Tribe: Director on his Cannes Film Fest Winner

Why?

I’ve been thinking about making a movie like this for 20 years. This is an homage to silent film, in which actors communicated primarily through pantomime. While contemporary silent movies continue to be made, all works I‘ve seen directly follow the silent movie stylization. My goal was to instead make a more realistic, natural silent film, which could be easily understood without words. The problem is, audiences today are used to watching movies to which you can just listen, that don’t even require one to actually watch. But now, with The Tribe, I‘ve found another path, one that is unique and suitable for my film. Sign language is like a dance, like ballet, pantomime, Kabuki Theater. However, there‘s nothing grotesque in it—people do communicate that way in reality. But interestingly enough, due to recent developments in medicine, sign language could become an obsolete language. Eventually, it might cease to exist at all. But I find sign language fascinating, and I really wanted to share this feeling with the audience.

 

How?

I never considered the idea of making this film with hearing actors. It would have been an entirely different kind of film. The body language, the sign language they use is natural for them, and it is very individual; much more individual than French, Russian or German spoken by a particular person. People who speak out loud use only facial muscles to pronounce their speech, while deaf people use their entire body to communicate. To me, this is what makes this group unique and extremely interesting. As for casting the actors, this process lasted about a year, and a large part of it happened via social networks; social networks are very popular among deaf people, for obvious reasons. We looked at about 300 applicants from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for the leads.

 

Though there are eight special theaters for deaf actors and audiences in these three countries, we did not employ a single professional actor in the film. All our artists are children of the streets, most of them from poor and disadvantaged families. The main casting principle was that we were not looking for specific role performers. We searched for charismatic personalities and the ability to attract our attention. It was only afterward that we thought about a specific part each person could play. Every scene was rehearsed and filmed before final shooting and editing began, though sometimes we still had to reshoot. Our work lasted about six months. During this time, I think our actors gained some unique life experiences. I certainly did.

 

Where?

Most of the shooting took place on the outskirts of Kiev, in the district where I spent my childhood. Previously, it was named after Stalin, and even now it’s called “Stalinka”. Most of the buildings here were built by German POWs after WWII. This proletarian district, built mainly of red brick, resembles some of the buildings in New York. Shooting began prior to the protests in Ukraine and completed after the Russian invasion in the Crimea. Our work was quite tense. Some cast members, including actors, participated in protests and street clashes in their spare time. Some days we had to cancel shooting because of road blockades, as the cars with our equipment simply could not get through to the set. Ironically, the producer and I live just four kilometers away from the Maidan. But as our shooting area was 15 kilometers away, shooting and rehearsals were in some sense an evacuation from the combat zone.