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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 Baltic Film Competition

Uģis Olte • Director of Upurga

“If you reveal everything, the adventure ends”

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- In the Latvian helmer’s film, a group of influencers descends on a forest, but this time, it’s nature’s turn to have all the fun

Uģis Olte • Director of Upurga

After the likes of Liberation Day [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Uģis Olte leaves documentaries behind with Upurga [+see also:
interview: Uģis Olte
film profile
]
. Shown in the Baltic Film Competition of Tallinn Black Nights and featuring a group of influencers, about to shoot a vegan sausage advert in a river valley, it proves that – at least according to its tagline – the one who seeks, gets lost.

Cineuropa: When you were first pitching at Meeting Point Vilnius, The Blair Witch Project already sprang to mind. You do use some of those recognisable horror tropes.
Uģis Olte:
There is something primal about the forest, so there are many films with a similar setting. We have all been listening to stories told by the fireplace, surrounded by complete darkness. Going to the cinema is the same in that sense. It was never my intention to set out on a specific genre path, but I enjoy the use of sound in films like The Blair Witch Project. That’s what I remember best: how it sounded. I like it when sound is used in a slightly abstract way, like in Stalker or The Exorcist. I feel close to such cinematic language, because that’s what music does, too – you can feel this immediate emotional connection without your intellect being involved.

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There are some funny little details in your film – a man who has survived something mysterious ends up fermenting cabbage, for example. Did you want to welcome weirdness into this world?
It has more to do with our local identity, I guess. That’s what our ancestors used to do, trying to preserve food for the winter. Now, whenever I smell the pungent aroma of sauerkraut, it gives me this sense of safety. Maybe that’s where it came from? This guy went through something traumatic and decided it would be his “thing” now. It helps him survive. I haven’t yet figured out what would be the “thing” for our main character, though. Maybe we will never find out.

Or maybe in the sequel? You don’t actually reveal that many secrets. Are you saving them up for later?
I was one of those people who got very frustrated when we found out all the details about the Force in the Star Wars prequels. It’s more interesting when you give people something to think about. If you reveal everything, the adventure ends once the lights come up. I actually wrote a backstory to these events, and we will reveal a bit more in the behind-the-scenes series that we are producing. My best friend in real life will try to investigate these woods, and that’s when we will find out a bit more. But not too much [laughs].

Did you think about any specific mythologies when constructing this story?
One thing that really surprised me was that in Latvia, we don’t really have water creatures. Only some mermaids, but we were probably just ticking some boxes there. It’s different with the Livonians [Balto-Finnic people indigenous to northern Latvia and south-western Estonia]: all their most important deities are connected to water. I was fascinated by nymphs and water spirits in Scandinavian folklore, too. That’s some dark stuff! My favourite was Nøkken. He would play the violin to lure lost souls into his underwater kingdom, and I just liked that image. I wanted to use it in the film.

There was one event in my life that started all of this. I always enjoyed hiking in the forest in the most terrible weather. Once, I found myself in this dark bush, full of wild boars. I freaked out and got disorientated, and got lost in a forest I know really well. Suddenly, every tree was alive, and everything felt like danger. I think these mythologies are a part of our cultural code. We can access it easily.

You mentioned the Livonians, and I wanted to ask you about them, as this clash of cultures makes up a big part of the film.
They were the first people living in Latvia, before everyone else showed up. We learn about them in school. Morten Traavik, the co-director of my previous film, who also plays a character here, sent me a link to this website: Livones.net. I went: “Who the fuck are the Livonians?” Then I remembered. I sent the script to the Livonian Culture Centre to check, and after that, we started to include their language and other details as well.

The reference to Deliverance suggests they are the villains, but your protagonists are actually less likeable!
Influencers are people who are famous for being famous – sometimes, you don’t even understand why. There is this dissonance between the real person and his or her digital equivalent. The latter tends to be much nastier. I wanted to put them in this situation, and then show them as human beings again – confronted with Mother Nature, whether they like it or not.

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