Andrey Fenochka: The bold director of ‘Here I Come’ - Russia’s groundbreaking queer TV series
Queer kids are having a rough time at the moment. If coming to terms with your sexuality isn’t enough to deal with, imagine being in the context of a hostile society, and in the middle of a global pandemic. Thankfully there are people like Andrey Fenochka, creating Queer shows that allow for escapism, exploration and education.
Andrey Fenochka is a Russian director based in Moscow. He has an impressive skillset, with credits in cinematography, visual effects, writing, editing and even directing. Andrey always knew that he wanted to work in TV and film from a young age:
“I remember watching Jurassic park, and the making of the movie. I remember that magic of the dinosaurs and the world. I was charmed by it. I am comfortable with saying that I like popular movies. Pirates of the Caribbean, if I had the opportunity I would someday like to make something like that, something of that scale, entertainment and involvement of viewers.”
Like Andrey, the current generation of Queer kids are looking to the ‘West’ for escapist TV and Film: “More and more LGBT characters are being made for Russian streaming services, and I think that’s great.” He adds, “they are watching Tik Tok, Netflix and many other platforms. Its a completely different time for young people to grow up. They read more theory about complicated things.”
"If you ask me who my favourite director is, and who made me think about how I work and how I want to work, then its probably Alexei German. I studied for a year in St Petersburg and we spent a lot of time where he made ‘Hard to be God’. So I learned a lot about him and his team, his coworkers, and it was a very inspiring process."
But Russia’s hostility has come in waves. Andrey Fenochka remembers a time where things seemed to be getting better:
“In the late 1990’s there was much more freedom in TV/Culture. There were not a lot of openly gay people, but there was a lot of drag queens. There was also ‘TaTu’- don’t forget about them. Their music was everywhere, and everyone openly talked about their relationships. They were not lesbians, but the image was about it.”
But soon things began to change, and Andrey started noticing a downward spiral: “After I studied in university, a huge conservative turn came to Russia. With news laws and public speakers who are very conservative about any expressions of freedom. Now its all banned.”
Andrey is very calm, soft and well spoken. He considers every word before he says it. So its quite surprising to learn that he has worked with the rebellious and outspoken feminist and activist group, Pussy Riot.
“I worked for a company founded by Pussy Riot. I edited news reports and videos for them, and then my art director made her own documentary film in Georgia. She wrote to me and said “Nadia wants to make a music video, and I’m not available and I want to recommend you”.
The music video ‘Chaika’ was directed by Andrey, and was released on YouTube in February 2016. Since then it has surpassed 4 million views on YouTube.
“We met with Nadya and we were on the same page with how we wanted Pussy Riot’s videos to be. We wanted to make 'Chaika' more clear, precise, and symmetrical in comparison to past videos. When we filmed 'Chaika', the weather was horrible, minus 25, and it was hard to shoot- but we made it- released it. It was fun!”
But being associated with Pussy Riot comes with huge risks, but this did not seem to phase him. “It was risky. I didn’t tell my father until the video was released. Its a part of being free. Its part of being able to tell something that you want to tell.”
‘Here I come’
Released towards the end of 2020, ‘Here I Come’ consists of nine short videos, all varying in length.
Creating the pilot proved to be a lengthy process: “I worked with my coworker, Liza (Elizaveta Simbirskaya) who wrote ‘Here I come’. We were at a festival in Russia two and a half years ago, and some guy at a party offered us to make a new series, and to make episodes and take part in a competition. Me and Liza forgot about it, and two months later the guy came back to us and said “hey, where is the script for the TV series”, and Liza said to me “I have no idea, what shall we do?” We decided to do something powerful and to test our ideas, our language, our audience.”
The story follows two young men, Alexey and Roma, after a house party in Moscow. Roma wakes up on a sofa with a girl and a massive hangover. He then bumps into a handsome Alexey, and then they go walking the streets together. They immediately have a connection and share a beautiful and sexy kiss in front of a stunning historical building.
“The kissing scene was filmed a 5 minute walk away from he Kremlin. We were afraid that someone could see us from the windows. It took 5 or 6 takes.”
Liza and Andrey had the interesting idea to cast Roma as having Armenian heritage. Adding another layer of complexity to the character.
“We found that actor from Armenia. I have relatives from Armenia, she (Liza) has relatives from Armenia, my step father is from Armenia. So I am familiar with this culture. I offered to make the dinner scene in the restaurant.”
The series touches upon a lot of sensitive topics in Russian society and the queer communities. Andrey and Liza decided to cast Arin, a HIV positive character. In Russia there is a HIV pandemic, with over a million people testing positive, and infections rising. “Its huge and nobody talks about it.” - said Andrey. Arin is the sister of Roma, “We decided to make her funny and light weight. A heterosexual character, who is happy, happy in marriage and has a child.”
Although serious in topic, the show is light and positive. It shows a different side to Russia that is expected. It shows how the young generation are not so different to that of any country or nationality. In 'Here I Come' there are many queer characters, and this is true of Russian society. Queer people exist in Russia, they are everywhere, and this show highlights that.
Despite his success, Andrey is incredibly self critical of his work. “We shot a scene in the eighth episode in a college cafe, there were 16 or 17 takes. There wasn’t so many because the actors were bad, or the camera movements were bad, it was because I wanted to be every part of the take”. He continues:
“I wanted it to be perfectly balanced. On the 16th take, I said that it was okay, and to move on to the next location. Then one of the actors said “why are you stopping? If you can allow yourself to make sixteen takes, you should continue and make it perfect.”
“I thought a lot about that moment in filming.” Andrey is fully aware of the weight of this project. Queer Russian’s desperately need a show which they can relate to, and he wants it to be perfect.
"Another difficult scene was the final episode. The white building at the end is where the governments sits. The park and the stadium doesn’t belong to anyone. The location manager tried to find the owner of the stadium, but it wasn’t possible. So we started filming and nobody asked us what we were doing. We had a lot of camera’s with big lenses, lots of people. It wasn’t a small crew. I was more frightened about that scene. The white house is a symbol of power in Russia. This scene was a statement, a way to elevate our story to the political stage with that shot."
COVID-19 has been catastrophic for LGBT+ people. Once upon a time, Queer kids could escape harsh realities at home and explore their identities in the big city. But now they are confined to their room, with the internet being the only solace. ‘Here I come’ is intentionally free to watch on YouTube. Because of this, it gives young Russian’s an important education in Queer life.