Anastasia Doniants is an incredibly talented editor based in Auckland. She is of Russian, Armenian and Jewish descent, but came to call Aotearoa/New Zealand her home when she arrived here as an 18 year old.
Anastasia and director Jessica Sanderson worked together as creative producers at TVNZ for many years, editing promos. Jessica describes Anastasia as a woman with,
“...impeccable style. A deep thinker, sensitive to the world and the people she meets. That, paired with her intelligence makes her one of my favourite editors by a long shot. We laugh a lot – that’s also really important.”
They sit down and discuss working together on Ways To See.
Photos from the NZ premiere of 'Ways To See': Anastasia Doniants, Director Jessica Sanderson, Composer, Arli Liberman & Cinematographer, Tammy Williams.
JESSICA: How was it that you came to edit Ways To See?
ANASTASIA: We met at TVNZ when we were both editing promotional videos (promos). We took an instant liking to each other and appreciated each others’ work. You had been away from TVNZ for a while and I bumped into you at Q Theatre, I think we both had a bit to drink. You said, “I need to talk to you, I’m writing a film and I want you to edit it!”... I didn’t hear from you, but then you got in touch! I said “Yes!”.
J: How would you describe your editing style?
A: Spiritual and sensual… trying to not make it sound like a sexual experience [laughs]. Before I work on something I have to feel it. It’s energy and I have to go with that. What Kate Bush said “...makes me feel so fine helps to relieve my mind”.
Also, being a perfectionist, I can never stop, there’s always something I could change. Editing is an extension of my mind through my hands.
J: We’ve talked a lot about being ‘in flow’ with an edit, and also we’re not, how painful that can be [laughs].
A: Yeah becoming one with it. It’s a creative outlet for me. I’m a creative person and I get energy built up in me and editing is a release. It’s also an anxiety relief.
J: Me too, it’s a beautiful distraction when the world gets too much eh? It’s nice to get lost in an edit sometimes.
A: Yeah. I was thinking about this too; I come from a family of lace makers all the women on my mother’s side were very good at making lace. They would spend hours and days without much progress, it’s a slow process. I must have this in my DNA, because editing is just like making lace, one stitch at a time. .
J: And our edit took a long time, sorry about that [laughs]
A: It took a long time! But if I had to do it again, I would. I don’t want to put something into the world that I’m not happy with. Otherwise I’ll have anxiety and be embarrassed.
J: I remember saying it would take us a week [laughs] how wrong I was. It took us hanging out a few days/night across a 7 month period eh? Good coffee and chats along the way.
A: I am so fast at making promos, I can do it quickly and deliver a good thing. I thought, I’ll be able to do this in two weeks. Probably won’t even need to log… but thank God I followed the proper instructions [with this film].
J: You’re talking about instruction from Annie Collins. Who was your editing mentor on this project. I call her, “Aunty Annie”, because she felt like an Aunty to us during this process.
A: She was my editing mentor. She’s NZ editing royalty and she took me under her wing and basically taught me everything about editing for film; how to log, workflow, how to assembly, protocols… I think without her I couldn’t have done it.
You do have to know how to edit to move into film. But my style was so far away from that, having cut promos for so long.
Annie was there for me when I was freaking out, when some of the footage was corrupt. She had a calm presence throughout the whole project.
A: She was honest. She says exactly what she means. I don’t like it when people give you a ‘shit sandwich’, which is a signature dish in the commercial world. When you impress Annie, her praise feels more special because you know it’s real. She won’t flatter you for no reason.
J: I agree, I really appreciated her guidance for us both. This is your first film edit, so what made it different to promos, commercials or music videos?
A: Everything really. Different style, workflow… it takes such a long time. In promo terms, you can perfect a 30 second edit in 3 days… then actually something that’s 15 minutes… if you look at it in promo terms, that’s about 90 days.
And maybe that’s what we’ve spent on it. Also this was my first film, and there were challenges with continuity and duration that meant we had to really sculpt it in post.
J: What do you want to do next?
