Soviet/American Peace March Recorded
Stalter, Katharine, American Cinematographer
At 3 o'clock on a June morning in 1987, Cathy Zheutlin found herself traveling by speedboat through Leningrad's back canals, shooting video footage of a Russian "White Night" sunrise. Zheutlin, a cinematographer whose credits include The Life and Times ofRosie the Riveter and the Oscar-nominated see What I Say, was in Russia documenting a joint Soviet-American peace march. The resulting program, Come Together, has been shown on Soviet television, and Zheutlin, who co-directed the show, is currently pursuing American distribution.
Zheutlin's involvement with Come Together began in 1986, when she produced, directed and shot Just One Step: The Great Peace March, chronicling that summer's peaceful trek across America. In the spring of 1987, International Peace Walk, the group which organized American marchers' participation here and in the Soviet Union, commissioned Zheutlin to direct a low-budget documentary of the Soviet peace march, to take place that summer. She was given $20,000, in addition to her airfare and an allowance for living expenses.
"I didn't think that would cover post production," she says, "but at least I knew I could get the whole thing shot, I knew I could get a volunteer crew, and I owned a Betacam, so I figured shooting would be possible for that amount of money"
Thinking ahead to distribution of a completed documentary, Zheutlin called a friend at PBS to determine whether the network would be interested in airing the program. "He said the only thing PBS would be interested in was a co-production," she recalls. "So I sent a Telex to the Soviet Peace Committee and to Gosteleradio, the Soviet State TV" Two days before her scheduled departure, Zheutlin received an answer from the Soviet Union: Yes, they would be interested in a co-production.
Zheutlin's skeletal American crew consisted of herself as camera person and co-director; Dimitri Devyatkin, co-director; William Childers, producer; and Bill Bass, sound. Her Soviet counterparts, co-directors Sergay Morozov and Alexander Uhov, traveled with a crew of ten. Come Together was shot on Zheutlin's Sony BVP-30 Betacam. She shot four or five 20 minute tapes each day, taking no special precautions to protect the tapes against the summer heat. "We carried the tapes in our suitcases," she says. "The four of us would just schlep our equipment in and out of the vans on a daily basis, in our rooms at night, and in the vans during the day. It wasn't so extremely hot that we had to worry about it."
On Come Together, Zheutlin shot with a Fujinon 14:1 lens. "For documentaries, I prefer the zoom. The way things happen, in such quick succession, there's no time to change lenses. I use it to change my focal length; I even use it in a big crowd shot for emphasis. You might start tight, and pull back, back, back."
Her audio engineer used a Shure mixer and Neumann microphone, with sound fed directly into the Betacam recorder. "He was attached to me," she laughs. "We've worked together quite a bit, so we're a very good team."
One technical bug that plagued the shoot early on was a recurring problem with the Betacam deck. "My camera broke immediately. It was terrible," she says. "We made a stop at an airport in Canada; I was shooting the people getting back on the plane, and the recorder jammed. So when we arrived in Leningrad, my camera was broken."
Before departing for the Soviet Union, the American marchers had gathered for several days of orientation in Virginia, and Zheutlin had already shot initial interviews. To fill in gaps in coverage, Zheutlin resorted to an unorthodox, desperate measure.
"Bill Childers had brought an 8mm home video camera, so I started using that, just to have something, rather than nothing," she says with a laugh. "As we got off the plane in Leningrad, the Soviet crew was there, recording the whole arrival, and they had two cameras. So I had this awful feeling of having my camera being broken, and the embarrassment of having to shoot with a Sony 8mm camera. …