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Signe Birkova • Director of He Was Called Chaos Bērziņš

“As long as there is silver on film strip – you cannot lose”


- As short film He Was Called Chaos Bērziņš looks forward to its international premiere at Karlovy Vary, as part of EFP's Future Frames, Cineuropa talked to its director Signe Birkova

Signe Birkova • Director of He Was Called Chaos Bērziņš

An ordinary man finds himself kidnapped by aliens one day and begins to feel that his reality is no longer his own. Then the mysterious ufologist Vilma comes into his life. As well as his alien love child. He Was Called Chaos Bērziņš is an energetic and wildly strange piece of cinema that pays homage to film history as it takes in sci-fi, thriller and a large dose of the experimental. Shot on film, the short has both a feeling of hazy nostalgia whilst being a bold look forward to the future.

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The film comes from the mind of Latvian director Signe Birkova, a former student of Philosophy and Journalism, who currently studies at the National Film School of the Latvian Academy of Culture. As the film looks forward to its international premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, as part of EFP's Future Frames, Cineuropa tried to unravel some of the mysteries of the film.

Cineuropa: What was the spark that made you to tell the story in the film?
Signe Birkova:
I have no idea where this idea came from. Most likely from aliens themselves. But one day a couple of years ago this thing about aliens stealing sperm and making a half-alien and half-Latvian stuck into my mind. And that he accepts the child and the child is Chaos Berzins. He is half from cosmic chaos and half from Earth - from Latvia. Bērziņš is the most common surname for Latvians. I knew there will be a woman who is the opposite – she is sexually attracted to aliens, she wants to be with them, to have sex with them and feels like a stranger on Earth.

Can you tell us about some of the influences that led you to create He Was Called Chaos Bērziņš?
I adore film history, I have been hugely influenced by the American Avant-Garde and experimental films especially those made by Harry Smith but also films by Bunuel, Dreyer and all the other Masters of Cinema. But most of all I am constantly influenced and inspired by Latvian director Jānis Putniņš - my husband.

I love old cinema but I never liked sci-fi. But the film references are very important for me so I dived into low budget sci-fi films from the 50s. There are at least 20 masterpieces that melted my heart with their enormous creativity and psychedelia. Sometimes only the title is amazing - I Married a Monster from Outer Space for instance. So I looked for the most clichéd elements in there and decided stick to them by making everything analogue. The film was shot on 20 year old Kodak film stock in basically 2-3 takes, with no monitor, no playback, no slate and with Arriflex SL 2 and BOLEX cameras.

Is it easy assembling a cast and crew for a project such as this? It does seem to be something where it would help that everyone has a certain love for genre and a specific way of telling a story.
This was a fun, real ‘old time’ filmmaking experience for me - and a nerve wracking experience for DOP Mārtiņš Jurevics. The crew was small and enthusiastic, I asked everyone who was involved to watch at least one film by Robert Bresson. I used his estrangement effect in this film and prayed to Bresson to be our spiritual guardian. Making a film is a ritual and it is important to pay respects to film gods.

Was it an easy shoot to put together?
This film is my MA work for the National Film School of the Latvian Academy of Culture and for students it is easier to make such a small budget film – there were more established people from the industry involved but there was no feeling of industry while shooting. And having no playback and having to shoot for 16 hours straight (most of the time preparing for the shot), and later having only 20 minutes material out of that, those kind of things brought a different and ‘vintage’ atmosphere on the set. It is like a blind date for 9 days. But as long as there is silver on film strip – you cannot lose.

The film will be having its International Premiere at Karlovy Vary and Future Frames. How much are you looking forward to it?
When I think about Karlovy Vary and my participation in Future Frames – I feel utterly thankful to everyone who made this film with me, the people who help me in life and to those people who watched it and decided that it is not only a documentary or tourist film for aliens but also a truthful fiction for humans.

What will your next film be?
Right now I'm making a documentary feature called Ring Of Fire about the transformation of the circus and a new theatre group “Kvadrifrons” that perform in the Riga Circus building which is also going through a big transformation but still has a huge very specific aura about it. I am also developing a feature fiction film LOTUS, a story set in 1919. It will be a stylised costume drama – a story about an early female filmmaker set in a decadent post-war underground.

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