The Language Of Film: An Interview With THE TRIBE Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

The director of Drafthouse Films' extraordinary latest release.

Read yesterday's interview with The Tribe star Yana Novikova! And read Devin's editorial on why you must see this film.

Q: Can you talk more about your inspiration for making a film in sign language without subtitles or voiceover?

A: I wanted to make a modern silent film. When I was starting the work on The Tribe, I knew that it would be a universal story in sign language, easy to understand by any audience in all corners of the globe, without voice-over or subtitles. It was my principal challenge -- to make a film in film language.

Making a film with the deaf using subtitles never even occurred to me. For me it would have been like having a man on stage who would be reading aloud the libretto of the ballet while it is performed.

The film has been sold in forty countries and each country is playing the exact same film without any alterations whatsoever; every studio who buys the film signs a contract that has a clause forbidding subtitles, voice-over and other attempts to modify the film so they can see the film as I intended.

Q: The cast of The Tribe are all deaf, non-professional actors. Can you talk more about the casting process?

A: I never considered the idea of shooting non-deaf people. From the very beginning I knew that my actors should be people for whom sign language is their mother tongue. The idea of teaching non-deaf actors sign language was excluded at the very beginning. The deaf communicate in sign language with their whole bodies and each individual has his or her particular and unique manner of speaking, connected with their physical characteristics: mobility of features, temperament, degree of animation and physicality. Their style of communication influences the performance of a role more than the manner of a speaking actor so I was interested in personalities, naturalness and vibes.

Q: How did you communicate with your cast while directing? Did you learn any signing?

A: We had a sign language interpreter who was always on set to help interpret for me and to make sure that the actors would stick exactly to the script. I know a couple of gestures -- of course, the actors taught me how to swear straight away. So I can swear in the Ukrainian sign language brilliantly. Sometimes it was quite useful during the filming!

Q: Were there any films that you showed the cast in preparation of making The Tribe?

A: Actually we showed a lot of films to the cast since they weren’t professional actors. It was like a brief cinema class of my most loved and preferred films to help open their minds and give them reference points for me to describe what I do and why.

To prepare for the sex scenes, I had the leads, Grigoriy and Yana, watch Last Tango In Paris, La Vie d’Adel, 9 Songs, Shortbus and several films from Lars von Trier, Larry Clark and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Q: What made you want to tell the story of a confrontation between an individual and the group which he is also a part of?

A: I think that upon considering the narrative construction of The Tribe, you’ll find a classical Western. The protagonist comes to a town where there’s a gang, he falls in love with the gang leader’s girl, and so on and so forth. And a hero is the hero only when he stands out against the whole world alone.

Q: Why did you decide to set this film in a boarding school?

A: I chose a boarding school setting because it is a closed system, which -- like a prison -- can be perceived to be a metaphor of the state even if that isn’t the intention. The Tribe is, to a certain extent, a metaphor of the arrangement of the Ukrainian state, at least the pre-revolutionary Ukraine. And the arrangement of the state of Ukraine was based on the principle of a Mafiosi group. However, I think this problem can be understood by audiences outside of Ukraine as well; when anti-drug police units are the main drug dealers, and the anti-prostitution units control brothels, these are the signs of the rotten Mafiosi system. When representatives of social institutions perform the functions contrary to their duties.

Q: Was there one scene in particular that you found most challenging to film?

A: Technically speaking, the most difficult scene to shoot was of one of the deaf actors being harmed by a truck since we didn’t use a stuntman. The deaf actor truly couldn’t hear the truck approaching so we worked with the best stunt director of Ukraine. No computer effects were used for this scene, everything was filmed in the honest, old-school way. Theoretically everything was very safe but it was still nerve-racking. We did seven takes and when everything was finished safely, we felt a wild relief. Most of the people involved in shooting that particular scene celebrated by getting drunk right after we successfully completed it!

Q: You were a crime reporter before becoming a filmmaker. Can you talk more about that and if that helped influenced your film?

A: The events in the film did not happen with particular people in reality. However, all these stories came either from my own experience or were told to me from my time as a crime reporter. As to the “tribal” system, there exists a certain parallel world in which deaf and voiceless people live; from time to time they have communication problems with the non-deaf. In some particularly insular cases, there is a system of their own “court of arbitration” and supervision outside of our speaking world which some have dubbed the “deaf mafia.” My exposure to that world came through my time as a crime reporter and I thought it was a dramatic perspective to explore.

This was originally published in the July issue of Birth.Movies.Death. Drafthouse Films' The Tribe is now in theaters.

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