Foxtrot Films has clocked up an impressive roll call of credits over the years producing arts films such as the Royal Paintbox with Prince Charles and Looking for Lowry featuring Ian McKellen and Noel Gallagher. This autumn they are releasing their latest documentary feature, Hermitage Revealed.
Director, Margy Kinmonth and Producer, Maureen Murray who jointly own the company first worked together in the 1980s, when Margy was making a film about Steven Berkoff for The South Bank Show and was looking for someone to manage the budget. Since then, they have produced a raft of films covering the gamut of art and culture subjects, from ballet to opera, to fashion and film.
Hermitage Revealed, marks the 250th anniversary of The State Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia’s most famous museum and explores its rich and often turbulent history.
Not only is The Hermitage one of the world’s largest cultural institutions, boasting over 3 million works of art it is very much part of Russia’s social and political history surviving sieges, attacks and most notably the Russian Revolution. I imagined getting the green light for such a project would be difficult. Not so. Foxtrot were invited to make the film by the Hermitage’s Director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, on the strength of their reputation and a screening of ‘Looking for Lowry,’ which he attended in London.
Whilst the story is driven chronologically and introduces the audience to the people involved in the museum’s fascinating history, Foxtrot were keen to make the curators, some of whom never retire, a central thread. “I thought it would be interesting to make it from the point of view of the curators and so I just said please take me anywhere that the public don’t go, I want to go behind the doors, up spiral staircases, look in desks, open drawers,” says Margy. And it’s this level of access throughout the film that gives the audience an insight to the curator’s world.
Professor Piotrovsky himself was also an important character, not only as an interviewee but because he had spent his childhood exploring the museum when his own father had held the post of Museum Director.
Keen to re-imagine the young Piotrovsky’s adventures in the museum through dramatic reconstruction Foxtrot, after much negotiation, were finally given permission. The boy that most resembled Piotrovsky was a lot younger than they had planned and directing him was like directing a wild kitten recalls Margy. “He sometimes just ran away from us and the steadicam ran after him,” the film shows the boy walking up to exhibits and stroking them, an instinctive reaction says Margy and the one that she wanted.
One of the highlights for Margy and Maureen was the fact they were allowed to film works by the likes of Degas, Renoir and Monet, which were part of a collection seized from Germany as World War 2 reparations. For years these were hidden in storage until Piotrovsky campaigned for them to be made public in 1995. These pieces, however, will never leave Russia, and the two women are thrilled at the prospect of bringing these significant pieces of work to a global audience.
Making art films isn’t for the fainthearted and Maureen best describes the process as a train journey, “you get the train on the rails and you start it, then everyone jumps on, there has to be a train driver and there always has to be a stoker, I’m the stoker” she smiles, “but when we both believe in something we will make it happen, it might take a few months or like the Hermitage Museum it might take three years.”
Maureen’s responsibility for managing the contracts, the logistics of clearance and paying for each work of art featured in the film was considerable. “The amount of passion you need to see through one of these projects and the amount of drive and persistence, if it wasn’t your own project you’d never do it,” she says laughing.
Working out of Russia also threw up it’s own challenges, from bureaucratic administration, cancelled trips, visa issues to short filming days due because of daylight hours and gridlocked traffic, were all hurdles Maureen took in her stride, “you learn to hold your nerve and go with the flow,” she says.
When the film premiered at the Moscow Film Festival this year the two women couldn’t have been happier with the result. Initially nervous about the film being shown on a huge wrap-around IMAX screen, Maureen recounts seeing Rembrandt’s most famous painting, The Prodigal Son, 100 metres across, as “a breath taking moment.”
Hermitage Revealed has been sold to cinemas across the UK and worldwide and with the UK premiere on the 8th of September already sold out, Margy and Maureen are on the road to realising Professor’s Piotrovsky’s dream – to share his treasure trove, with the rest of the world.
Written by Rebecca Towers | August 2014
More Information About Foxtrot Films
Margy Kinmonth is an award-winning Film Director whose credits include, Outback Art – The Goldrush for C4 and Naked Hollywood with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which won BAFTA Best Documentary Series.
Maureen Murray is a Film Producer whose credit include; the award-winning Verdi – A Life In Two Parts and the Emmy Award winner Jose Carreras – A Life Story. Maureen is also a founder member of Women In Film and TV.
Hermitage Revealed will be released in cinemas in the UK and internationally from 9th September 2014. For screening dates and venues visit: www.hermitagerevealed.com
More about Rebecca Towers
Rebecca is a freelance producer director and journalist specialising in factual content covering social policy, politics and history. She started her television career as a researcher in factual entertainment before joining the BBC as a Broadcast Journalist in 1998. At the BBC Rebecca worked as a programme producer, journalist and film maker across multiple factual genres, including Documentaries, Current Affairs, News, History and Political Programming. After fifteen years, working on some of the BBC’s flagship programmes, she set herself up as a freelance producer director and is pursuing her passion for film making across a range of project