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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 Estonian Film Competition

Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo • Director of Take It or Leave It

"Being a parent goes beyond the simple notions of being a mother or father"


- Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo talks about her first feature film, Take It or Leave It, awarded at Arras and nominated to represent Estonia at the Oscars

Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo  • Director of Take It or Leave It
(© Lea Rener/Arras Film Festival)

Revealing some very promising talent in the exploration of fatherhood in her first feature film, Take It or Leave It [+see also:
film review
film profile
– Estonia’s candidate for the 2019 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – Estonian director Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo was honoured at the 19th Arras Film Festival with a special jury mention and the critics' award, while the film's lead actor, Reimo Sagor, won the Best Actor Award at the 28th Cottbus Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: What was your career like before you started working on Take It or Leave It, your first feature film?
Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo:
I directed documentaries for many, many years, but I've also edited documentaries and fiction films, and worked on screenplays for several productions.

Why did you decide to make a film about fatherhood?
I started thinking about it five years ago. At the time, the issue of having children was very present in my life, in many ways: many people gave birth to children or wanted to have more children, some had been struggling for a long time or could not have children, and so on. This opened up a field of reflection on what it means to be a parent, beyond the notions of being a mother or father. When does someone become a parent? Is it when the child is born? When are we deemed ready? When does it become a goal to be a parent? Society sometimes marks certain people as incapable of having children, while others are deemed perfect for it. There is a lot of prejudice out there. I then read a short article on a female Internet publication about a man who was left with a two-month-old baby. All of these different factors gave me the idea for ​​the film. Being a father and defining what a family is are constantly changing concepts. I recently read that there are three ways to be a father: biologically, socially and psychologically. Ideally, all three elements are combined into one person, and in the worst case scenario, none are present, but the most important thing for the child is to have a psychological father, not a social or even a biological one. Psychological fathers are there for their children in good and bad times.

A woman director addressing the issue of fatherhood is relatively unusual.
In my opinion, being a mother and being a father are two very different things. Fathers act in their own way as parents and that's fine. I think it's very difficult for women to give men space to be fathers. Women often have the instinctive will to control everything about children, they sometimes think they are the best at it. And very often, when they have strong characters, they dig their own graves by being too controlling, gradually taking away the father's ability to play his role as a father. And by the time they notice, it's too late. It is very important these days, in parallel with women's emancipation movements, to talk about fatherhood as well.

People always say that filming with a baby is very difficult? Is that true?
We were very lucky with the film's baby. In a sense, it's easy because babies don’t act – they do what they usually do. We adapted and organised the schedule according to the baby’s feeding and sleep schedules. The whole team was ready to change the work plan according to the baby's mood. When we started, the baby was only two weeks old, so I asked lead actor Reimo Sagor to spend a lot of time with the baby's real family, to do the everyday things: to dress her, to feed her, to change her nappy, to learn to do things with one hand, etc. the baby learned to trust him.

How did you decide to balance the documentary content, and the daily life of a man who has to take care of a baby, and the film's fictional character?
I mainly did this by defining the film’s visual style. I wanted there to be an aesthetic fiction patina, but not one that was too artistic, or one that was too conscious of visual style so as not to lose any credibility, which was essential. In terms of sets, costumes, camera work, lighting, we had to find the right balance between doing too much and not doing enough. I wanted it to be a simple film. Usually, for film sets, we look for places that have something special about them, but I didn't what that at all, despite knowing that we needed a little something to give the film a cinematographic feel. And as for the camera, I wanted it to be as active and dynamic as possible.

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(Translated from French)

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