Christina Tynkevych • Director of How is Katia?
“When you talk about the death of a child, about feelings of grief, guilt, revenge and so on — you need much more screen time to be with the hero”
- The Young Ukrainian director talks about the idea for her feature debut and its connection with the Romanian New Wave
Playing in the Cineasti del presente section of this year’s Locarno Film Festival, Christina Tynkevych's debut feature How is Katia? [+see also:
interview: Christina Tynkevych
film profile] centres on a mother dealing with the sudden death of her teenage daughter. We talked to the Ukrainian director about her film, its origins and the influence of the Romanian New Wave.
Cineuropa: How did the idea of your short film turn into a feature film?
Christina Tynkevych: The short film was really short, 10 minutes long. And I understood that, in principle, the main conflict in the film is much broader and there was still much to say and dig into. I basically built the structure of the short film in such a way that it was not told in a linear way, and I think I did so in order to better tell this story and capture this emotion. But really, when you talk about the death of a child , about feelings of grief, guilt, revenge and so on — you need much more screen time to be with the hero, to experience all these different stages. Therefore, right away in my short film, I realised that I wanted to develop this film further, and the development took quite a long time... Well, a standard duration for European author's films, about five years from the moment I started working on it to the moment of the release. We worked on the development of the script itself for three years, with various co-authors; we were also on development programs such as Midpoint. Mostly, I think that this is a normal time to write a debut. And I always say that I am not a screenwriter myself, I see myself more as a director. But it is very difficult in auteur cinema to find a screenwriter who will see the world through my eyes... Very often, directors of auteur cinema write scripts themselves. In an ideal world, I would not want to do this, but I am forced to do it and to do it in co-authorship with someone else.
The film tells a female story. Is there anything personal about it?
It's a woman's story, but for me, it developed quite naturally, because I grew up in the 1990s and saw quite a lot of almost exclusively female families. I have a father and a mother, but my parents divorced, so I also grew up with my mother and grandmother. I understand that kind of life. I think what concerns Anna's relationship with her sister - that is not my own story, but rather that of my mother and her family. There are a lot of different references taken from real life, but I can't say that one character is one particular person, for example. It's all mixed up.
Who are some of your favourite directors? Your film recalls the Romanian New Wave.
Yes, the Romanian New Wave definitely influenced me a lot. For Katia, my main reference was Cristian Mungiu's Graduation [+see also:
Q&A: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Cristian Mungiu
film profile], which I really love, and there are a lot of references there for me. But the main thing is that I really like how it works with the mise-en-scène and his approach to single-frame shooting in each individual scene, his complex one-shot scenes. I took a lot from him. But I read later about how he shoots his films: he may shoot an average of 45-50 takes for one scene, and of course, when filming my debut film, I could not afford to do this. I think that when you make a debut film, you are not in the right position to shoot 50 takes. But in some more difficult scenes, the dialogue scenes between Anna and Iryna for example, we could have 15-20 takes. In addition to Mungiu, I was also inspired by the Georgian New Wave.
This is also a story about corruption in medical institutions. Have you personally experienced this?
It seems to me that every person living in Ukraine has faced it. Our life is permeated with it, to the point where it appears normal, and we often don’t even notice it. The story about revenge and about the grief associated with the death of a loved one is universal. It can be told in any country. But it was also important for me to talk about what Ukraine is like today. Well, not today, but 2 or 3 years ago. It was important to emphasise certain social problems in our society. Also, I can't say that this is a direct reference, but I read a lot of news articles about all these traffic accidents that are happening, and there was a very powerful story about Olena Zaitseva, a girl from Kharkiv who killed 6 people at a bus stop. These are realities in which we live, it is not all fiction.
Did you want to premiere the film in Locarno?
I understand that festival life is a lottery. It was important for me that the film was released, because a lot of people invested in it and a lot of time was spent on it. And of course, I wanted the film to have a decent career, and in order for the film to be seen, it needed a serious festival, which Locarno is. It is a platform for the film to have a further life. But whether there was a festival that I definitely knew or wanted, that I can't say. I was happy just to have a good festival accept us. I am very glad that Locarno has become a real playground for it.
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