I would like to edit more for film. Anything edit related I would love to keep doing. I’ve also been directing this year and would like to grow that. But editing is my ‘jam’.
J: Do you have any favourite editors?
A: “Midnight Cowboy”, I remember I was so impressed with the editing style back when I watched it when I was young. The strange cutaways were so cool. I really love the old school style of editing when it’s just simple and you don’t notice the editing while you watch, but I also love the experimental editing, like the Japanese director / editor Nobuhiko Obayashi, Tarkovsky of course. Anyone who tries to deliver an emotion in an unusual way. Editing is powerful, you can mess with a person’s mind – I really like that. My editing heroes are Nobuhiko Obayashi, Bud Smith, Thelma Schoonmaker and Annie Collins.
J: Is it fair to say that this film challenged us both to ‘slow down’ eh? By that I mean, I think we can digest images really quickly, from being in promos, you watch such large volumes of content all day every day.
A: Yeah you train yourself to forget things once you’re off a project. You train yourself to almost have a short term memory. For 3 days, it’s your world, then you drop it. But for this film, we had to remember everything for such a long time. I feel like I know the film by heart.
J: And probably the scenes we cut.
J: There was an unintentional cultural exchange that happened during the editing of this film right? You are Russian and working on a very bi-cultural Māori/Pākehā film. A lot of the dialogue is in Māori. I also got to ask you lots of questions about Russia.
A: Yeah, I’ve got to ask you questions too. This film is in te reo, and I’m Russian. Before this I didn’t know more than ‘Kia ora’ or ‘ka kite’.
J: Oh, the reo in our film is pretty 'learner level’, but you’ve got a few things now.
A: “Me koe”... When I first received footage, when you guys were shooting, I was logging it and it’s in te reo Māori, I was trying to write all the words down from how they sounded to me, I mean the dialogue that was improvised. I didn’t know what anything meant or how to write it down properly. Māori language sounds are so different.
J: We spoke a bit about the ways our cultures are portrayed on screen. And we both felt that, you especially, that it’s not always in a positive light.
A: Oh yeah, I actually relate to Māori culture more than I do with the Anglo Saxon Culture, or Pākehā New Zealand. I don’t know what it is, something similar in the way people are more warm and real. Pākehā can be quite reserved. I feel like NZ is so reserved
Working with you, learning a bit more about Māori culture, realising how protected it is. It made me realise that Russians are not so protective of their culture, and we are slowly losing it whilst trying to be like the West. That makes me sad. But Māori seem to have more soul, there’s a connection to the collective soul of Aotearoa. I just received my citizenship papers and will soon be taking an oath. I've decided to do my oath in te reo Māori.
J: Yeah, I hear you. I think you share that. We deal with the taha wairua [spiritual side] of things in this film, or what you might call the ‘supernatural’. We had lots of good chats about that.
A: I believe in the supernatural. I think this story got me back in touch with my young self and reminded me of what I was like as a child and what I believed and imagined, and how beautiful that world is when you’re a kid– anything is possible. You lose it sadly when you’re an adult. I think that’s the difference between Amaia and her mother Maria – the mum is in the ‘real world’ without anything special to relieve her of the pain she’s going through. If Maria believed in God or the spirit world, she wouldn’t be so distraught.
J: I love that you felt that way about the mother – she is quite lost. I actually wrote her based on my teenage self.
A: Yeah that’s what happens to people because we stop believing. We become lost souls. (Island of Lost Souls is a great film by the way). But children are special, they’re magic, they live differently. Especially a girl like Amaia. She’s in touch with ‘God’ or the ‘Universe’, she’s the one who saves Mum in a strange way.
Anastasia continues editing and creating in Auckland, New Zealand.
Films that she has edited played at the Berlinale, TIFF, NZIFF, ImagiNATIVE and other international film festivals. She’s won awards for her television editing work and last year was nominated for the Best Editor Award at Show Me Shorts. Anastasia has edited with some of New Zealand’s most interesting directors, including Jessica Sanderson, Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, Abigail Greenwood, Lula Cucchiara, Mika Haka and Florian Habicht.