and you have to work hard outside of filmmakingto build relationships and gather resources to make it happen. I recently shot a very personal film for 2 weekends straight by finding a dedicated cast and crew who believed in me and the script and we found 2 buddies who became executive producers and funded the project. We got all the gear we needed and the correct tools for the job and it came together after months of preparation. I had no money to my name but the will to shoot this project and I reached out to people for help. it's really simple.

March 31, 2014 at 3:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brad Watts

Thanks Brad

March 31, 2014 at 5:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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But could you honestly look someone in the eye and say "Hey, why are you working on Wall Street when you could be making a short film instead ?". He was a problem-solver who solved his problems and achieved on merit.

March 31, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Saied

'Pisces of an unconscious mind' was excellent and the new one looks like a step up!

I too am interested in financing tips. So many of us have the will, the script but money is an issue. Everyone's journey to getting the money they need is different no doubt, but any insight would be great. I'm curious why rockethub over one of the more well known crowfunding site, what sort of budget you had on the films respectively and any tips in general!

March 31, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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simon

Alright, I get that the guy is trying to do something that is deeply artistic. I understand that.
However, any time you invoke John Cassavetes you got a whole other thing happening. I understand that was the context and framing of the journalist, however, an 50k-100k short film that is one man's expressionistic Jungian Tarkovsky Pastiche is in no way, no thank you sir, Mr. John Cassavetes.
While I greatly lament the 'end of making "Movie" Movies with some of the current Brookyln-Guy-Lost-His-Guitar-Now-Has-To-Find-It Genre that's happening, I don't think this is the solution.

Perhaps as low budget filmmakers (and bloggers) our concern (if there even should be one) is how to make pieces of art that are accessible, fucking entertaining, pertinent, applicable, and human. If we don't do that, this guy could have just as well made a 100k Transformers short and you sure wouldn't be calling him John Cassavetes. His taste just happened to align with Tarkovsky, and he had the finances to hire talented people to execute something very very very close to that taste. I hate to use the word masturbatory, but I have to admit it was haunting the former sentences here.

At the end I just wonder if maybe just maybe that 50-100k could be have been spent on a feature that would require the same amount of personal effort, toil, and ingenuity that the great low-budget films of the past 5 years have achieved. Maybe then the filmmaker would be forced to leave the nurturing pen of short-film-style and create a piece that has application to our life. That way, he's forced to say something that's his own.

But then, if he was the one actually laying track in the woods, maybe I'm all wrong. I think John would have.

March 31, 2014 at 5:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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LiamNeeson

Exactly my point, Liam. Some of us have to lay the track, hold the boom, edit and color-correct. And more to the point, so do film school students who generally cannot afford a large crew, tradeouts or not. This profile reads like someone selling their film on Fandor, which he is. God love someone lucky enough to have all that opportunity and those Rubles, but the author has all but buried the No Film School parts in favor of an infomercial, leaving the subject to do all the explaining in the Comments section. And for all the nice festivals it's probably played and kind words, does it really matter since it's just a short? A Cassavettes feature never had such trappings, so it feels awkward and silly to align that realism with Tarkovsky-lite ambitions and production value.

March 31, 2014 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sarasotan

Great points here, Liam. Congrats on the Taken franchise. Also, you're my kinda s/he, Sarasotan.
Also, I know what you're all thinking "John! You're dead!" And yea, I think I am. Perhaps there's some sort of Dickensian thing going on here, let's chalk this up to a Jacob Marley Appearance.
So anyway, I hear people are talking about me. Liam is real busy, so I'll elaborate on what I can infer from his post.

I have nothing against anyone's tastes. As you heard, I do love anyone who makes movie. But we have to agree, making movies is hell. It's long, it's taxing, it's acidic on relationships, it ruins lives, it makes couches into beds, basements into offices, computers in churches, and in the end- 90 minutes into scripture and sermon.

I hate to talk about money, but money has and will forever been inherently linked to our art form. In a way, money is an alluring spectre. We all set our sails to head, eventually, at the end of the journey, towards it- but when we get there- it's hard to get out of how soft the skin is and how easy the night's pass with them. Then, people never leave. They forget why they set out in the first place. In a word, it makes things easy. "Easy" is a word that has been packaged and commodified by film schools- something this website should be against. Easy is a way that we can package and we can buy a crew, we can traditionally edit our films, we can traditionally mix our films, we can have a guy at a great post house lay in his proprietary library of foley, the good people at DuArt can apply the look they just put on XZbibit's music video, because, yaknow, that's the way it's supposed to be done.
I've never liked that way. Or at least when I was alive I didn't. Being dead hasn't really changed my tune.
There's something purifying to process of low-budget filmmaking- the route nofilmschoolers are forced to take. Liam referenced some great low-budget films of our generation- perhaps Shane Carruth, Jeremy Saulnier, Harmony Korine, Evan Glodell, and Benh Zeitlin would be best served as an example. Granted, Zeitlin's masterful short "Glory at Sea" was pretty pricey, but they all paid for it from what I've read, and we can be that Mr. Zeitlin was the one laying the track in the bayou (Just kidding, there was no track, because it was all handheld, and nobody had time or patience or the hired-crew who knew how to lay track). The difference between those filmmakers and ones we rail against (lets take Michael Bay) can be boiled down to the dissonance between expression and means. Let's talk about that.
I get that Bay makes the movies he wants. However, I do not believe that when Bay goes to bed at night, the high priced call girls leave, his coke's almost out, his Lambo has too much dust on it, and he forgot when the cleaning ladies are coming- that when he finally lays his head down- in his heart of hearts- he thinks about robots punching each other in their robot dicks. I just don't buy it. Sorry.
I do however think that when Mr. Carruth goes to bed at night, after staring at his computers and his drawings and his endless notes, he does think of the maze-like elusiveness of life.
So, maybe Mr. Osatinksi has gotten the brunt of the argument here, but maybe I don't believe that filmmakers with those such Means are really forced to see what they see when they go to bed. I think when he's awake, he's perhaps watching all the Tarkovsky he can get, he's engaging in the conversation of cinema, he's aware of his taste and his place in it, and maybe like the richest player in Monopoly, he buys up all the spots. Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe had he executed it differently, with less means, or spread out differently, he would have found another film inside of his influences.
As I was saying, the dissonance between Means and Expression is that money is a purifier of those disingenuous ideas. When you have none of it, it cleans you. It makes you google "how do you record sound," instead of hiring one that has better imdb credits than the other 15 that applied. It forces you to examine how and why we make movies, and what for. When their currency is not a concern, the stakes of our lives and that what becomes of them- our films- becomes inflated. It becomes easy. It becomes the same as "if you go to film school you'll then know how to be a director."
We have to find a place for our movies that can apply to people's lives. They can have worth. They can be entertaining, and they can come out of this low budget rubble of a generation we're entering. However, if we are going to have this utopia of films again, we must start honest and pure. Then, we can go spend a night with the sirens and make big fantasies for all to see. Even if there are robots.

