Her new cross-genre feature film, “Us, Forever Ago” explores the inner worlds of a group of emerging female artists. The film will be screened as part of the second annual Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.
The documentary-narrative hybrid film recalls the time when a self-doubting creative artist, played by Varina, sets out to shoot a film as an exploration of women working in the arts.
She started working on “Us, Forever Ago” in 2015 and wanted to accomplish three goals with it. First, she wanted to interview women in her community. Secondly, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it at the time, she sensed change was coming and she wanted to be able to document the changing times.
Lastly, Varina wanted to bring to life a script about a woman who was looking for validation outside of herself.
Crafted as an investigatory patchwork, the narrative weaves together intimate scenes from the artist’s life with unscripted documentary conversations with real-life female artists.
For the film, Varina ditched traditional casting and casted artists who she worked with and admired.
“I was never interested in casting, maybe because I am an actor myself, but it’s uncomfortable and some people won’t do their best work under pressure like that because it’s so scary,” she said. “When I was writing, I already had people in mind and they agreed to be a part of the film.”
Playing her love interest was New York theater actor turned Artistic Director of T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre, Peter Jensen.
Additionally, she carefully selected all the female artists she interviewed, which includes performance artist Andrea Clinton, dancer Emily Mcloughlin, writer Chana Porter and visual artist Katie Frank.
“It’s been a very important couple of years where I realized that sometimes I myself embody certain things that I hate in the world, like thinking about competition with other women,” Varina said. “For me, this whole process has helped me to realize how I embody the things I want to eliminate and learning how to do that.”
The film explores the perceptions of intimacy, memory, belonging, insecurity and what it means to be an artist. While the film covers topics that are certainly being discussed around the world, there is still a level of intimacy with it.
“Working on this project was an exercise in trusting my instincts over the ‘correct’ or ‘right’ ways to do things,” Varina said. “It was about learning my own fears and insecurities, and embracing the desire to make films that are more about a feeling than a storyline.”
The untraditional narrative film was shot over seven months in Ridgewood. The Uzbekistan native fell in love with Ridgewood’s character and history.
“Ridgewood is such a special area. It doesn’t even look New York or the United States, it looks more like Europe,” she said of the neighborhood’s aesthetic. “There’s something about it, it’s a neighborhood with many immigrants and I haven’t really seen anything shot in Ridgewood before. It’s so magical in the snow, especially with the elevated train platforms so when you’re standing there, you can see the horizon.”
Varina currently splits her time between New York and Philadelphia. She has been building a solid reputation on the indie film scene as an actor and producer for some time. Her films have screened at many festivals, including The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Queens World Film Festival, NewFilmmakers New York and more. Her short film, “A Memory,” won the Grand Prize at the Tiny Film Festival and PBS Channel’s weekly Reel 13 contest among others.
On stage, Varina’s solo show about longing, “Speculum Diaries,” was a part of Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2016. She is proud to be part of Filmshop, a nonprofit collective of independent filmmakers in NYC.
This particular project was special for her because she took a leap of faith and worked on her very first feature film.
“With a longer length, it’s almost like a luxury where I could save scenes for longer times,” she said. “I remember there were times when I had impulses to cut it shorter but then I realized I could hold it for longer and if I liked something, like how the snow fell or how the people were walking, I could actually show it because I had the time.”
It took about a year to edit the final project, which happened around the time the multi-talented artist started taking up performance art. She also learned more about the business side of film by having to apply for grants in order to complete the sound.
“I hope that the film would give audiences an opportunity to reflect on their own past and present, on what they value in their lives and how they make sense of their failures and longings,” she said. “And that they would stick around after the screening to share their stories and have a drink together.”
Currently, Varina is working on a creative project where she speaks to men about masculinity over tea and cookies. She’s also working on a new solo show titled “Russian-American Odyssey” which is set to premiere at the end of 2018.
“Us, Forever Ago” will be screened on Wednesday, August 8 at the United Artists Midway Theatre at 108-22 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills.