Exclusive Interview with Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy about ‘The Tribe’

The Tribe movie poster 2

The Tribe” is one of the most unique cinematic experiences you will ever come across. The movie is told completely through the use of sign language, and it contains no subtitles and no narration of any kind. While this might scare off the average moviegoer, those who dare to watch something outside of the usual Hollywood fare will be in for a movie like few others.

The movie follows a shy deaf teenager who has just arrived at a new boarding school where he is trying to fit in. Soon after he arrives, he is courted by a blond-haired student who turns out to be the leader of a gang which traffics in robbery and prostitution among other illegal activities, and he works his way up the criminal ladder with much success. However, when he falls for one of his female classmates, he finds himself in a dire situation which leaves with little hope of escaping out of it alive.

“The Tribe” was written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, and I got to talk with him on the day it was slated to be screened at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, California. We sat in the theater’s outside patio which Myroslav described as the last place in California where one could smoke.

Ben Kenber: This was a fantastic and very unique movie. How did the idea for “The Tribe” come about?

Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy: In my childhood I studied in the school which is the same school we used to shoot “The Tribe” in, and across the road we had the deaf boarding school. I saw how difficult communication was between the children without the support of sign language. They can directly change by appearance and emotion because the deaf people, when they use sign language, can communicate very emotionally always. It looked like a miracle to me and I really wanted to share this feeling with audiences, and of course it wouldn’t have happened unless I could understand sign language. Many years ago in film school, I thought it was a great idea to make an homage to silent movies, and much later I had the possibilities to shoot “The Tribe.” I once made a short movie about deaf people called “Deafness.” You can find it on YouTube, it is free, and then I had the possibilities to turn it into a feature film. It was a big challenge for me. I’m not sure if it really works, but finally it more or less works. I’m so happy about that.

BK: I think was great you were able to get away with making this movie without using subtitles or voice over or any kind of narration. Mel Gibson had wanted to show “The Passion of the Christ” without subtitles but was unable to. Was it hard to sell potential financiers on a movie like this without subtitles?

MS: In Europe, financing a movie is the same as it is in the Ukraine in that it’s a different system of financing. It works different. I think all European and Ukrainian films spend the money of taxpayers. You must pitch the film in film funds, and film funds support the films so it’s completely different than like in the United States system. When I prepared to shoot “The Tribe” I was a local star in Ukraine because I had made several short films. I had received the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. So when I presented the project to the Ukrainian film fund, of course they supported the film. This film looks completely different from any other Ukrainian film, and people were a little bit nervous about what might happen but finally it happened. Considering the subtitles, I never considered this idea to use subtitles and words. We had already sold this film to 44 countries. That’s never happened with a Ukrainian film before. All the distributors signed a contract, and the contract had an article which tells them they have an obligation to prohibit the use of subtitles and narration. I hope nobody will watch “The Tribe” with subtitles, and after my death too (laughs).

BK: What I loved about the movie was that, even if you don’t understand the words being said, you do get the gist of what is going on. The ad line for The Tribe is that love and hate need no translation, and it perfectly describes the movie. Were you ever worried that people wouldn’t understand what was going on?

MS: Actually no. When I shot the short film, I tried to not shoot what I didn’t understand because, if I can’t explain why I’m shooting this film that way, then I am on the wrong track. The audience has a cinema memory, and before I started to do this film the viewers had to understand what I was going to do or else I would lose their attention.

BK: When it came to casting “The Tribe,” you decided to cast non-professional deaf actors in the roles. Was that your plan from the start, or did you ever consider using professional actors?

MS: I never considered the option of hiring professional actors because they can’t communicate in sign language. It’s the same like in American movies with accents. They cannot master the thinking of sign language. They must communicate very organically because, for the deaf people, sign language is an extension of their body and an extension of their being. So for this reason, I needed the deaf people.

BK: There are a number of scenes that you shot in “The Tribe” which last several minutes. What was it like working with the actors on those long scenes?

MS: We had a very long shooting period which was approximately half a year. Because we have an unprofessional cast, we can sign a contract that makes it look they’re at a real job like at an office. It’s much better because you have a rented car for you and a lot of people taking care of you and you’re the big star. Of course I’m joking, but we have this process of a lot of rehearsals. We had them from 7 to 10 days for one scene. When we felt that we were ready to shoot, we ordered this heavy film equipment and started to shoot within days and kept trying to get a better take. Then we started to rehearse the next scene and moving step by step towards the end of the film.

