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Lisbon EP. This is not a success story

If you are into success stories, this is not the one. This is a story of how the chain of spontaneous decisions leads to a better good. Or to worse. As you never know the potential outcome of acting differently than you did. Call it a coming-of-age story, but the lead is 36. 

This is a story about a daring immigrant who squeezes her life into one suitcase to create new memories at a place she has no knowledge about.  “What would you take to a deserted island?” – I remember this question from my classmates’ journals. We used to hand each other those eclectic notebooks with lists of questions decorated with drawings, collages, and bubble gum stickers, and dry flowers falling from folded pages captioned “secrets”. “What would you take to your new life?”. And my 9 y.o. self would answer “A bottle of water and a book.” 

This could set an exposition for an adventure movie. Years later I’m leaving with my laptop and camera. And if you are into positive thinking, what you imagine next is a house with an ocean view, Vogue publications, and maybe love at first sight. 

This story doesn’t give you fast relief. Life doesn’t provide you with the luxurious quality of the time ramping that fiction has. If you studied filmmaking, you know that to make a good movie you cut out scenes without a twist, regardless of better or worse. Also, exclude blissful moments, because who can relate to a steady well-being? As well as no one wants to follow a long line of repeated misfortune.

In a good movie, a long struggle to get a work contract without a work permit because to get a work permit you need a work contract is squeezed into a 2 minutes sequence of failed attempts, and then you cut to another scene through the caption saying something like “2 years later”.  What you call a good movie is a set of dramatic accidents, uncertainty, and restlessness. My story will be no other. So if at some point it leaves you heartbroken and hopeless, remember that I cut out the serenity of ocean walks, rare moments of sweet long sleep in someone’s braces, and joyful morning coffees. I might also substitute months of chasing fortune with generalizing captions. In the film school, they teach you to squeeze the entire universe into one line. 

This is a story about the liberation from shattered dreams in the setup for a lighthearted vacation adventure comedy. A sunny city by the ocean would be the last location for drama you can imagine. It’s only in fairytales hero defeats the dragon in the city of seven hills covered with candy-colored houses. Because how you can imagine a failure in the setting from a dream vacation poster? 

This is not a success story. Nor it is a hero’s journey no matter how similar it may look. In the film school, they teach you that the hero leaves his ordinary world, and after facing trials, returns in his strongest version. Let’s begin with the fact that in my story hero never comes back. This is a story of not a hero who sometimes may act heroic. 


The story begins on the plain. 

“Le champagne, madame” – flight attendant hands me a gold-coated bottle smiling like she knows its my birthday tomorrow.

“Monsiers les passageres, on va descendre a Paris. Il fait beau”  ( Dear passengers, we are landing in Paris. The weather is good.) – says a cheerful voice in the speaker.

[Romantic French chanson in the headphones, but you are too tipsy to follow the lyrics] 

How does it feel when your dream comes true? 

I imagined this moment in so many different ways over the years that I’m not even sure It’s happening or I just want it to be it to be the resolution. There is a chance I’m making things up for the sake of storytelling. You know, at the film school, they teach you not to leave the character in despair in the end. I lived this Parisian dream for years. No matter, I was broke or heartbroken at the end of all hardships I had my Paris. Paris where I’m happy. When I was hopeless about ever getting my papers and traveling again, I knew the destination I would go to first.

Now I’m giving this cinematic moment of a woman sitting alone by the airplane window, sipping on champagne with a hint of a mysterious smile on her face. The only difference, in a real movie they would use a cut glass champagne flute instead of plastic. But I’m flying the low-cost. 

To be honest, I don’t need any particular reason for sparkling. It’s rather a habit to have a glass onboard. When heading to Lisbon 4 years ago, my liking was the same. It was actually my last champagne on the flight for a big while. 

Let’s jump back to the time when I don’t know this. I’m wasting the last hour before boarding over the glass of spritz at the airport bar in Boryspil. Minus 5 eur from my budget. 

Phone notification says:
{your total is 795 eur}

I just hugged my parents. And I think my father dropped a tear. My mom definitely did. Last night I discovered my suitcase was the hand luggage size and didn’t fit the possessions I’ve chosen to take to a new life. What would you take if you had only 20 kilos of storage and zero certainty?

[Playing insomnia track mixed with pulsation of a rising heartbeat]

I had to rush to the mall for a quick shopping next morning so I could take my happy coat, a present from a client, and a beauty dish for on-camera flash. Leaving in hope for luck and photography projects.

