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Natasha is a lonely, middle-aged woman who still lives with her mother and fails time and time again at her dead end job, where everyone hates her.  Also, she has a tail. Seeking medical assistance for her peculiar condition, she meets an X-Ray Technician who lets her enjoy life for the first ever, though she lives in terror the world will discover her secret.

ZOOLOGY, from Russian director Ivan I. Tverdovsky, paints an unflinching portrait of sadness and isolation. In the drab of eternal winter, Natasha’s days drag until she finds a bit of light, only to be convinced that at any time the sun may set again suddenly.  The film is not an easy one, as Tverdovsky mixes the bizarre and mundane so effortlessly the view never feels like they are on sure footing.  Making its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, ZOOLOGY is a film about animals and humans and the lack of distinction between them.

I had a chance to speak with director Ivan Tverdovsky a few days before the festival and chat about his singular vision.

 

BEARS: What were you thinking about just before the idea of ‘she has a tail’ popped into your head?

Ivan I. Tverdovsky: The lack of tail distinguishes a man from other animals evolution-wise. Physically, we lost our tails long ago. Mentally – not so long ago. It’s an organ we still feel, and that interacts with each of us differently. In my film the presence of the tail is, of course, a metaphor, a fairy tale. But I did want the audience to get so used to the tail by minute 20, so that they don’t have any more questions or concerns.

BEARS: I find it interesting that on one hand, everyone at the dance club and the church are terrified of Natasha and her tail, and yet the doctor and the X-ray technician do not react too strongly when they first see it.  Why is that?

Tverdovsky: They react in a way that doctors react. They see so many things every day. In comparison with some incurable diseases, a tail is really a small problem. Isn’t cancer much more hard? So maybe our protagonist should take care of her tail at home, and not worry our doctors with such nonsense.

BEARS: I love that the people who work at the zoo with Natasha are almost more like animals than the animals in their cages.  Can you talk about her workplace and how it functions in the story?

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Tverdovsky: We specifically cast those ladies and we wanted them to be more animal-like than the lovely animals in the cages. It works for the philosophy of the film, especially when they are gathered together.

BEARS: I am guessing this was not an easy film to get funding for.  How did you talk about it? What did people respond to that made them want to take this journey with you?

Tverdovsky: I am very grateful to my producers. We were financed by the Ministry of Culture of Russia, but there were definitely many people who did not want the film to be made. But we won the battle and it’s important for me.

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ZOOLOGY premiered at Fantastic Fest this week and plays again Monday, September 26th.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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