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."