BK: Yana Novikova, who plays Anya, in particular is asked to do a lot of hard stuff in “The Tribe,” and she has a lot of great scenes. Her abortion scene is very well directed and acted. You can see the pain in that sequence very vividly. What was it like directing that particular sequence?

MS: The abortion scene, everybody is asking about it. People were fainting during the scene in Israel, in Moscow and in New York last week. How we shot the scene was completely non-dangerous. I am proud of the scene because it is a total illusion. It’s like when you go to the circus and David Copperfield cuts the woman into two parts. It’s the same. It’s a complete illusion. We had a lot of engineering, a lot of rehearsal and we prepared the scene very well. We visited with Yana to this hospital which had a woman doctor who consulted with us. She doesn’t only do abortions; she likes to deliver babies as well. She made them tour around the hospital through the birthing wing. We had a rubber woman’s body without foots and legs, only vagina, which medical students train on. They train on this rubber body, and this rubber body would scream if you did something wrong. It was very funny. And then this doctor sits closer to me and watched the monitor and screamed much higher than me if something went wrong. For this reason, we can do it very well, but again it’s a complete illusion. The woman who performs abortions told me the story, and I felt that I had to put in this movie because I’m not a big expert in abortions before this.

BK: It’s a very touchy, taboo subject in America, and I found it very brave that you put it in the movie because a lot of filmmakers would’ve found excuses not to include an abortion scene in their movies most likely out of fear. But it is an important sequence because it shows you how hard it is for someone in the country to get an abortion.

MS: Yeah. In fact, it was very funny because when it was shown at the Dublin Film Festival, after the screening there was a beautiful Q&A session. Some woman asked me if someone abused me in my childhood. I said no but I’m very open to new experiences. An old man visited me outside of the cinema and shook my hand and said, “Thank you very much. It was a great sequence and a great scene and we have a lot of them here. It’s very brave that you showed it.”

BK: Was “The Tribe” shot on film or was it shot digitally?

MS: We shot it on an Alexa. It would’ve been impossible to shoot it on film with those very long takes because we would’ve gone bankrupt after two or three days. I always want to shoot on 35 mm film, but we don’t have the financing possibilities. But we have a copy of course on 35mm.

BK: Another shot that stood out to me was the one where we see children doing some sort of show for the parents, and once they clear out Sergey, the new kid at school, comes into the picture. It’s like the last moment of pure innocence to be found in this movie. What was your thinking when you were putting that particular scene together?

MS: In fact, it’s like a tradition. It’s the first day of school when everybody goes to school, and it’s like a celebration. It’s like a social ritual, and it still continues in the Soviet Union. In 2007 when I started my research for “The Tribe,” I witnessed this ritual at the boarding school and made a video for myself. I completely agree with you that this ritual looks completely different. It looks like something more or less cute. And then the scene rapidly changes and you see the dark side of the system.

I want to thank Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy for taking the time to talk with me. “The Tribe” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

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Sandy King Revisits John Carpenter’s ‘Body Bags’ at Cinefamily

Body Bags Blu-ray cover

Remember John Carpenter’s “Body Bags?” It was a horror anthology containing three stories: “The Gas Station” which has a female college student working a graveyard shift and getting terrorized by a serial killer, “Hair” about a hair transplant which goes horribly wrong, and “The Eye” where a baseball player loses an eye and gets a new one from a recently executed murderer. Many see it as Showtime’s answer to HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” as it featured Carpenter as a creepy-looking and deranged coroner who introduces the three stories while drinking formaldehyde as if it were a martini, and it looked like the start of a wickedly demented series. Was it meant to become a series, or was it simply intended to be a single movie? These questions were answered by Sandy King, the producer of “Body Bags” and Carpenter’s wife, when she dropped by Cinefamily which showed 1993 horror anthology as part of its Friday Night Frights series.

King told the audience Showtime originally wanted a 3-story movie and that it was supposed to be a one-shot movie for her and Carpenter. As soon as they were done, they would be off and running to their next project. King remarked how anthology movies were very hard to finance as they were typically not successful at the box office, so bringing one to a cable channel like Showtime made more sense. When it was finished, Showtime then decided they wanted to turn it into a series, but King explained why she and Carpenter decided against it.

“We shot it in California, mostly in Los Angeles, which allowed us to get a lot of the great cameos with Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Roger Corman,” King said. “Showtime, however, wanted to lower the budget and shoot the series in Canada, and we felt the amount of money they were putting into was not going to be enough to get it right. Plus, shooting in Canada would have made it enormously difficult to get the cameos we got. So, we basically told Showtime thanks, but no thanks.”