Anyway. I gotta go back to being dead. This has been fun.

March 31, 2014 at 6:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JohnCassavetes

This was a pretty thoughtful and interesting reflection on the cost of making movies, and how and why we cover those costs, John.

Personally I don't think poverty or lack of means is a virtue. Yes, those who overcome these for the sake of their art - whether through arduous raising of funds or creative solutions - have certainly proven themselves to be serious about their art.

Those who are given the funds they need without effort have not proven themselves serious, but they have also not been disproven.

And don't we all have some "in," some connection, some friend or relative that gives us a little bit of a leg up? You John, were married to one of the best actresses of all time. That hardly seems fair.

Also, who says there aren't a ton of people with good steady jobs who dream of becoming filmmakers (almost certainly true), and read nofilmschool on their lunch breaks. People who could afford a fully crewed short or two, if they just find the courage to make them.

March 31, 2014 at 11:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Einar

Being able to lead a team of talented crew members and collaborate with them to execute your creative vision is far more important to someone who wants to have a career directing films than being able to operate a boom and lay tracks. I don't give a shit whether Hitchcock had good boom technique or if Paul Thomas Anderson can pull focus wide open. Also, feeding, transporting, ensuring the safety of and paying (!) a crew of any size (let alone 24+) gets expensive quickly; these criticisms that filmmaker should have made features instated of ambitious shorts are just facile.

March 31, 2014 at 7:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mak

Exactly.
I'd rather see a well crafted short (haven't watched this one yet, but I assume it might fight that "niche") than another half-assed super-no-budget feature.

March 31, 2014 at 8:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Elias

Perhaps I should have mentioned, but Gleb is hardly a deep-pocketed Wall Street millionaire. He sacrificed a lot for these films. As for the John Cassavetes thing, I was merely pointing out his point that anyone who is loony tunes enough to make a film is someone he liked. He said it, not me.

March 31, 2014 at 8:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

In Russia, you don't go to the movies ... oh, sorry, I was channeling Yakov Smirnoff there for a second. Anyhow, even among the old Soviet cultural elite, there was always an argument about whether one wanted to be like Andrey Tarkovsky - an auteur, whose films were ignored in the USSR by the masses and yet remain worshiped in the international creative/film community - and Eldar Ryazanov, who was responsible for half a dozen of fairly competent and immensely popular romantic comedies like the "Irony of Fate" (1975) and the "Office Romance" (1977). In fact, the "Irony of Fate" has become a Russian doppelganger of "It's a Wonderful Life", being traditionally shown on TV during to the winter holidays.
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The secondary argument then was whether to do the Communist Party bidding or strive for some independence from the official state ideology, controlled up until 1982 by a Stalin and Brezhnev henchman Mikhail Suslov. In fairness to Ryazanov, his standing with the people enabled him to poke a few holes through the Iron Curtain. The same was the case with several noted Soviet musicians of the 60's and 70's, who covered foreign songs on a caveat emptor basis.
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Now, who recognizes this "Soviet" tune? [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_inyc2yfs3I ]

April 1, 2014 at 1:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

oneway ticket...

April 1, 2014 at 6:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Charlie

Yes indeed. This was from the late 60's, although there were additional covers in the late 70's as well. I'll also mention that Ryazanov's films are available via Mosfilm's YouTube Channel for those who have a bit of curiosity about the Soviet film industry.

April 1, 2014 at 11:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Nice double standards, m8. Good goyim.

April 1, 2014 at 1:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

Btw, the tag "Alexa" is wrong, the camera we are seeing in the picture is a D21, a predecessor to the Alexa but totally outdated.

April 1, 2014 at 4:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mariano

Nice catch. Thanks!

April 1, 2014 at 5:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

You're welcome!
On the first, quick glimpse I thought it was an
Arri 535 or 435 because it's so large ;)

April 1, 2014 at 10:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mariano

D-21? Woah.

April 1, 2014 at 1:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

Your method of describing all in this post is genuinely good, all be able to simply know it, Thanks
a lot.

May 24, 2014 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We are all very proud of Gleb here at Digital Film Academy. Pisces of an Unconscious Mind was in fact his thesis film. I'm not sure why that fact is actively ignored, especially as this is a no film school article.

In any case again we congratulate Gleb on his progress and he continues to have our support.

May 30, 2014 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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August 13, 2014 at 9:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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