This is by far the most interesting and eye-opening press day I have ever attended. Sitting in the shaded back-courtyard of the Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre in LA, I’m met by Tracy, an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. She introduces me to Connie, who is another interpreter in charge of translating Tracy’s ASL into Ukrainian sign language, the language of actress Yana Novikova. It truly does take a village (or a tribe for that matter) to communicate back and forth, but if there is one thing I learned from my experience when watching the all-silent film starring all deaf actors and no subtitles, The Tribe, one doesn’t need to speak the language to understand the message. We begin:
Yana Novikova, Anya
I saw The Tribe here at Cinefamily, and it’s neat being able to talk to you here as well. Where did you first see the film?
The Cannes Film Festival. There was a huge audience. The whole cast, as well as the director, watched the film together and I was really impressed. We realized it was quite a long film! I was a little bit shy, a little bit embarrassed because the nude scenes seemed so long. During those scenes I was like, “Come on, hurry hurry, let’s get through these parts!” I wanted to cover my head and hide under the chair. I really found myself in my work; I was fascinated actually, watching and thinking, “Is that me? That’s impossible.” Then I was hearing other people talk about my work and how they liked it and when they gave me so much great praise and I was shocked. I wasn’t an experienced actor, this is my first experience.
You mention being nervous about being naked in the film, so how do you feel about THE FILM’S POSTER?
When I saw the poster I was like, “Ugh couldn’t they have chosen a better image? Why did it have to be from the nude scene?” I was embarrassed, it was a little overwhelming when I saw that.
But America is definitely much more conservative. Europe is much more open compared to America. The conservatism of America is much more my style.
If there is one person that you want to see the film, who would that be?
Oh yes! Adèle Exarchopoulos from Blue Is The Warmest Color.
I love her nature, she’s very confident and very much out there. She’s very powerful. I am really drawn to her energy. And not only that, but she’s a very beautiful actress.
Did you have another job before landing this film?
I was actually in college, I was studying engineering before the film. I had no acting experience prior, ever. I had taken a little bit of dance and a little bit of miming, but The Tribe was my very first acting experience. I have not had a job before this, ever.
Was Myroslav vocal about any expectations?
We had to rehearse over and over and over again to really get that genuine raw emotion out there. He wanted to see real, authentic facial expressions from the actors. He didn’t want us to worry about the cameras being aimed at us. As the cameras were following us during filming, he would say to just take care of ourselves. If we made a mistake during filming, we weren’t allowed to let that affect us. He wanted it to look like “real life.”
There are a lot of tense scenes in this film, which one did you really enjoy performing?
The one scene where I am with the other female prostitute are in the back of the van and we’re getting dressed up to go out to the truck stop area. That dialogue scene is one of my favorites. We had a good chat between the two of us as we were getting our makeup and clothes on. In that scene, my friend didn’t have her own makeup with her and I had my makeup bag with me, and so I ended up sharing my makeup with her. We got a little bit messy because we were in the back of the van and it was really bumpy as we were driving along. I tried to put lipstick on her, but it was too messy, so I decided to kiss her to get the lipstick on her lips just right. That was a really funny part and something I really enjoyed filming.
Are you still in contact with the cast?
Right after the filming was completed everyone went back to their own lives, and I haven’t really had contact since. That’s pretty much normal with professional actors and actresses. They come together, do a project, and then that’s it.
Can you describe Myroslav in three words?
He’s absolutely brilliant. Serious. Trustworthy. And not only that, he’s very brave and strong.
Do you have any plans while you’re here in Los Angeles?
Yeah, we’re going to Disneyland!
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Director
What is the perfect environment for someone to see this film?
The most important thing is to watch it at a movie theatre. Of course you can watch it later on a DVD, but when you watch it at the cinema it’s a very special experience. It’s very important to see this film on the big screen. I’m so happy it was able to be screened at Cinefamily.
I asked Yana to describe you in three words, how would you describe her?
She’s brave, absolutely. Fantastic. Goal-oriented. Whatever she wants, she just goes for it.
Did you know she was “the one” when she auditioned for the part?
I went to a deaf culture center for casting, and she was there auditioning for the theatre group, not my audition. I was looking for a Marilyn Monroe style girl [for the part] and after she got rejected from the school’s theatre group, I asked her to audition for The Tribe. I considered a different [actress], but Yana was really brilliant and very powerful with a very high energy. During the audition I asked people to [show a range of emotions], like love, anger, sadness and crying on cue. When we put Yana in a scene with a partner they were arguing and she was so into it, her skin was covered in goosebumps. We continued on with the auditions after than, but I remembered her.
The abortion scene is getting a lot of attention, what other scenes are equally disturbing to you?
The final scene was like that [abortion scene], it had a serious impact on me.
Since you don’t know sign language, was it a challenge connecting to the cast?
No. Sometimes I think we can understand somebody without using any words. We spent a lot of time together, we created our own tribe.
How was the film received in the Ukraine?
People loved the film, but unfortunately it was a huge scandal because it wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. The film was part of socio-political life, there was a lot of intensive media surrounding this scandal.
Did you have any idea that The Tribe would have a this type of impact?
No, definitely not. I just really loved my concept . I’ve been working on this film for [over 20 years].
The Tribe is being slated as the “film in sign language with no subtitles or voiceovers”. What else do you want people to remember this film by?
It is so complicated to do something new and interesting, I don’t really know. I think after some time passes by we will know. I’m certain that in the textbooks of Ukrainian cinema they will actually study me [and this film].
Who do you want to see The Tribe?
A lot of people who I was fascinated with actually saw The Tribe and were really happy with it, especially Darren Aronofsky. Unfortunately a lot of people I would want to see the film have already died, so I really hope there is a movie theatre in heaven.
A giant big screen!
How does it feel to be sitting here, giving interviews for your first feature film in Los Angeles?
I was here last year for the AFI Film Festival, my first time in the United States. I’m so happy, it was a very special experience. I’m flying 10 hours from Paris to Salt Lake City to L.A. and I have terrible jet lag, [but it feels as if I’m in a Hollywood movie]. I’m staying on Hollywood Blvd in the Roosevelt Hotel on the opposite side of the Chinese Theatre, where the Academy Awards took place. The Dolby Theatre is very close and my film screening is in the Chinese Theatre. There are all these famous people, Spiderman is on the street, and I feel like I’m inside a movie [living the dream].