Not always as extreme as Faces of Death (Google it at your own risk), but not always as benign as cat videos, Russian dash cam footage has come to occupy a strange and unpredictable corner of the internet.
It’s a phenomenon that came into focus in 2013 when a meteorite blazed across the sky in Chelyabinsk with multiple motorist capturing the fiery spectacle on their dash cams. Once so many angles of the meteorite hit the internet, people immediately asked: what’s with Russians and dash cams? As it’s been explained before, dash cams in Russia are primarily used as a way to fight notoriously corrupt police officers and contest any bogus accidents. The result has been years of footage featuring head-on collisions, roadside brawls, and even the occasional heartwarmer like someone helping an old lady cross the street.
It’s a microcosm of Russian life that has lived online, but now director Dmitrii Kalashnikov is bringing those dash cam videos to the big screen with his debut feature film The Road Movie.
“Dash cam videos, they’re very specific. They’re not like all the other crazy videos on YouTube,” Kalashnikov says. “The most wonderful thing about it is that there is no one controlling the camera while it’s recording. Everything is happening by chance. There is no director, no cinematographer, no one controls the composition of the frame.”
The Road Movie is billed as a documentary but it lacks any of the features that are associated with the genre: There’s no expert source or narration to put everything in context–it’s just a supercut of dash cam footage. It may sound like lazy directing, but the way in which Kalashnikov assembles the videos makes The Road Movie incredibly gripping. The videos he chose range from devastating crashes to comically absurd animal encounters to police chases–in no particular order. It’s that uncertainty of what’s coming next, coupled with Kalashnikov letting the videos speak for themselves, that makes The Road Movie such a fascinating watch.
“Two features that were really important for me were truthfulness and unexpectedness of the material. I felt that if the audience were to see my manipulations as a director, they’ll feel that everything is staged as well or edited in some specific way,” Kalashnikov says. “I felt a bit like a [curator] in a gallery. There’s a lot of different stuff happening and I wanted to show the diversity of situations and emotions.”
See where The Road Movie is screening here.