Elsewhere reviews Russian Snark

Although it would perhaps be possible to write the plot outline of this modest but quietly impressive feature on a very small piece of paper, the protagonists here and a few of the marginal characters bring such insightful portrayals that it keeps attention for all its 80 minutes.

First time feature director and writer Sinclair — who co-wrote Ladies Night, worked with Peter Jackson and has previously only directed short films — get a note-perfect performance out of Stephens Papps as Misha, a once-acclaimed Russian film director, who arrives in New Zealand in the late Nineties with his wife-cum-muse Nadia (Elena Stejko) in a tiny lifeboat. They are determined to seek a new life and a country more sympathetic to his artistic ideals.

As a film-maker — and we see some of his intended work intercut with the main story — Misha is pretentious, intellectual, singular in his vision and supported by the loving and long-suffering Nadia.

It gives nothing away to say Misha’s dreams are quickly eroded and that Nadia finally cracks at the thought of having to support his self-belief yet again.

The story is less in the narrative than in the way it is told, through those small but accumulating blows which can be debilitating, and the conflict between an intellectual inner world and the rather more unforgiving or indifferent reality in which the couple find themselves.

There are numerous scenes where everything is said in an expression or sideways glance, and Papps masters Misha’s stoic and stubborn persona as a man of few words but grand visions.

That redemption of a kind takes place in the context of loving, funny, generous but also slightly troubled Pacific family does seem a little bit of local cliche, but Stephanie Tauevihi as Roseanna (especially in her interaction with her “children”) brings a ring of understated truth and naturalism to the character.

Misha is a dreamer — and an unsympathetic and irritating one at that — but as his frailties are revealed, to himself and the viewer, he becomes more a figure to be supported and helped than ostracised or condemned by indifference.

Russian Snark — on DVD with no extras — was nominated for official inclusion in a number of international film festivals in 2010 and picked up best international film at the Garden State Film Festival.

The ending may suggest some new awakening and insight, but the getting there — like opening a series of Russian dolls — is worth the journey for the characters and viewer alike. – Graham Reid








Not Your Lewis Carroll Snark!

NZ Video have reviewed Russian Snark – check it out here!

Not Your Lewis Carroll Snark


In 1996 two Russians left Vladivostok in a home-made boat for an extended island-hopping Pacific adventure. In November of 1999, they heard about the America’s Cup and decided to head for New Zealand.Their unlikely adventure caught the attention of Russian film fan and screenwriter, Stephen Sinclair, who gradually developed a script that, as he stated, “sought to create an eccentric comedy drama, which is artistically engaging and accessible; thought-provoking and entertaining”. He succeeded.

Sinclair developed a Russian filmmaker, Misha, who feels he is no longer appreciated in post-soviet Russia and has decided that he can pursue his career in New Zealand.

With meagre funds and a less-than-enthusiastic wife, Nadia, they arrive to find that New Zealanders apparently are no more appreciative of his concept of cinema art than his fellow Russians. Misha refuses to accept this, while Nadia tries to get him to face the realities of basic living.

Nadia finds work as an exotic dancer, which unfortunately leads to stripping which leads to Misha becoming unglued, but he still will not alter his artistic beliefs and efforts which, ironically, also involve nudity but in outdoor natural settings.

As Misha becomes more and more irratic and obsessed, Nadia leaves, moving to an apartment offered by her thugish employer. This is the tipping point for Misha and things turn dark – for both of them.

His sympathetic landlady, Roseanne, saves Misha in more than one way and gradually by spending time with her and her two children, he begins to see life differently. Misha goes from believing – “To trust in unknown is to trust in Life”, to feeling that – “It is better to be good man, than great artist”.

I will admit that this is a much better film than I expected. The writing is very good, the production values are high, the photography and soundtrack are excellent and the acting is definately above average. Nearly half of the film is spoken in Russian, with English subtitles provided, and the only significant complaint I can offer is that the film is too short. I felt that some ideas should have been given greater time for clarification. As for the ending – I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

I hope that this example of what the Sinclair/DiFiore team can produce, on a low budget, means that we have more such gems in our future. Do yourself a favour and see this unique effort.

Charles Eggen



Published November 9th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Elena Stejko talks to the Devonport Flagstaff about her work on Russian Snark

Quick Quotes from Russian Snark reviews

RUSSIAN SNARK – Excerpted from reviews below:


**** “A beautiful, touchingly drawn Kiwi film about Russian immigrants in Auckland. Russian Snark is a strange but delightful beast., well worth hunting out.” Sunday Star Times.


