We had the good fortune of connecting with Ira (Irina) Storozhenko and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ira (Irina), how do you think about risk?
I was born in Russia during the 1990’s – a very specific time to be born. Russians still call that time “Crazy Nineties” as a reminder of the global historical changes in the country. Along with the final collapse of Socialism, the Russian economy drastically went down. Crisis hit the country and unemployment cases with crime rates went up. People literally had to take risks every day they would go to work – it always could have been the last time. You could have either lost the job or be shot on the street. What a wonderful time to be born! My mother made a big choice when she decided to keep me. Having a second child when you may not have a place to live tomorrow – is a big decision to make. My father had to take risks every day and being a sensitive child, I may not understand what exactly was happening but would always feel it. So as I would say – I got risks taking in my blood. When I was 16, I went against my father’s will and applied to the All Russian State University of Cinema (VGIK). That was the first big moment in my life. I took the risk. I risked my future, my relationships with the family, the stability in my life. I still remember how I was sitting on the street in Moscow and crying after I’ve got my interview in VGIK – I did not know the results yet and it was the first time in my life when I realized how much responsibility comes with the idea “I want to try it.” Luckily, I got in and since I began studying film, I have had to take risks almost every day. Being a young female director in Russia equals getting “NO, YOU CAN’T DO THIS” ten times a day. You can take “no” as the response and give up, or you may “Want to try it.” And if you do – you have to take the risk. By the end of the day – the director is the one who is responsible for the project, the director is the one who is calling the shots. Taking risks in professional life became a habit. But as much as I would do it in the career field, I would try to make my personal life as riskless as possible. However, you can’t really separate these two things. When I just turned 23 I decided to improve my English and came to Los Angeles. I came alone, with a very small suitcase and my plan was to go back to Russian in a month (I had some projects back there going; friends and family and I did not really think about pursuing American Dream.) Little I knew about the future… I got immediately in love with Los Angeles, the vibe of the city conquered me. I discovered AFI Conservatory and I’ve got a very strange feeling – I almost immediately knew that this was my place and I wanted to be here! I did not know anyone in Los Angeles and I was nobody. That was the hardest choice in my life: to stay and risk it all right now, or to come back home and then make a mature thoughtful decision. My memory often comes back to the moment when my phone sent me the notification “Thank you for choosing our airlines, we wish you a great flight – LAX – MOSCOW Int. Airport” but I was sitting in the little kitchen in the English school dormitory, going through the AFI Conservatory application website. I was excited but very scared. I had no idea how I would make it. But one more time in my life, I did. The risks taking process made me who I am as a human being and as a creative person. It opened new horizons, new people, and opportunities. I think it is very important especially in the creative world to be able to risk it all and then just see what happens. The decision moments are always very stressful and my little memories about past decisions always help me to move forward with a good feeling that I am doing the right thing.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The film is quite an abstract substance, it can be of different genre, style, length, format… The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that behind every image should be a story. The compelling story should have a character, who has a conflict that derives from obstacles. Pretty simple. But what makes every film different is the collaboration between team members that are producing the film. I probably would never be able to say that I have my own, specific style but it is certain that I do my best to bring part of myself into every film I am involved in and that for sure makes it special. By the end of the day, in my movies, I always have a protagonist with a deep inside conflict which they are trying to resolve in the world. I feel attracted to the teenage stories as to me the teenage period is one of the crucial moments in life. The thing I am most proud of is that I finally started to appreciate my mistakes and learn from them. For me, it is one of the hardest things – to see the story I directed on a big screen. I see every little mistake and most of the time it breaks my heart. In the beginning, it was just days of frustration and depression. Now I’ve learned to analyze, break down my mistakes and try to learn from them so next time I’m in front of my laptop writing a new screenplay, on set directing actors or in the editing, room working with an editor I do my best to achieve the best. As with everything you do and especially with art there is never enough experience or knowledge to say that you achieved the top. There are endless opportunities and possibilities to tell the story. That at the same time is one of the most compelling parts of my vocation. I will be always learning from my peers and my mistakes, discover new ways and voices, find new solutions and opportunities.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
For me, the best thing about Los Angeles is its residents and areas/regions. I’ve never seen a city so full of unique, creative, different, bright, and bold people residing in such specific to them areas. I love the vibe of the city and how each region is unalike from one to another. In less than an hour, you can travel from something so urban and familiar as downtown to something so specific as the “LA hipster” Silver Lake area or to Malibu to enjoy everyone knows what. If I have to show someone Los Angeles in a week or so I would rather focus on people, vibes, contrast, and specific areas rather than something touristy as Griffith Observatory. On the other hand, “La La Hand” and “Terminator” was shot there, so we might stop by.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Answering this question, I feel like I should write a book about all people, whom I would love to thank in my life. Every time I think about who I am, I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many talented individuals who inspire me every day. First of all, I’d like to thank my family and friends back home in Russia where I was born and raised for helping me to shape my character and find the courage to give up them and a lot of other things to come here in LA to study and create movies. To everyone local (or just temporary residing in Los Angeles for now) who helped me feel safe and secure both creatively and on the streets. I especially would love to mention my alma mater the American Film Institute that I’m currently about to graduate for being such a beautiful place where I’ve found not just my creative voice but numerous collaborates. In my field is the hardest but one of the most important things that one needs to figure out as early as possible. I am especially thankful to my AFI mentors who helped me hear myself, belief in myself, trust my guts, and just do whatever it takes to overcome personal fears to tell my story. I can not stress enough how much AFI has changed my life.

Website: https://www.irastorozhenko.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/storozzhenko/?hl=en
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/irina.storozhenko.543

Image Credits
Juliet (AFI THESIS FILM, 2020) Masterpiece (SHORT MOVIE, 2017) Dewolf – commercial (2017)

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