“Body Bags” was in many ways a family affair as it involved King and Carpenter working with people they worked with in the past. King had previously worked with Bobby Carradine and Stacey Keach on the Walter Hill western “The Long Riders,” and she had worked with Mark Hamill as well. Peter Jason has appeared in many of Carpenter’s films, and he even used his own car for his appearance in “The Gas Station.” As for the cameos from Craven, Raimi and Corman, she reminded the audience that the horror community is a small and tightly-knit one as everyone knows each other in it.

Carpenter has never seen himself as much of an actor for those who have listened to his various commentary tracks on the movies he has done. After making a Hitchcockian cameo at the beginning of “The Fog,” felt he would be better off behind the camera instead of in front of it. Still, King said she wanted him to play the Coroner in “Body Bags” and that it actually didn’t take much to convince him. She also described Carpenter as an “inner looney” to where he allowed himself to let loose, with the help of Rick Baker’s makeup, on set. Also, Carpenter did not direct himself as the Coroner as King said a friend was brought in to handle his performance and to make sure he hit all his marks. Truth be told, casting him as the Coroner was very inspired.

King said she and Carpenter worked on “Body Bags,” “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Village of the Damned” all in a row. It was originally planned that Carpenter would direct all three stories in “Body Bags,” but as he was already in post-production on “In the Mouth of Madness,” she said Carpenter told her he couldn’t direct all three. To this, she replied, “Okay, we’ll get Tobe.”

The Tobe she was referring to was Tobe Hooper, director of the horror classics “Poltergeist” and the infinitely terrifying “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Getting Hooper to direct “The Eye” was a bit tricky as he was very disturbed by the material which had a husband attempting to kill his pregnant wife, but King told him it would be fun and that he could make it work. She also said it was fun to watch Hooper do comedy as he had a cameo at the end with Tom Arnold in which they play two morgue workers who perhaps enjoy their jobs a little too much.

It was great fun to watch “Body Bags” on the big screen and with an audience at Cinefamily, and it was especially nice to see Sandy King drop by and talk about its making and development. She even brought some Shout Factory Blu-rays of Carpenter’s movies to give away, and this writer was lucky enough to win a copy of the one for “Body Bags.” For Carpenter fans, the Blu-ray is a must as it features a great commentary track, a wonderful making-of documentary, and a trailer for the movie as well. It had been out of print for years, and the previous DVD released by Artisan Entertainment gave us a severely edited version which took out a lot of things like Craven’s inspired cameo and some especially gruesome moments. “Body Bags” may not be epic filmmaking, but it sure is a lot of fun for horror fans.

Poster and trailer courtesy of Shout Factory.

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Exclusive Interview with Rick Alverson and Gregg Turkington about ‘Entertainment’

entertainment-gregg-and-rick

Entertainment” is probably the most ironically named movie to be released in 2015 as it is not entirely fun to sit through, but to dismiss it as bad because it is not enjoyable would be missing the point. It proves to be an experience more than anything else as we watch a stand-up comic named The Comedian (played by Gregg Turkington) travel through the California desert while performing at a string of third-rate venues in front of audiences who couldn’t be less excited to watch him. During this time, he tries to get in touch with his estranged daughter and eagerly awaits a lucrative Hollywood engagement which just might revive his sagging career. But first, he has to travel through what seems like the equivalent of Dante’s Inferno in order to find any hope of salvation.

“Entertainment” was directed by Rick Alverson who previously gave us “The Comedy,” another ironically named motion picture which starred Tim Heidecker as an aging New Yorker who is indifferent to inheriting his father’s estate and passes time with friends playing games of mock sincerity and irreverence. Turkington is a noted stand-up comic best known for his alter-ego of Neil Hamburger, a persona which he brings to “Entertainment” but who is not the same character as The Comedian.

I got to speak with Alverson and Turkington while they were at Cinefamily in Los Angeles where “Entertainment” was being shown. When I told that them this interview was for Examiner.com, they joking replied how someone on the website gave them their movie the worst review imaginable and described it as anything but entertaining. We started with that review and went from there.

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Ben Kenber: How do you feel about reviews like that?

Rick Alverson: Well it’s weird. Obviously the movie isn’t a romp through a good time, so if somebody says it’s a failure for doing that they are right, but that’s not even engaging with the movie (laughs). It’s like you’re not even walking into the room.

