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Marina Stepanska • Director

“You should have respect for reality because it always overtakes you”


- KARLOVY VARY 2017: Debuting Ukrainian filmmaker Marina Stepanska talks to Cineuropa about her first feature-length outing, Falling, and her methods of working with her actors

Marina Stepanska  • Director

Karpenko-Kary Kiev National University of Film and TV graduate Marina Stepanska is unveiling her feature-length debut, Falling [+see also:
interview: Marina Stepanska
film profile
, in the East of the West competition of this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (30 June-8 July). Falling is a psychological drama with a love story at its heart, which also portrays the young generation trying to find its place in post-revolutionary Ukraine. Cineuropa met up with the emerging Ukrainian filmmaker to discuss her method of working with non-professional actors and the situation that Falling addresses. 

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Cineuropa: You studied a method of using non-professional actors on set. Why did this particular method intrigue you, and how have you used it so far in your works?
Marina Stepanska:
 When I graduated from film school in the early 2000s, there was only one job for filmmakers in Ukraine – directing television series or music videos. So I took it and became disappointed very quickly in this kind of performing art. It’s just boring to construct a dead truth. So I was running a small school theatre with a partner, and we started researching different methods. There were mostly non-professional actors in our school, so I would say that people gave me a lot in terms of finding a way to capture life and translate it into images.

Later, I worked as an assistant on a movie that used non-professional actors a lot and found what I call “a method”. This method has its advantages – you can see how a life story begins to emerge through a face, and you can never “act out” this magic moment. But it also has its disadvantages: a non-professional actor is very limited; you cannot force him or her to play somebody except him or herself, and the result is always disappointing if you do so. Plus, you need to construct the circumstances for a non-professional actor – they need something real around them. So this method is always about constructing life around somebody, not just a picture, and it therefore requires a lot of resources.

I used this approach in Falling, but it was really a method of constructing a real life from real details with the actors in the shot. These performers have life stories that are partly similar to the characters, but being actors, they can change nuances, and they can work with themselves as tools. I believe much less in the so-called director’s manipulation of reality, especially when it involves non-professional actors and exploiting them. I haven’t yet seen a result capable of convincing me that it is worth doing. If you have a picture in your mind, take actors and depict everything with them; if you want to investigate life, take non-professional actors, but don’t try to depict your ideas of life with them. You should have respect for reality because it always overtakes you. 

How did Falling come about, and what were the factors that shaped your story?
This film is about my friends and me; we lived in Kiev in 2013, but not all of us live there any more. The strongest feeling I had in those days was one of confusion. There was a huge disconnect between what I was supposed to feel and what I really felt. I just used to sit in the kitchen, which is a sacred place in any home, reading a lot of news and opinions about the fate of the country, and I felt that I was thinking about the fate of just one person. This person absorbed my pain and my moments of joy. I came up with a story about a 26-year-old man because I knew that kind of person, but recently, I’ve come to realise that if it had been a woman, nothing would have changed. 

Why did you choose post-revolutionary Ukraine as the setting?
There had been no films about my Kiev for a long time, so it was simply an initial desire to talk about ourselves in our place, in our language. We were lucky that Kiev became a hotspot at that time, which revealed things about ourselves. I just have strong myopia, which perhaps explains my topics.

Sebastian Thaler, the son of Ulrich Seidl’s DoP, Wolfgang Thaler, lensed your feature-length debut. How did that come about?
Sebastian worked as a second camera operator with his father Wolfgang on Seidl’s film, as well as on the set of Ugly [+see also:
film review
interview: Juri Rechinsky
film profile
, where I met him. I did some jobs for them. We became close friends, and Sebastian suggested shooting my second short, Man’s Work – thus we were already a strong duo on the set of Falling. On the whole, his camera appreciates what I appreciate – the human face – so I think we will work together again. 

What other projects are you working on?
My next project will be a comedy about women, or a tragedy about women; which one comes first depends on the funding. It’s tied to other territories, so a lot depends on the resources of the producers.

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