Nestled at the edge of Siberia in Russia’s Ural mountains, Chelyabinsk is one of the most polluted cities on earth.
Half documentary, half visual art, Harmony embraces dark and smoky shots of the city’s heavy industry to create an atmosphere of inescapable permanence and a tradition of hard work. But the omni-present factory floor only provides a backdrop to the film’s main focus: the drive, determination and creativity of the city’s young athletes. Mixing short, steady snapshots with a diverse soundtrack of Russian rap, hip hop and opera, the film builds a portrait of budding ice hockey players and rhythmic gymnasts as they strive to reach the highest levels of Russia’s proudest sports.
“At the offset of the film, we aimed to use the city and sports as an allegory to understand the wider picture of Russia, and on a subtle level explore the dynamics between power and the importance of beauty and success,” film maker Frederick Paxton and producer Maria Babikova told The Calvert Journal.
But even in the bright lights of the dance studio, things are more complicated than they seem: many of these young athletes are pushed almost to breaking point, ruthlessly measured against the strict hyper-masculine and feminine ideals each sport embodies.