Gregg Turkington: They got the details wrong, that’s what I don’t like. They seem to have thought he was trying to do something else and that he failed in trying to do that, but he was trying to do that so he didn’t fail so fuck yourself (laughs). But I like the bad reviews if sometimes it feels like the person’s taking it so personally that the review, when you are reading it, you can tell that I don’t like this person and they don’t like this and this sounds interesting to me, I’m gonna go see the movie. I’ve gone to a lot of movies with scathing reviews because I could tell we are not on the same page, and what you hate is what I like. That’s fine with me.

BK: I saw “Entertainment” a couple of weeks ago and it has stayed with me ever since. Some movies are meant to be experienced more than enjoyed, and this movie is an example of that. Not all movies are meant to be enjoyed.

RA: Great. That’s very good to hear.

BK: We’re looking at a comedian who is at the end of his rope psychologically, and you can’t turn away from his suffering.

RA: Yeah, I would say it’s even more than just psychological. I think it’s a holistic disaster biologically, psychologically, spiritually…

GT: Environmentally (laughs). Although we did win an award in Switzerland at this film Festival we went to.

RA: Environment is Quality of Life Award from the junior jury at Locarno in Switzerland.

GT: Pick the film that best sums up the environment is quality of life (laughs).

RA: It’s true, we won.

GT: Environment is low quality of life, and that environment is low quality (laughs).

BK: I can see why it won. Greg, your character of The Comedian was inspired by your character of Neil Hamburger. When you brought that character to this movie, did you have to change anything about the way you perform?

GT: The live stage show is similar to the real live stage show although me lashing out at somebody for no good reason is not something I would do in a live stage show. That was more the character. But yeah, there were a lot of things that had to be planned out and thought about and addressed. Ultimately I don’t think it is the Neil Hamburger story. It’s a very similar character and certainly it helps to have that character up our sleeves when we need it, but we had to be free to start from scratch.

BK: Rick, I read in the production notes that you had mentioned how you found failure as being very liberating. What specifically about failure do you find so liberating?

RA: Well it describes the boundaries and limitations of the world and experience, and there’s something beautiful to what we can and can’t do and understanding them. It’s like understanding what your feet are for, and your feet have a certain function. I think functionality is beautiful, and we are increasingly a society that’s divorced from form in every way and ignores the limitations which are the actual architecture of life. So we are just ignoring the shape of things and instead are wrapped up in what things could be in this idealized ephemeral flight of fancy. There is a neglecting the beauty of facts on the ground.

GT: A lot of peoples’ failures are to me successes. There’s a purity often to them that you don’t find with things that are successful.

RA: Yeah, because the idea of success is that so few can achieve it in any discipline and any particular way, whether it’s the success of becoming incredibly rich or the success of perfectly achieving the discipline. The majority of people are in some sort of muddy approximation of that. I don’t use traditionally scripted dialogue in any of my movies, so there’s improvisation and other methods of achieving tonal exchanges or content. I really like when things fall flat or there is that absence of chiseled, airtight exchange that we see in so much of popular cinema.

BK: Regardless of how people view “Entertainment,” I have a feeling it will endure over the years as it offers a different and specific view of things.

GT: I’m surprised at how people’s perceptions of things is all based on something like an opening weekend or with music too. It’s like some record comes out and it doesn’t do well, but the music is still valid at any point. The time that it comes out shouldn’t determine the value of it. It’s crazy.

RA: There are these sort of free market metrics especially in an age where we don’t even know who’s buying this stuff. Netflix isn’t releasing their numbers or whatever company. Digital platforms don’t need to release their numbers, so we really don’t know where this stuff’s going and who it’s being imbibed by. To think that our metrics for an opening weekend at the box office have any sort of say about a work is silly.

GT: It’s also replaced for a lot of people film criticism. I hear people in airports or on the street talking about box office numbers and really that should only be of interest to the investors, not to the moviegoers. What do you care if it made 30 million or 60 million? That’s nothing to do with you.

RA: Increasingly we want context for everything. We need context for our own experience. We need to understand how other people are viewing something so that we know how to view it, which is a bit of a shame. Where’s discovery?

BK: I imagine there was a lot of improvisation involved in the making of this movie.

GT: For the dialogue. The rest of it is pretty scripted out very carefully scripted out. It’s not improvised like, what will we talk about now. It’s written there what the topic is, what the town he is in and what’s being communicated. It’s just up to the actors to use the actual words.

