Russian filmmaker Natalia Meschaninova makes her feature debut with The Hope Factory, a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the Siberian city of Norilsk.

Home to a major mining and metallurgical complex, the city, situated in the Arctic Circle, was once also a hub for the Soviet Union’s system of gulag labour camps.

Meschaninova originally visited Norilsk with the intention of making a documentary.

“I was researching the city for a long time but then came to the conclusion it was impossible to make a documentary film there… it was difficult to get access and permits, the factories, for example, wanted to control what was shown,” says Meschaninova. “But I remained fascinated by the city and had done too much research to walk away so I decided to make a fiction film set there instead.”

The resulting feature revolves around two girls who set about escaping their bleak hometown through two very different routes. Meschaninova captures their lives and those of their friends as they plot their departure.

Prior to The Hope Factory, Meschaninova focused on documentaries. Her previous works include the 2007 short Herbarium about an old age beauty contest in a retirement home; the 2008 Good Intentions, capturing life in a remote mountain village, and a controversial TV series called School.

“It was big step to move over to fiction but I found my documentary background a real help… the film is a fiction but at the same time I used my knowledge of real people and everything that is happening in the film is happening for real in the city today,” says the director.

Shooting a lot of the film with a hand-held camera, the film has a documentary feel but Meschaninova stresses that the cast, however, is made-up of professional actors.

“A lot of people have mistakenly suggested the characters are played by amateurs which is not the case… they’re all professional. A few of the actors are upset about this but I don’t mind… I chose actors who were capable of killing the actor within themselves… to show what they really feel. When I was casting, I was looking for people with a similar background to their role so they could really get into character,” she explains.

Changing setting and generation completely, Meschaninova is now developing a romantic comedy about an elderly Russian couple who are reinvigorated by their first ever foreign holiday at a Mediterranean beach resort. Meschaninova has yet to decided the setting but says it will also depend on potential co-production partners.