**** “A wee gem. (It) made me do something no New Zealand-made feature has since Boy: the next day, I went and saw it again.” The Dominion Post.


**** “Great entertainment … Sinclair is a winner. A fascinating exploration of cinema art.” The Waikato Times.


“Wonderful … charming … a beautiful, beautiful  film.” Kiwi FM.


“Humour, whimsy and visual beauty turn Russian Snark from a typical migrant tale into something near-poetic.” NZ Listener.


“A little gem … deserves to be a hit. Ideal festival fare – independent, arty, challenging and ultimately very rewarding.” The G.B. Weekly.


Published July 19th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

3.5 Stars from the Christchurch Press for Russian Snark

James Croot Reviews Russian Snark –

Tired of being unappreciated and misunderstood, veteran Russian filmmaker Misha (Stephen Papps) casts himself adrift from his homeland and set sail for pastures new.

Accompanied by his partner and muse Nadia (Elena Stejko), he washes up in Auckland and is instantly enamoured with the rugged locales and friendly locals. However, recruiting Kiwis and finances for his “art films” proves difficult and even Nadia is beginning to tire of Misha’s methods and beliefs that “narrative is for children” and “to make art one must endure a little discomfort”. “You’re not the one who has to lie on sharp rocks,” she snaps.

Part of the collective febrile mind behind early Peter Jackson pics Brain Dead and Meet the Feebles, Stephen Sinclair makes his feature film directorial debut with this eccentric, eclectic but ultimately actually quite engaging Kiwi black comedy. Although filled with familiar settings (especially to those who saw An Insatiable Moon last year) and faces (which include former Shortland Streeters Rene Naufahu, Stephanie Tauveihi and Greg Johnson, Russian Snark is far removed from recent cuddly Kiwi comedies like Love Birds or Second Hand Wedding.

With its minimalist, atmospheric soundtrack and arty black and white imagery and lashings of “artistic” nudity (which even includes the striking Stejko performing a striptease in national costume) it has more in common with the works of Florian Habicht than this country’s more mainstream, multiplex-friendly fare.

However, strip back Misha’s visual and visceral excesses and Snark is a Python-esque comedy that isn’t afraid to take the mickey out of both Kiwi and Russian serious art. The Piano is beautifully skewered in an over-the-top beach shoot, while that much-celebrated glasnostic-insomnia cure Russian Ark is parodied not only in the title but also in the sheer pretentiousness of Misha’s work.

As he himself says. “Art should not always be serious. It should be like life. Life is God’s joke.”

Published July 7th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

RUSSIAN SNARK gets ★★★★ in the Waikato Times



Written and directed by Stephen Sinclair

Star rating             ****

Reviewed by Sam Edwards.

In a recent interview, director Stephen Sinclair described his film as “ …- an art movie that is accessible to the general public.  ”, and he is right. There is great entertainment to be had from the arrival of an unlikely Russian couple in New Zealand in a dumpy red lifeboat … “ Bloody Hell! “ cries a dinkum Kiwi fisherman on the wharf when it pulls in… and their consequent attempts to live a normal life – if that is, in fact, what artists ever live.

There is also interesting discussion arising from Sinclair’s intelligent laying out of the issues about the nature of art – and hence, for cinema addicts, about art cinema and entertainment. Those issues are initiated in part from social questions about the needs of people who uproot and try to pick up life in a different culture, and in part from the role of the lead character, himself an artist film maker, who exposes the attitudes and experiences which drive him as an artist.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that RUSSIAN SNARK is stuffy elitist fare. The issues are real, but the medium through which they are presented – a film about film making – is funny, entertainingly and sometimes movingly human, and a great Kiwi insight into the pretensions of wannabe artists and the facts of art itself. Here Sinclair is a winner. His film contains wonderfully evocative images, imitations of art works – the links between the monochrome floating nude shots and the 1934 classic ECSTASY, for example, are clear. Original images ranging from the arrival of the hilarious lifeboat, through emotionally loaded close ups of the couple as their marriage disintegrates, to Misha’s ongoing commentary which includes lines like “ Art is a way of seeing… what lies beneath is memory, fragments of forgotten life. “ are perceptive gems. The dialogue, of course, is Sinclair’s, and the idea of memory and past experience mediating new perceptions is fundamental to understanding the nature of art.

