Hellin Kay was seven when she hugged her father goodbye in a Moscow airport and stepped on a plane for what was to be a brief visit to her uncle in the States. That visit wound up spanning her entire childhood. Now, Kay’s experience and the sense of betrayal it engendered is the subject of her extraordinary autobiographical first feature, was once a girl...

Beginning with a 20-minute subtitled Russian set piece shot at a suburban Moscow children’s boarding school last spring, Kay traces a sunny child’s evolution into a sullen adolescent furious at her displacement in the U.S. When Yelena finally returns to Russia after 15 years in Baltimore, neither her mythologized father nor her birthplace are recognizable. The memories that fed her diasporan dreams and the cultural divide may be too vast to ever bridge.

"So often we lose something early in life and there’s no way to reclaim it," says Kay. "That’s what this film is about." Kay herself arrived in Baltimore in 1980 with her mother and $200. In 1995 she graduated from elite art-oriented Bard College in upstate New York having made three short films (Borsht, Barry Paul and Every Woman...Dreams) that played festivals like Seattle, San Francisco and Ann Arbor. She worked for several years as an assistant to designers like Calvin Klein and John Bartlett in New York and now works as a stylist for the Russian-edition Marie Claire. "I scraped and borrowed to make [a Super-16mm] segment to finance the whole," she says. She settled on AFI grad Tsuyoshi Kimoto as d.p. after viewing dozens of reels. "I wanted someone versed in Tarkovsky, Godard, Antonioni and Truffaut rather than more modern directors," she says. Kay showed the initial 20 minutes of girl as a work-in-progress at the 1997 IFFM. At press time she was headed back to Moscow to raise additional funds with a Russian translation of girl’s script. All rights are available.

Cast: Veronique Sarisova, Kristin Di Splatro, Irina Zhelayeva, Vladimir Vorobyov, Galina Yakova, Alexei Dyakov. Crew: Producer/Screenwriter/ Director, Hellin Khmelinsky Kay; Executive Producers, Dale Cannedy, Peter Alexander; Cinematographer, Tsuyoshi Kimoto; Sound, Jason O’Neill, Jake McHaffey; Gaffer, Peter Olshansky; Production Manager, Marina Lontova; Assistant Director, Script Translation, Sergei Chernyov. Contact: Hellin Kay or Dale Cannedy, Borsht Films, 332 East Fourth Street, #22, New York, NY 10009. Tel/Fax: (212) 995-0371.

back to top
home page | subscribe | merchandise | history | order form | advertise | contact
archives | links | search

© 2005 Filmmaker Magazine