Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s multi award-winning debut film The Tribe is set in the insular world of a Ukrainian high school for the deaf. When a newcomer arrives he finds that, in order to survive, he must become part of a wild organization – the tribe
Shane Hennessy sat down with writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy to discuss his original and intense feature debut.
The Tribe, above all else, is a very unique film. What inspired you tell this story, and particularly in the way that you did?
When I was a young boy, I studied at the same school where I would shoot the The Tribe later. It was very funny when I came to the school to shoot the film. Some of the teachers were still alive, they were very surprised as they never thought I would be successful! But across the road from my school there was the school for the deaf. From an early age I saw how deaf people communicate with each other and I think it looks very interesting. Amazing.
Because I couldn’t understand sign language, I saw people communicating on a level higher than what I was capable of. They can exchange feelings and emotion more directly. I really wanted to share this, as I think it’s a miracle. Then, when I studied in film school, I thought it would be a great idea. I saw a number of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, Battleship Potemkin and I saw that actors in these movies were so close to that style of communication. I was really impressed and I thought it would be a great idea to make a modern silent movie. Then after 20 years I had the money to shoot it!
This is your writing/directing debut. What was your writing process knowing that this was the way you were going to shoot the film?
Of course I created the script and the film without subtitles, dubbing, voiceover. This was never an option. So when I worked on the script, I tried to build the story visually. This isn’t easy for writing, but I tried to build the situation and storyline an audience could understand without verbal dialogue. But then all the dialogue is real dialogue. But, in my opinion it is not really important. I’m not trying to compare myself to the greatest. When I was writing the dialogue I was inspired by the movies of Harold Pinter, whose characters would talk about things that aren’t very important for long periods of time, at least in those few plays of his that I read!
Almost every scene in the film is a long take. Did you find this easier as a director without speech, or was there more emphasis on making sure their actions were perfect every time?
I don’t know whether it was easier or more difficult. I just felt it was more appropriate for this storyline. If I think for the next film that quicker editing is more suitable I will certainly use it. But to film such long shots we had to have a lot of rehearsals. All of the pieces in the movie are mathematically calculated. They are filmed in a special way which needed to be rehearsed for a week before being filmed.
So time constraints must have been an issue. Were there other major obstacles to overcome during production?
I’ve been asked this question before. And to be honest I try to remember something. Production difficulties were so minor there’s little point in talking about them. If I was I would talk about the snow which was needed for the shoot and there was none – it’s a miracle that I needed snow for my movie and it was a snowless winter in Kiev! I could also say that there was a revolution happening parallel to us filming. But everything else was okay. There was one problem. Our main actress, Yana (Novikova), had a boyfriend who was objecting to her participation in the sex scenes. I had to explain to her that this was the art. Myself and my wife had communicated to her a lot. I showed her some films, including 9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom. But when I showed her Blue Is The Warmest Colour, she fell in love with the actress that played Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos). She left her boyfriend and did the film. After the film was screened all over the world, it received the main prize in Belarus where Yana is from. She watched the film with her boyfriend and family after this and they are now back together and everyone is proud of her. She is now the only lady from Belarus who is a member of the European Film Academy.
The acting in the film is sensational. Was this film the first big role for most of the cast?
Yes, all of them. They all had different professions and backgrounds previous to this.
The camera work in the film I found was at times similar to Lumet or Dreyer. Who were your big influences in terms directing?
This is always a difficult question for me. As when I was making short films, I always try to answer one question in my brain. ‘This film will be this or that’. When I was working on The Tribe, I had no answer for this question. When I was taking part in the American Film Institute Film Festival in LA, they had a number of questions I had to fill out. One was about what directors inspired me. I put Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, because his set designs were a huge influence. But in terms of sequences I’m really not too sure.
In terms of the way you told the story, I found that colours played a massive role. Was this intentional and what other techniques did you incorporate knowing that the majority of audience members would not understand the language being used?
I would like to say yes but I haven’t done it intentionally even though I did control the colour scheme of the movie. I tried to find the right colours but why I thought these were the right colours I’m not sure. Now that you have asked I’ll try to think about it further!
Samuel Beckett spoke of the universal language of anxiety. I thought it applied well to this film. Was it something you were aware of when writing it?
Beckett was a genius. I would say that in the advertisement for this film we say “Love and Hate do not need a translation”. The fact that there is no dialogue in the film I would say actually makes it even more universal, that we are all the same. We all experience fear in a similar way, love in a similar way, hate in a similar way and we make love in a similar way.
What projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
I’m preparing my next film called Luxembourg. It is a neo-noir and will be set in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. I’m developing the script and my producer is working on the fundraising. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hopefully we can begin the shoot in December.
The Tribe opens in cinemas from 15th May 2015