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Saving North


Saving North is the story of a struggle for human and cultural survival in the mysterious and insular world of the Russian North. An outsider from England, photographer Richard Davies, enters this mysterious and vast region of the world with the hope of documenting both the glory and the tragic demise of its rapidly disappearing Wooden Churches. As Davies meets and becomes friends with the some of his Russian photo subjects, he finds himself getting emotionally involved with their struggle. He decides to put down his camera and get involved with church restoration.

            Early on in our story Davies befriends the famed Russian architect Alexander Popov who is deeply involved in working to preserve and share with the world the beauty and value of these ancient structures. Popov has uniquely discovered and reinvigorated both the tools and processes that restore life back to the North. But it’s an uphill battle against strong and powerful forces.

            Together, Davies and Popov uncover the circumstances that led to the demise of the churches, and then join a small but growing group of passionate Russian citizens and outsiders from all walks of life who join the cause of Saving North.


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SAVING NORTH World Premiered at 5th "Beyond Borders" International Documentary Festival on the Greek island of Castellorizo

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"SAVING NORTH: Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia" To Make Its World Premiere at 5th "Beyond Borders" International Documentary Festival on the Greek island of Castellorizo



The film premiered on Sunday, August 30, 2020, during the Festival's closing ceremonies.

AUSTIN, Texas – The long-awaited feature-length documentary film, "SAVING NORTH: Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia" by the award-winning American filmmaker J. Mitchell Johnson, will make its world premiere on Sunday, August 30, 2020, at the closing ceremonies of the 5th "Beyond Borders" International Documentary Festival on the Greek island of Castellorizo.

"SAVING NORTH" is a story of a struggle for human and cultural survival in the insular world of the Russian North. Wood, which is plentiful in the Russian North, is a living, animate material used for centuries to create incredibly intricate churches, windmills, and other structures. The oldest and most beautiful wooden structures and their liturgical art are gradually disappearing from neglect and bureaucratic obstacles to preservation in rural communities abandoned during 20th-century industrialization.

The film chronicles how three key individuals among scores of like-minded volunteers are striving to rescue Russia's historic wooden structures: Richard Davies, the British architectural photographer who co-authored "Wooden Churches: Travelling the Russian North"; Alexander Popov, the Russian architect and builder, who founded the Restoration Center for Architecture, Manufacture and Training in the northern Russian town of Kirillov; and Father Alexei Yakolev, the Russian Orthodox priest who established Moscow-based Obshee Delo ("common cause") to unite others to save from collapse the ancient shrines of orthodoxy and monuments of wooden architecture in the Russian North.

"SAVING NORTH" highlights the survival of Russian building skills and tools dating back three centuries, when structures like churches and windmills were built of wood, without nails.

To mark the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross, the Russian settlement founded on the coast in Northern California in 1812, Popov was commissioned to create a replica of the original wooden windmill that stood at Fort Ross. The plan was for him to build the mill at his compound in Kirillov, and then break it down and ship it to Fort Ross State Historic Park in time for its bicentennial celebration. He used spruce, pine and birch to build the handmade mill with axes, adzes, chisels, draw knives and hand saws. The mill was held together by pegs. Having designed and constructed the mill, he oversaw the successful reassembly of his masterful and moving creation.

Viewers will also be moved by the restoration of the Church of the Transfiguration (1781) and its bell tower (1793) in Posad, a tiny village in Turchasovo on the Onega River. Passionate villagers and volunteers from all walks of life have given these structures new life.

"These accomplishments showcase the profound effect of sharing one's talents to work together for a common cause," Johnson said. "'SAVING NORTH' was born with the help that coincidence often provides when life's purpose meets opportunity. Eight years after initial photography began, the film matured into its own substance and identity–after many twists, turns, and flows of support from people who I will always remember and appreciate." He was the director, producer, cinematographer, writer, and editor of "SAVING NORTH."



About the Main Characters in the Film

 



Richard Davies, British Architectural Photographer

With the hope of documenting both the glory and the tragic demise of Russia's rapidly disappearing wooden churches, the well-known British architectural photographer Richard Davies spent 10 years traveling the Russian North for his acclaimed book of photos and essays, "Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North," which he co-authored with Matilda Moreton in 2011. In the afterword, Mikhail Milchik, who was the vice director of the St. Petersburg Research Institute of Restoration, wrote, "Wooden Architecture, the most original and most unique part of the cultural heritage of Russia, is on the verge of extinction."

As Davies re-enters the mysterious and vast region of the Russian North, he meets and becomes friends with some of his Russian photo subjects. Finding himself getting emotionally involved with their struggle, he finally decides to put down his camera and get involved with church restoration.



Alexander Vladimirovich Popov, Architect and Builder

Russian architect and builder Alexander Popov is well known for the restoration of the wooden architecture of the Russian North. At his compound, the Restoration Center for Architecture, Manufacture and Training in the northern Russian town of Kirillov, he has discovered and reinvigorated both the historical tools and the processes that brought these structures to life.

Father Alexei Yakovlev, Founder of Obshee Delo

The Russian Orthodox Church priest, Father Alexey Yakovlev, who founded Obshee Delo ("common cause") in Moscow, unites others to save from collapse the ancient shrines of orthodoxy and monuments of wooden architecture in the Russian North. He recruits young volunteers to learn the required building skills and make emergency response expeditions to rebuild abandoned wooden churches that are falling apart. The process inspires the residents to take care of their sacred cultural monuments, the rescued churches and chapels, and their reinvigorated communities.



About the Filmmaker



J. Mitchell Johnson is the founder and CEO of Abamedia, a film/tv and new media company specializing in media production and archival licensing. The company is based in Austin, Texas, and in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (www.abamedia.com).

"SAVING NORTH" is a beautiful example of Johnson's lifelong fascination with Russia. In a 2019 interview, he revealed: "As an 11-year-old in a small town in Texas, I collected shortwave radios because there was nothing else to do. I stumbled upon Radio Moscow and loved the weirdness. My father taught me to appreciate differences, to learn from those who are different from us."

Johnson's directorial debut was the 1977 Van Cliburn Piano Competition documentary "Contest to Carnegie Hall." Produced for PBS prime time, the film led to more arts and cultural documentaries for both PBS and The Arts Channel (now A&E) including the USA (now Sundance) Festival winner, "Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton." His dramatic feature film "World Without Waves" premiered at Moscow's International Film Festival in 2006 and won the Santa Fe Film Festival's Milagro Award (for best American independent film) that same year. His Cold War series, "Red Files," won the International Documentary Association's "Best Limited Series" award. His current documentary in production is "Coming Round: The Kashia-Pomo Struggle for Homeland," the true story of the fight by the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in northern California to regain their tribal lands and maintain cultural traditions. A full list of Johnson's productions and awards resides at www.abamedia.com.

Johnson is a master's graduate of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, film school. He serves on the board of directors of San Francisco's Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, and he is a past president of the Lone Star Film Festival, Fort Worth, Texas.

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