When Oleg Jitov, the Siberian online editor of our teaser trailer in Screen Scene, saw our improvised costumes on screen, trawled from the charity shops of Dublin's North and South sides, he said one word to me;
At the time I thought it was the Siberian equivalent of 'nice try lads but I'm not convinced', or, more likely, something less polite.
Then he explained to me.
Telogreika was the quilted uniform, copied from the Finns and used by the Soviet army in the sub-zero temperatures of Russian winter. It later also became standard issue to prisoners in the Gulag. The great actor Anatoly Papanov can be seen wearing a well-worn one in his final role, as a prisoner released from the Gulag in the amnesty after Stalin's death, in Alexander Proshkin's 1988 film 'The Cold Summer of 1953'. There are even internet discussion boards where Red Army re-enactors and Soviet history enthusiasts argue the authenticity of telogreika uniforms being bought and sold internationally.
'Telogreika' has become a by-word for me for the level of authenticity that we need to achieve with 'The Cow'.
The first and most important level of authenticity is the emotional one. We worked hard on that when we wrote the script, and we'll work even harder on it once we get the cast together.
But emotional truth is leveraged by concrete detail. We are 21st century Irish film makers telling a story about Soviet Russia in the nineteen-fifties. We have to make an enormous imaginative leap from our comfortable lives and our digital technology to understanding and believing the extreme circumstances the characters of our story would have suffered, and the lengths to which they were prepared to go to survive.
The more we can find and recreate concrete details that make those circumstances tangible, the more I believe the characters will be able to get a purchase and dig themselves into a physical way of being out of which the deeper emotional truth will emerge.
That means intelligent research, and given the restrictions of our budget it also means intelligent choices and prioritising, and an eye for detail in the art direction, camera work and framing.
Our other Oleg, the mighty Mr. Ponomarev, helped himself over his initial authenticity problems by explaining to me that 'The Cow' is not a documentary.
I have to add that it is, however, a story which happens in a real moment in history, in a real place, and it is neither our moment nor our place. That is our dilemma, and the central paradox of the project. For the vast majority of the people who will see the film, it is neither their moment nor their place either. But we have to earn the right to be the ones who transport them to that moment and that place, and we have to be sure they never doubt where they find themselves once the story is underway.
That's why I keep repeating to myself,
Telogreika, telogreika, telogreika.