The male lead is Misha, wonderfully brought to eccentric and passionately driven life by Kiwi actor Stephen Papps. He plays an art film maker who has come to New Zealand because Russia does not see the cinema with the same eyes as he does.  When he arrives with starring wife Nadia, and they celebrate the luxury of a real bed in a very ordinary motel room, it is a clear suggestion that New Zealand and Russia may not be so far apart in their lack of appreciation of Misha’s art.

As Misha finds his new country as difficult as the old one his confidence goes and along with it, his relationship with Nadia and any progress on his film. Here Sinclair includes a series of suicidal images in which blood is seen running down Misha’s hand and dripping in the water of the same pond as the shots of his beloved Nadia.  It seems unfair to call these studied, but if there are flaws in this film, and there are, it is that occasionally a viewer may feel some of the shots are somewhat self conscious, just as occasionally the dialogue seems stiff and artificially typical rather than the flowing kiwi speak which is so hard to write successfully. A delightful exception to this is the flawlessly natural performance by Stephanie Tauevihi as a neighbour who helps the self destructing Misha back to a kind of normality.

Here, then, is cinema where one can laugh at oddities even if they may be serious, be moved by situations and events which also seem more funny than sad, and enjoy a fascinating exploration of cinema art and people where your own eccentricities are allowed full reign.



Graeme Tuckett reviews Russian Snark on Radio NZ 9-Noon Show

‎”…The only NZ film since Boy I went to see twice”- Graeme Tuckett – great review on Radio NZ …


★★★★- Dominion Post – Saturday June 18th

“…a wee gem…Defiantly eccentric, Russian Snark is good enough to see twice…

Sinclair has turned in a film that made me do something no New Zealand-made feature film has since Boy: The next day, I went and saw it again.

Go and have a look.

” – Graeme Tuckett

Russian Snark (M) (78 min)

Directed by Stephen Sinclair.

Starring Stephen Papps, Elena Stejko.


Russian film-maker Misha and his beautiful wife, Nadia, arrive in Auckland in a lifeboat they have converted into a yacht.

With no money, and not much in the way of job offers, they move into a boarding house run by the kindly Stephanie Tauevihi.

Dissatisfied with her husband’s pig-headed refusal to change his ways, or even find a job, Nadia leaves, and enters a seedy world of stripping and “hostessing”.

It sounds a bit grim, but writer/ director Stephen Sinclair’s first spin behind the camera is anything but. Brief, good natured, defiantly idiosyncratic and eccentric, Russian Snark is a wee gem.

With bugger-all money, but a pack of great actors, a committed and vastly experienced crew, and that lovely, bleakly-comic script in hand, Sinclair has turned in a film that made me do something no New Zealand-made feature film has since Boy: The next day, I went and saw it again.

Go and have a look.

– The Dominion Post

Otago Daily Times Review – by Mark Orton ★★★

FILM REVIEW: ‘Russian Snark’

Sat, 18 Jun 2011


> Russian Snark
3 stars (out of 5)Director: Stephen Sinclair
Cast: Stephen Papps, Elena Stejko, Stephanie Tauevihi, Peter Rowley
Rating: (M)
Shot on location in Auckland with a cast featuring a few familiar faces, Russian Snark is a film that doesn’t lend itself to easy categorisation or critique. Perhaps this has something to do with using Russian immigrants to ask questions about our cultural identity, but Stephen Sinclair’s script barely strays into that territory either.

Rather, from the moment when Misha (Stephen Papps) and Nadia (Elena Stejko) pull up in their motorised lifeboat, the film embarks on a quest to understand what it is to create art, be driven by art and eventually destroyed by it. When Misha states that as an artist he has to no time for conventional narrative, it is hardly likely thatRussian Snark will have one either.

Russian Snark could just as easily have been conceived from a quick-fire creative writing assignment to take the true story of a Russian couple who floated to New Zealand, and follow it to some form of conclusion.

Misha is an eccentric film-maker obsessed with completing a conceptual piece involving still nudes in outdoor settings. As the stress of completing the project starts to wear on Nadia, Misha spectacularly manages to lose both her, and his mind.

Drier than a mouthful of Weetbix, Russian Snark has oodles of wry pathos. Aided by some classy cinematography and a look that belies its modest budget, Stephen Sinclair’s daring concept will be lauded by fans of cult cinema, but is likely to be a little too obscure for the great unwashed.

