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  • Writer's pictureYelena McCafferty

If I were to make a film about translators...

If you were to make a film about your profession, what would you call it? There aren’t really that many movies about translators or interpreters. One that immediately springs to mind is The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman; Lost in Translation is more to do with cultural differences than translation itself. Then there is The Translators (French: Les Traducteurs), and Chuchotage – a multi award winner and my personal favourite.

In the Russian film industry I can only think of one film about a translator – Autumn Marathon «Осенний марафон» where the main character is a literary translator, although the plot isn’t exactly centred around his work. One thing to note is it features a typewriter – a tool still used back in 1979 when the film was made, widely redundant now. “Widely redundant” because one renowned actor actually collects typewriters and has about 120 of them at home. This actor is no other than Tom Hanks.

In translator’s work typewriters have been replaced by computers and all of the tools that come with technology. Our work is by no means boring as we get to translate content on a variety of subjects, from law to agriculture, from technical to creative. In this respect we are wordsmiths or word jugglers, and both descriptions would make a nice name for a movie.

An interpreter’s job is sometimes misunderstood, however. As the interpreting process takes place in real time, there isn’t that much time one has at their disposal, unlike with written translation which you can polish. I sometimes think this is why there is a differentiation in the translator/interpreter terminology in English: first and foremost an interpreter mentally interprets the message and then puts it into words.

And yes, misinterpretations do happen, simply because the interpreter wasn’t quick enough to grasp the meaning and rendered it differently. When Nikita Khrushchev told the West back in 1956 «мы вас похороним», he didn’t mean “we will bury you”. His message was “we will outlive you” and yes, we will therefore organise your funeral. Nikita Khrushchev’s interpreter Viktor Sukhodrev interpreted it literally, and we know how the phrase subsequently affected international relations and not only – it even made it to Sting’s music hit Russians.

If my film was about interpreters, it would have a working title of On the Fly. And behind every good film there has to be a good storyline. There is little point in focusing on technicalities of our work in movies - documentaries and special reports serve that purpose. But with a good scriptwriter it may be possible to make a nice film about our profession to add to the scanty collection released so far.

[Tip: if you require a Russian translator for your film production, we have extensive experience in this area. Please call us on 0207 0436940 or email]


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