Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi is working on “The Tribe”, a full-length film about those who can neither speak nor hear, where conversations can be seen rather than heard
Plemia (The Tribe) was presented at Berlinale 2012. This film festival is almost home to Myroslav, because his shorts – first Diagnosis (2009) and then Hlukhota (Deafness, 2010) – represented Ukraine in the competition. His new film is fundamentally nonverbal, and this is what makes it innovative. No one has ever shot a sound film relying only on gestures, facial expression and situation. Perhaps this is why the well-known Dutch company SNG Film, which has been financing independent filmmakers from around the world for 30 years, has agreed to support his project.
U.W.: Let us begin with the most urgent question: what stage is your film project in?
The “financial” stage. We are settling all possible details with our co-producers. Our partner is the company ProntoFilm which will be the recipient of government support for our project. Production will begin in September 2012. Right now we are casting. It is very hard to find actors for this project. On the one hand, we need to find people with acting skills, and on the other hand, the camera has to “love” them. In fact, we already have one actor, Vasyl Stopkin. Do you know that he is already a merited actor? He once played in a film by Georgian-Ukrainian director Borys Nebiyeridze and was approved by the State Committee for Cinematography in Moscow to play a speaking part. Of course, he did not speak, and couldn't speak, but simply skilfully lip-spoke, and a different actor provided a voice. There’s also an age problem with our casting: the film is about upperclassmen in a boarding house for impaired-hearing students, i.e., youth aged 18-23.
U.W.: Expanding on a short film to make a feature is fairly common practice, even in Ukraine. For example, the Aloshechkin brothers made Synevir based on their Hoverliana. How did it occur to you to turn Deafness into The Tribe?
It's a very long story. The idea to make this film occurred to me about 20 years ago, when I was a student. And it came to me because the school I used to go to was across the street from a boarding school for hearing-impaired students. We sometimes fought with them and sometimes and played football with them, so I have rich memories from my teenage years. I later thought about making a film based on them. I found Oleksandr Zhovna’s Experiment and the author himself and approached Hanna Chmil, who was then the director of our State Cinematography Service. But then Zhovna’s film script was intercepted by [Roman] Balayan who produced Nich svitla (The Night of Light), a film that neither was a box office hit nor enjoyed international recognition. Several years later, producer Volodymyr Tykhy who was preparing the project “Mudaky. Arabesky” (F***ckers. Arabesques) suggested that I should shoot something. I spent several months thinking, traveling to see sites and envying those who can sit at home, continually post in their blogs and pull ideas out of thin air. Finally, I asked my wife: “Why not make a film about the deaf?” This is how Deafness was born. Its feature-length continuation was spontaneous. At a panel discussion at Berlin’s Arsenal in 2010, for some reason, and I don't know why, I said I was preparing a feature about the deaf. I remember Tychy looked at me with undisguised surprise then.
U.W.: How did you find money for such a complicated project? What did you tell potential investors?
I created both the film script and the project itself “on my own lap,” as they say – in front of a computer. I'm fond of social networks. They are indeed a blessing, because any meeting takes a lot more time than online contact. So I received a letter from a friend of mine who missed Deafness at Berlinale and was asking me to send him a copy of the film. And this is when the Hubert Bals Fund emerged. Curiously, I heard about it back in the 1990s when its representative came to the Molodist (Youth) Festival. I asked him about the possibility of financing and was told that the only Ukrainian-made film they could perhaps support would have to be directed by Kira Muratova. But in 2010, I found the courage to send them the documents and received initial financing (to develop the film script. – Editor).
U.W.: How do you plan to go about shooting?
Based on the ideas of Sundance. When Robert Redford founded Sundance, he kept this phrase in mind: “There is nothing more costly than a shooting day.” The lion’s share of all film budgets is spent on production days. Aware of these issues, Redford set up Sundance as a platform for small filmmaking groups to be able to rehearse free of charge at a ranch in Utah. The Tribe will go through a lengthy stage of rehearsals. We had three full-dress rehearsals for the 11-minute-long Deafness, and we shot it in one day, working from sunrise to sunset. Of course, we’ll have a story board, but this is just a backup option, something you can always return to if you fail to come up with a more interesting idea during the shooting. What I’m making is not a cartoon, so I have to get the actors to produce the necessary emotions.
U.W.: Valery Todorovsky, Roman Balayan and others already made films about people with impaired hearing. But everyone had a concept. Could you explain what a film in which no one speaks will look like?
Skipping all the generalities, I will say that viewers will not notice that words are missing. This will be a pantomime film. The deaf “talk” not only with their fingers – they move their lips and bodies. Of course, we cannot always understand the exact phrase from gestures. That is why we have to have rehearsals – we will find the right balance between gestures and words. Everything will be clear thanks to situation and general familiarity. For example, a fight in a school backyard will be accompanied by indications showing off-limits zones, and this will be done by a referee of sorts. In other words, motion will be the main thing, and there will be a lot of physical action. Arthouse films in general make little use of words. Remember Honey which received the Golden Bear at Berlinale or The Turin Horse which won the Grand Prix there in 2011. The most important thing in them is movement rather than words, which are almost completely missing.
U.W.: When will your film be completed? Does financing from the Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam International Film Festival mean that you have to present it there?
It means that I have to provide the fund with a draft version of the film upon completion, and that's it. I simply have to report to them. Selectors from many cinema forums (Venice, Locarno, Cannes, Toronto) approach them, and this is where I can benefit. I have already participated in the Spectrum section in Rotterdam, and I can submit The Tribe for the competition now. But this festival is not our goal. We are only preparing for the preproduction stage, so speaking about plans for the premiere is empty talk. This is something people love doing in Ukraine. When there is nothing to say and they need to give mass media something to report, a film director or producer says that he has submitted his film to Berlinale, along with 20,000 other people. It’s infantile! I can say with certainty that we must begin shooting in September 2012 in Kyiv, because the film begins on 1 September, showing the student lineup and the First Bell for the seniors. We will continue in the winter of 2012-13 (we need snow) and will complete postproduction and produce a copy by the summer of 2013. That's it. Nothing else needs to be predicted or calculated.
Slabospytsky was born in Kyiv in the family of writer Mykhailo Slaboshpytsky. He graduated from the Ivan Karpenko-Kary Kyiv National University of Theatre, Cinema and Television. He directed four short films – Storozh (Watchman, 1996), Zhakh (Horror, 2006), Diagnosis (2009) and Deafness (2010). The last two were presented at the Berlin International Film Festival. His films have been shown at dozens of festivals. He has worked at the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Film Studios and the Lenfilm Studios in Saint Petersburg.
The Tribe is the dramatic story of a deaf student, Serhiy, who is moved to the 11th form of an ill-famed special-needs boarding school. He experiences his first love and first hate, endures hazing and has to defend himself. The plot is based on the protagonist’s relationships with his classmates and the girl Anya. The plot line has some parallels with Valeriya Guy Germanika’s Shkola (School).
UAH 14.5 million
A half of the budget, UAH 7 million, has been provided by the government, according to the law on cinematography. The other half is being paid by private investors. The sum is due to the use of film tape, the number of production shifts and the fact it uses the noted Dutch cameraman Richard van Oosterhout.
At present, the director plans to engage Dmytro Sokolov and Oleksandr Fomichev, who played in Deafness, for two parts in The Tribe. Vasyl Stopkin, a professional actor who is also hard of hearing, has been approved, too. He has 30 years of experience playing in the Raduga Theatre and was trained as a teacher of sign language interpreting. He leads a school drama theatre and is a professional teacher in special schools for hearing-impaired students. His interests now include developing a Ukrainian motion language.