Best thing:
The dynamic between Papps and Stejko.

Worst thing: Clunky story beats.

See it with: Industrial-strength Russian vodka.

Published June 18th, 2011 at 9:46 am

Stephen Sinclair – Dilemmas of an Artist

Herald Film Reviewer Peter Calder talks about art and film with Russian Snark writer/director Stephen Sinclair

Stephen Sinclair: Dilemmas of an artist

By Peter Calder

5:30 AM Saturday Jun 18, 2011

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Writer and director Stephen Sinclair had no creative restrictions on himself in his depiction of a self-exiled Russian film-maker’s obsession with his craft. Peter Calder writes.

Stephen Papps' accent was so convincing that his Ukranian co-star would often speak Russian to him in between takes. Photo / Supplied


Stephen Papps’ accent was so convincing that his Ukranian co-star would often speak Russian to him in between takes. Photo / Steve Latty

When Boris Bainov and Renata Pavlenko sailed into Huia in November 1999, they would not have imagined that they would one day come to occupy a small niche in the history of New Zealand cinema.

The Russian couple had crossed the notorious Manukau Bar – not to mention the Pacific Ocean, from Vladivostok via Vanuatu – more by good luck than good management, one suspects, since their craft was a 30-year-old, 8m aluminium lifeboat. Bainov had bought the craft, which a gobsmacked yachtie called a floating beer can, for a few dollars from a steamship company.

Bainov and Pavlenko called their boat the Fore Tiv, an obscure reference to the fact that Bainov was 44 when he finished it, but the screen version of it is called the Snark – or CHAPK in Russian’s Cyrillic characters. And the two adventurers on board in the film Russian Snark are entirely figments of film writer and director Stephen Sinclair’s imagination.

The co-writer, with Anthony McCarten, of the 1987 hit play Ladies’ Night, who also penned some of the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, says the real story was “just a starting point, really”.

Article continues below

The quixotic nature of the sailors’ undertaking sparked the creation of a character, Misha, an experimental film-maker utterly and obsessively devoted to his art, who has to confront the cost of his obsession.

“I was interested in the dilemma of the artist,” says Sinclair, “that what’s good for the art may not necessarily be good for the person.”

It spoils little to say that Misha decides that it is better to be a good man than a good artist.

It seems like a strange thing for an artist to say, I suggest to Sinclair, given that the history of art is littered with people (mainly men) who did not reach the same conclusion.

“I’ve heard that Nabokov is a really nice person,” says Sinclair with a chuckle, “though he’s always cited as an exception to the rule. But Misha – I don’t want to give too much away – certainly takes it to the end of the line. He has to re-evaluate what actually is the point of what he does.”

The improbable story improbably gets under your skin, thanks to a charmingly eccentric performance by the lanky Papps, best known for his role as the loopy Firpo in Ian Mune’s film of The End of the Golden Weather. Among his other achievements, Papps speaks a good proportion of his lines in Russian and gives a fine impression of a native speaker.

His co-star, Elena Stejko, a Ukrainian, says she was “absolutely smitten by his devotion” and that he was so convincing that she often caught herself speaking to him in Russian between takes.

At times as oddball as its main character, Russian Snark was never the kind of project that would have attracted Film Commission support: the commission came in with some post-production funding and Creative New Zealand’s Screen Innovation Production Fund chipped in as well, but the film was predominantly self-funded.

“That was pretty liberating,” says Sinclair. “I didn’t have to get anyone to agree with my ideas or talk to committees. I could just be as eccentric and unusual as I wanted to be.”

The mixed tones of the result – a faintly tragic love story with a strong thread of satire – may not be for all tastes (one of our cinema’s few truly iconic images is deliciously lampooned) but Sinclair is unrepentant.

“Films like this are usually made by very serious artists who feel so strongly about their subject that humour might compromise their vision. I think that’s bullshit. There is nothing so serious that you can’t have humour in it as well.”

And he laments the pressure against the iconoclastic and offbeat in today’s tight funding environment.

“There is enormous pressure for everything to be mainstream and successful and the funders and networks are all second-guessing what they may be. But if your motivation is solely to get as many people as you can into the theatre, you are usually going to get it wrong anyway.

“My experience has been that if something really excites me, that’s the best chance it will interest other people.

I’ve tried to write stuff with a view to turning a dollar and the stuff that I come up with is really second-rate.”

By Peter CalderEmail Peter


Published June 18th, 2011 at 5:30 am