Believe it or not, but there are group of people who come and leave this world without being noticed, totally ignored by government and hated by society for being ‘nobody’. However, there is one person who manages to dream of having a better life outside of the biggest junkyard of Europe, located just a 13 miles away from Kremlin, Moscow, and her name is Yula. Something Better to Come directed by Academy-Award-Nominee Hanna Polak and follows the life of 10-year-old girl, whose life is full of disappointment, emptiness and meaningless days until the moment she realizes that she has two choices to move forward: to die in the junkyard or find a way to escape that nightmarish life. Polak will follow Yula for over fourteen years to show how important to have a hope and courage to survive in ‘inhuman condition’.
I was quite fortunate getting a rare chance to interview Hanna Polak to discuss quite painful subject that I firmly believe won`t life indifferent anyone.
MOVIEMOVESME: How did you find out about Yula and why did you choose her to make the subject of your film considering you had to follow her for 13 years?
Hanna Polak: I was actually very moved when I met street children back in 1999. I hadn’t used pubic transportation so much in Moscow; I had my own car, so in the beginning I didn’t know of the existence of the problem. When I met these children on the street, I couldn’t understand the severity of the situation, the tragedy of their living and dying on the streets, but very soon I realized this reality. There were groups of hundreds of abandoned children living at the different railway stations and subways. Not even orphanage or the police were ever interested in them. Nobody was ever looking for these kids. I started to help them on an everyday basis and got close to them. I got to know them personally by names and I got to know their stories. Seeing small children living on their own, tough on the outside, yet deeply in craving for love, touched me very deeply and felt I’d not be able to just go back into my life. I had to help them, try to save at least some of them. One day the children took me to the garbage dump on the suburbs of Moscow, where I saw people living in unbelievable, primeval conditions, people, deprived their basic human rights. I snuck around the landfill and smuggled some people from the dump to hospitals or tried placing children in orphanages. It wasn’t easy – often the people were not accepted in the hospitals and the children had to wait for a long time for a place in the orphanage. It was a really huge struggle to help them out. I decided to document their lives and started to take pictures, collect the footage of these people in their everyday struggle. Very soon at the dump I met Yula, a 10 years old girl. I didn’t know she’d become the film main protagonist. I couldn’t foresee that it will be a 14-15 years journey though her life, but she was stubborn, strong, beautiful and very quickly she became simply became very close to my heart. We are still close friends, so this is how it actually happened.
MOVIEMOVESME: How was it for you to emotionally handle this and not give up midway because it was a matter of seeing injustice, seeing people suffer for over 13 years?
Hanna Polak: There were a lot of discouraging moments for me and one would be when some people needed medical assistance, but the hospital would not accept them. I hit the wall and realized that for these people there is almost no way out, as the society treats them with indifference and contempt. One other instance was when I took one severely ill child to a hospital. It took a long time to bring him there, to wait in line for a doctor, yet on the end he decided not to stay there; even he had a severe infection. I remembered I felt helpless and totally disappointed. But the very next day this child went to the hospital by himself and stayed there. At such moments you feel that your heart starts to beat again and you realize you’re actually doing something what’s bringing a result. I think what kept me going was the desire to save these children lives, to bring them to normality. Together with a group of my friends we did manage to get some of the children out of the street and today they have a normal life. Knowing this is extremely rewarding. Another thing that warms my heart is to know that people are getting inspired by the film to work with children or to help homeless people in some other ways. I’m working with an organization in New Jersey now to organize screenings to support the cause of eradicating childhood homelessness. I hope the film will bring many more positive changes.
MOVIEMOVESME: The scene of New Year’s celebration when they’re listening to the radio and hear Vladimir Putin saying, “I hope you’re all in your house, in a warm place, and looking forward to a bright future…” whereas there are so many homeless people out in the harsh winter, drinking alcohol, somehow hoping to make it to the next day. Can you talk about that scene?
Hanna Polak: Yes, it’s an irony that all this takes place only 13 miles from Kremlin, on the outskirts of Moscow, which probably is the city with the largest number of millionaires in the world. Yula, for instance, doesn’t dream of extreme richness; all she wants is a little bit of normality, a normal childhood for her own child, the childhood she never had. The garbage dump tenants are rejected by this city and can only dream of their children living in normal homes, not in the shackles made of wooden pallets between piles of garbage. They just want something very very basic.
MOVIEMOVESME: There was something Yula said; that there were people who she knew that died while she was there and after she left. It would be great if you could throw some light on this comment.
Hanna Polak: There was Dima, a guitar player, an extremely talented boy – he died at the garbage dump. He performed songs of great Russian singers and when I was looking for those originals, I was very much surprised that many of the songs were performed better by him. Before coming to the dump he actually had a group, called Chance, and he was a musician. There was this child who was featured in the film, Vania, he was run over by a truck. Then there was a friend of Yula, Sveta, who grew up at the dump, she also is not alive at the moment. There are many other people, like for instance Olga, who asks me if she is not a human for me – she died shortly after giving her interview. There are many others who have perished or disappeared, some are still at the dump. What Yula has achieved is extraordinary. She managed to break out from this vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness. This girl is a great example and her story it’s a tribute to humanity and the human spirit. It’s a very inspirational story, despite the fact that many other people gave up and haven’t been successful. When somebody does things against all odds, it’s really amazing.
MOVIEMOVESME: You recently succeeded in raising funds for the Oscar campaign in order to get the film and the issue recognized. Can you talk about this?
Hanna Polak: We are trying to bring this film to the attention of film critics and film professionals, the Academy members, and general audience. I think this is an important subject and there’s an important message in the film. Even if the film will just get shortlisted, it would already bring more interest to the issue of child homelessness and to this extraordinary Yula’s story. The film is also unique, as, similarly to Boyhood, or 7 Up series, it was filmed over a period of 14 years. We see Yula growing up and going through different moments of her life, sometimes very dramatic. It is a coming of age story, and in this deepest sense of maturing to the point of taking life in somebody’s own hands. I really hope that these screenings conducted with the help of Kickstarter supporters, will bring the film on the radar of American audience and ultimately also the Academy voters. I think Something Better to Come is a very important and beautiful film. This film makes people stop and think. It touches people on many levels, so I’m hoping that this film would be seen and appreciated by large audience all over the world.