Home Movies

by marinashifrin

You really shouldn’t leave 5-year-olds on the roof of your car but my dad needed to get the shot. There I lay, one hand gripping the edge of his white suzuki, the other gripping a milk jug filled with water. My cousins began pushing the car back and forth, my uncle yelled “Action” and I began to make it rain.

This particular scene was used in our first family video titled, Мадонна. When you re-watch the footage you can clearly see that it’s not actual rain but a toddler pouring water out of a milk jug from the roof of the car. Why didn’t they just use a sprinkler? Is just one of the many questions I have about the shenanigans my father put us up to over the years. Мадонна was the first of many home movies created by — what went on to become — FimFilm productions.

At FimFilm my father was the director, my uncle Jeff was the cinematographer, my uncle Mark was the producer and we were all just extras in their slow descent into madness. Each year FimFilm’s ideas would get larger and their egos would grow bigger.

One year they decided to shoot a full length film about the famous Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin. They titled it Дуэль. When production started we all piled into our respective minivans and headed to the city where FimFilm rented horse drawn carriages for the day. My cousins and I watched as our aunts who were dressed in flapper gear (the costumes were not always era-appropriate) drank champagne and flirted with our uncles. They all took the horse drawn carriages down the street and waved to strangers who were on their way to work. While the kids sat in the vans and debated whether or not you could get a DUI on a horse.

At the of Дуэль my uncle pulls out a plastic gun and shoots my other uncle in the chest. It’s in slow motion and my mother always sobs at this part.


The Trio with a pin of their own faces designed by my dad.

Oh, and I have to mention the fights! The Trio (Dad, Jeff and Mark) would get into arguments that lasted days. You could hear them yelling from down the street. When they were tired of yelling at each other they’d start yelling at us. Whenever a new movie was announced the kids would cower in fear, knowing that the next few months would be filled with stress, anger and acting. But somehow, The Trio always managed to wrap it up in time for the “premiere” which they would organize themselves.

Дуэль was screened at a local community theatre. The kids were cleaned up and hired as waiters. We walked around in dress attire while serving snacks from Costco. The theater had a strict “No Drinking” policy so we poured sparkling grape juice in the lobby while my parents and their friends were in the back taking swigs of vodka from water bottles they’d snuck in under their fur coats. The Trio would drink, forget about all of their fights and announce that they’d begin filming again in a few months. You could almost hear the eye-rolls coming from the kids. I mean, wearing a costume to a 5-hour shoot for a fake movie written and directed by your father is not very high on the list of things that will help you get laid in high school.

I was so embarrassed about these productions that I never even mentioned them to my friends. I never understood why they took these movies so seriously. Then I grew up.

Last year The Trio reunited for yet another film. In the opening scene there is an old man, and this beautiful little girl standing in a field. I like to imagine my dad and two uncles fighting over the positioning of the camera and then screaming “Action” when noticing that the wind they needed had picked up. In the movie the little girl’s brown hair dances around her face as she looks off in the distance.

The Shot.

The shot.

The Trio wrote that part for the little girl so that they could bring her along with them as they filmed. They wanted to distract her. I later learned that she had recently lost her mother and was staying with my uncle while her father got his life together. I am sure that spending the summer with three old men shooting a movie for an audience of nobody is not the expected scenario for a little girl going through a hard time. But I know from first-hand experience that there is nowhere more inspiring, more exciting or more important than that very spot she’s standing in.

When she’s on the screen you can’t tell that she’s about to have the hardest year of her life. All you can see is the beauty of the shot and the absurdity of the situation. That’s why they make these movies: Death, anger, pain — all of it looks a lot prettier when projected through a screen.

On Set.

Behind the scenes.

There’s no footage of my first steps. I don’t even know if we have videos from school plays or birthday parties. But what I do have are movies of fantasy worlds created by my dad. His movies show that with some hard work, vodka and a lot of yelling, you can live in any world regardless of the one you exist in. I wasn’t always involved in my dad’s movies but I am glad I at least had the chance to hold that milk jug filled with water.

When I joined the bajillions of other writers who are desperately trying to make it in Hollywood, I was initially worried that I’d go unnoticed among the countless other talents. But a few days ago my dad sent me a clip from a Russian music video we shot 20 years ago. You don’t really need an audience as much as you need a big idea and an uncle to yell “Action”.

“The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths.”  – Aleksandr Pushkin