Setting up a scene.
Baikonur is the latest feature film by multi award-winning German director Veit Helmer. It’s a love story about a female space tourist who lands on the steppes of Kazakhstan after her return from orbit and a young local villager who finds her in the stranded capsule. The shooting location was the actual cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility.
Veit Helmer is believed to be the first film producer to be allowed to shoot at this original area. The cosmodrome site at Baikonur was built by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s as part of its ambitious space programme. It stretches for 90km north to south and 120km east to west. Many historic flights lifted off from this site such as Sputnik in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin’s flight in Luna in 1959. In the last few years, the Russian Space Agency started selling the third seat in the Soyuz rocket to space tourists for $20 million a week. Used rocket pieces drop directly onto the ground around Baikonur and are salvaged by the local population.
“From the very beginning,” says director of photography, Nikolai Kanow, “it was the director’s wish to shoot this movie on film. As the DP I very much appreciated this idea as I prefer film for its vibrant look, the diversity of stocks available and the broad possibilities it offers in the lab and post-production. Film is a proven medium in terms of technique and aesthetics.”
“My intention” he continued “was to contrast the two worlds of the rural Kazakh steppe and the high-tech environment of the Baikonur cosmodrome. I used a classic combination of three film stocks,” explains Nikolai. “They were KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201 for day exteriors, KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 for day interiors and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for night interiors and exteriors. The 5201 gave the exteriors of the villages in the steppes and their surroundings a very natural and clear look while the 5207 gave the cosmodrome exterior a suitable high-tech feel. The 5219 for night interiors and all cosmodrome day interiors helped create the uneasy and alienated perspective the young steppe villager feels while trying to get close to his beloved French space tourist.”
“As well as helping to differentiate the looks,” Nikolai continued, “film also offered better performance in terms of contrast ratio. Film’s latitude in highlights and shadows helped me achieve the look I wanted. It also enabled me to cope with the challenging weather conditions. The steppe is really dusty and windy. We had rain and snow and harsh changes in temperature throughout a single shooting day. Film equipment has progressed and developed throughout its 100-year history to withstand this kind of hostile environment but I wouldn’t necessarily like to put a digital movie camera into the elements we faced in Kazakhstan,” he concluded.