Interview: "THE TRIBE Won 37 Awards" Success And Corruption With Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Contributing Writer; London
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Interview: "THE TRIBE Won 37 Awards" Success And Corruption With Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's first feature, The Tribe, was one of the surefire successes of 2014, with wins at festivals right across the globe. It was also one of those few films that were a hit with audiences and critics alike, and the formula for its appeal was fairly self-explanatory. The Tribe does something that no feature film has ever done before. It tells a story entirely in Ukrainian Sign Language without any subtitles. The result is a film that is stark, visually stunning and never ethically black or white, so it should be a must see for cinephiles everywhere.

Slaboshpytskiy's film will be released in the UK this May.

ScreenAnarchy: Your film was incredibly successful last year, have you lost count of how many awards it has won yet?

Myroslav Slaboshpytski: Up to now, The Tribe has won thirty-seven awards... I think, anyway, because you're right: I'm so busy all of the time that it's true, I'm not even sure any more.

So are you conscious of having made an iconic film which people will return to in the future as a reference point?

I don't know. Usually I'll be joking if ever I say something like that. But realistically speaking it is a film that has won more awards than any other Ukrainian film, so I do tease the cinema historians in the Ukraine. I tell them, "you might not be able to write about me because you are too old and will die soon, like me, but perhaps your children will write about me." [Chuckles.]

You've also previously spoken about your film as being rooted in the history of cinema. You described your use of Ukrainian Sign Language as a homage to silent cinema.

It is a homage to the silent movie. Although it's not really a homage to it's external attributes, as such. It's a homage to the actual spirit of the silent movie. You see, there was one very important thing with silent movies: they were a young art form. As a young art, like young people, I think it had no barriers, no borders. Cinema then was fresh. It is in this sense that my film tries to celebrate silent cinema. And even then there were some surtitles, but these were unnecessary really as you could still tell what was going on without those. So we tried to get close to emulating this, and we had this very ambitious attempt to try to communicate in that same way.

Your film also has a very detached style, was this very influenced by documentary films?

Well, the D.O.P was already a very successful documentary filmmaker. And similar to previous movies we have made, we tried to make The Tribe fit a sort of documentary style when we were filming it. I always try to make realistic movies. I construct the scenarios, and then I try to film them in a documentary style.

Did you consciously choose this style because you wanted to faithfully capture the experience of Deaf people in your country?

My film wasn't made from the perspective of a Deaf person. You see, I am not deaf myself. That's why there's still sound in the movie, because it's from the perspective of a hearing person. That's how hearing people would witness Deaf people communicating - we would still hear background noises.

So have you had any negative reactions to the way you have chosen to depict Deaf people?

I read almost everything, but I don't think I've seen anything negative like that. But for me it's the opinion of Deaf people themselves that really matters. I've presented this film in many countries, and to Deaf audiences as well, and always the reactions have been very positive. Nobody has expressed any negative opinions. I asked my actors about this too, and when I asked they just said, "look man, it's just a movie."

But when it comes to the socio-political significance of my film, a lot of the Deaf community, before they even saw the film, greeted The Tribe as a victory. For them it was a matter of pride that my film proved that Deaf actors can act, can take major roles, and be in movies that will take awards too. This is the kind of response I generally get from things like social media too. This sense of people seeing the film as a social victory, which demonstrates that Deaf people are also able to achieve this.

In terms of socio-political significance, were you also using this Deaf community as an allegorical microcosm for the tensions which existed in the Ukraine prior to the current political crisis?

The script was finished in 2011, so there was no Maidan, there was no crisis. So no, I wasn't using it symbolically, because nothing like that existed at that time. There were no such tensions. And although the filming of the movie did take place during the time of Maidan (and we'd already finished shooting by the time Putin invaded the Crimea) I didn't change anything in the film to respond to these events.

Still, lots of critics have taken my film as a metaphor of the situation in the Ukraine, and I wasn't doing that. I was just telling my story. But at that time I was living in Kiev, and during the period in which people took Maidan we had similar problems in the capital, and we witnessed everything that was going on. So perhaps there really was something in the air at that time that filtered into my film. Perhaps that's why.

I mean it's interesting, because in some cinema history books the experts would write about the German Expressionists, saying that they were making great movies which were prophesising the rise of fascism. So maybe there's something in that. Maybe, like I say, there was something in the air at that time, or maybe it's just a coincidence?

How hard was it making a film in that kind of political climate?

At that time getting funding in the Ukraine was strangely and surprisingly easy; because out of twenty-three years of Ukrainian independence, Ukrainian state funding for films was in a state of collapse. And now, after the revolution, it has come back to this collapsed state. But Ukrainian cinematography was something of a private project for the powers that were later kicked out, so during these two years Ukrainian films were supported like never before by the state, in a way which has never happened before in Ukrainian history. That's such a paradox. [Laughs darkly].

But that doesn't mean that at that time all Ukrainian filmmakers ran to Maidan with their new digital cameras. Many did not take part at all. Luckily I managed to complete The Tribe in time, and hopefully with my next Franco-German co-production I will manage to escape this collapse, but sadly the majority of Ukrainian projects will probably get buried.

So what is your next project, and are you daunted by following such a critically acclaimed hit?

Yeah, I like to joke that it's hard to reinvent cinematography every time. Lots of critics and reviewers were comparing The Tribe with Lord of the Flies. It's an interesting comparison, because William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies as his debut novel, and then after that he wrote plenty of novels which I'd never heard of. So it is a very complicated task that lies before me.

But in December 2015, I plan to start filming another movie. It's going to be a Franco-German co-production. A film noir, actually, about the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl area. So right now I'm just working on developing this script. And it's a bit off topic, but my wife Alena has also found loads of material that could really lay foundations of another movie movie about Deaf people. But that would be an American film, and will rely on the success of my Chernobyl film, so at the moment I'm not sure. But I'm confident that nobody needs me to make another Tribe. It would be very different.

As a final question, then, why do you think your highly successful last film wasn't selected as the Ukrainian entry for the Oscars?

[Frustrated guttural outburst, followed by laughter]. There are many explanations to that question. One of them could be that the director of the other movie that was put forward is a personal friend of the Ukrainian prime minister. That's just a fact. We don't know how much of an impact that had. But this fact exists.

And two people who were in the film council, who were casting votes and selecting the films, were also subcontracted and receiving payments from the opponent's movie. That's just another fact. Again, we don't know how much of an impact that had. But it's a fact that exactly those two votes shifted the final decision. We protested this at the time, we said it was corrupt. But we were told that in Ukrainian terms it was not corrupt.

So maybe in the future, I have some alliances with Bulgarian colleagues and directors elsewhere, and together we may try campaigning towards getting rid of national select committees and making the procedure more transparent. Then hopefully the Oscars' foreign-language movies will be selected as a criteria, alongside things like documentaries by a more impartial and less corrupt system.
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