RA: We were talking about the other day how there’s, in a tent pole blockbuster movie, a general sense that people were improvising. Because of the prowess of the spectacle, everybody is saying that they know that they (the actors) are riffing on lines in a popular sense. But I think when people talk about independent films and say that they are improvised, it’s just like you turn on the camera and everybody’s doing whatever the fuck they want. It’s so many different things for so many different people. You think you are communicating one thing by saying it, but language is useless sometimes. This was fun because we worked with different people in different ways. I was improvising lines and writing lines on the spot and feeding them to certain people. Others like John (C. Reilly) and Gregg, they have a chemistry and they are very good improvisers so the dialogue exchanges between them were in that world. For me, watching that thing sort of come apart or the attempt at it, honestly half the time if I know we are covering whatever little narrative ground we need, I’m just listening to the voices. We don’t do more than three takes, and some of that is economic. If it’s not achieved by the casting or by the sort of conditions that you’re setting up, then what are you aiming for? I like things falling kind of flat too.

GT: But it’s also true that people think it’s a big free-for-all, improvising. They should see a scene that we might do where we do the first take, me talking to somebody or whatever making up the dialogue, and Rick says, “Alright for this one I need you to move half a millimeter to your right.” That’s not a free-for-all, being told to move half a millimeter to the right. That would probably be the direction over we need you to use this line and to say this specific thing. A lot of times it was stuff like that which is really the opposite of a free-for-all.

BK: Gregg, your character gets booked at a lot of second-rate venues or places that are the worst for comedians to be stuck at. Is that something you’ve experienced in your own career, or is that something you just been a witness to?

GT: I experienced it when I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that it was happening by booking shows that I knew what have that sort of outcome. And then sometimes you go into a show with the best of intentions and it just doesn’t pan out. Things get awful and ugly. But I like a variety of responses and so I like to have shows that are successes on the traditional level, success in the failures on the traditional level. To me they are probably both successes because they gave me a different experience.

RA: I feel that way about movies. It’s strange increasingly for me to recognize how similar me and Gregg are and what we want out of the thing whether it’s comedy or drama or film or stand up. We’re kind of curious about the off-kilter event (laughs).

BK: There are some amazing shots of the California desert in this movie. On one hand they are beautiful, but on the other they illustrate how vacant and empty The Comedian’s life is. Was it challenging to get those shots with the budget you had?

RA: We stretched our budget really, really far, and that speaks to the dedication of everybody involved; the crew and the producers and the cast. So yeah, of course it’s challenging. It’s 112° outside and Lorenzo Hagerman, our cameraman, is carrying a 50-pound camera kit on his shoulder up a rocky cliff to get those wide vista shots 400 yards from something. Gregg’s shoes are melting and it’s dangerous out there. Don’t go to the desert! (Laughs)

GT: Don’t shoot in the desert is right!

RA: Me and Gregg talked about how we liked in the 70’s you see a lot of films of people just sweating and nobody’s dabbing them. They are just covered in sweat and look greasy and wrong. You started to see that becoming the sterilization of, “No that’s not quite right. We can do better than that.” So you had to sterilize the representation down to its most idealized form, but we were hoping for some more sweat actually.

BK: Tye Sheridan’s role in this movie is interesting because he basically plays a clown who doesn’t have much of an act. He just basically panders to the audience’s basest instincts. How did you work with him on that role?

RA: I showed him an idiot dance and he brought it to life. I’d ask him to do sort of these mime-ish things at events, and he stepped up on that stage and animated it in a way that shocked all of us. It was electrifying. He sort of plays the apocalypse in the movie. He definitely is the end of the spectacle. He’s reduced down to the rawest of the raw materials. He is the smut in the pig sty, the character I mean. Tye is one of the kindest, gentlest, most respectful young men that you could ever meet.

BK: What do you hope people get the most out of “Entertainment” and the experience of watching it?

RA: I hope they do what you’ve done. You can watch a film and be activated by it and be engaged with it and have an experience like you’re saying. It doesn’t necessarily in a typical sort of way expect for it to do to you what the majority of films do. There can be an outlier that doesn’t operate by those principal, and the spectrum of art is much larger than a particular metric like if you enjoyed it or if you didn’t enjoy it. It’s so much more broad.

I want to thank Rick Alverson and Gregg Turkington for taking the time to talk with me. “Entertainment” is now available to watch on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.