Phone notification says:
{- 20 eur for a suitcase}

I just quit film school and enjoyed a short period I was taking for stability. In six months after my drop out I directed a commercial for the mall, produced an animation for a footwear chain, and a corporate film featuring top managers in a comedy. Previously I failed the crowdfunding campaign for my short about wannabe artists that escape to the imaginary world to feel worthy. Now I’m escaping to another country to write another story about myself. And I don’t know what is the genre. All I know about my next destination is that every woman I’ve talked to has the name Maria Jose, and every man, Jose Maria. Lisbon perfectly fits in my dream destination description, the capital by the ocean. That’s all I know. That’s all you should know about my take on a big move. 

Weird fact, the majority of citizens live in shared apartments. I rented a room too. But honestly, I avoid night trains not to sleep in the same space with random people. I never spent a night at the hostel. The whole idea of a community formed by complete strangers is foreign to me. 

In film school, they teach that you can use any experience for the sake of good storytelling. Let’s see the outcome of my experiment on bonding with a group of people not connected by any likelihood but financial insecurity.

The girl who rented me a room will pick me up at the metro station. She is my age. She seems nice, and she didn’t ask to pay upfront. That’s all I know about her. 

I’m already a bit tipsy and I would go for another drink, but I don’t feel like paying airport prices. We have 30 minutes before taking off. So I might have some time for FAQ. Why I’m moving. That’s number one. In the upcoming 4 years, I will answer it in countless ways. Sometimes suggesting contradicting versions. I believe in each of them. 

Imagine this friend of a friend whom they call a girl from the moon. You don’t know what she is more – talented or weird. Anyway, she is into all this creative stuff like photography and acting. She always comes up with a new title when you meet after a while. The last time you ran into her, she was into film directing.

Imagine this girl is raised in a country where you can buy anything: school grades, driving license, university exams, talent competition, master’s diploma. Imagine it’s not an exception, it’s how they operate. Meantime girl from the moon operated within the idea of fair pay. She was getting projects, not fantastic, but good, and thought the system of equal possibilities worked for her. Until it didn’t. 

If you want to make it in moviemaking, start with networking. If you can’t reach decision-makers, try to connect with people who get along with people who influence the distribution of the industry budgets. A girl from the moon could make friends with a toaster when she was in the mood. Soon enough, a son of a cinema worker whose father knew producers who judge pitches for national funding suggested helping for 10% interest. Producers will take 50% for their votes. Although the girl from the moon was a big-time daydreamer, she did the math and refused the deal. 

At the time, the interest to post USSR aesthetics faded. War dramas took over the stories of misery and depression in small villages and gangs of the 90s. A girl from the moon never craved hideous decorations she remembered from her childhood. Nor she saw herself recreating scenes of soldiers raping children. She never saw anything heroic in the fight for survival. Those were not the movies she wanted to make. 

In film school, they teach you to find a way to set up the back story the way the whole environment pushes the character to leave a usual discomfort zone for the turbulence of the unknown that promises a big reward in the end. I can’t get why people believe this fictional structure applies to life. In my opinion, it has as much to do with reality as a cinematic depiction of sex. But at some point I thought It might be worth to try writing a new story about the girl from the moon somewhere anyone knows her. 

Ice in my glass has already turned into water that tastes like a memory of a cocktail. 

“Passengers of the flight Kyiv – Lisbon, please proceed to gate 05” – says a scratchy voice from invisible speakers. And somehow I hear a hint of excitement in this bright female tone. I’m watching a long line of travelers slowly moving toward the gate. “January 19, 2019,” – I mumble – “would I celebrate this day?”. Last week’s insomnia, along with alcohol, takes its toll. How real is this from zero to ten? In the film school, they teach you to stick to the genre. Which kind of movie I just got into?

Just six weeks ago we were filming a hair editorial. Same people, same jokes. I was asking models to dance in the breaks between them, striking emotionless poses for beauty shots. Surreal fun as usual. What was slightly off this time it’s the soundtrack of the evening. Every spare minute we were checking the news. We wanted to know if the team was presenting the project in Paris or they were closing the borders and announcing the war situation. Models were giving groovy dance moves to the sound of a news channel playing in the background. I love fashion sets for everyone’s ability to take on the most ridiculous concepts and act like it’s utterly real. It reminded me of the evening of endlessly switching news channels back in 2014. 

Only at that time, we had to promote lobster cooking master classes. The police had just opened fire on protesting students in a mere 15-minute drive from our location, and nobody wanted to dive into fine dining experiences anymore. 

“Give me those Warhol’s moves!”. Whatever it means. I smile at the girl watching her take on a pop art dance. And I got this thought “What if I lived in some place you don’t have a revolution every few years”