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TRIBECA 2024

Mara Tamkovich • Directora de Under the Grey Sky

"Las elecciones que hacen los personajes representan la Bielorrusia"

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- La directora polacobielorrusa explica hasta qué punto su historia se basa en hechos reales y en dónde pudo hacer uso de su libertad artística

Mara Tamkovich • Directora de Under the Grey Sky
(© Anna Wardejn)

Este artículo está disponible en inglés.

Cineuropa chatted to Polish-Belarusian director Mara Tamkovich about her debut feature, Under the Grey Sky [+lee también:
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, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The writer-director unpacks to what extent the story was based on real events, and explains where she used her artistic freedom in the process of telling the tale of a married couple living under the dictatorship and taking different approaches to how to navigate their lives.

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Cineuropa: Your film is based on a true story – how much of what you show are facts from the life of journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva, and how much is artistic licence?
Mara Tamkovich:
First of all, we used the term “inspired by” true events. Also, we decided that during the production period, we could leave a bit of room for artistic freedom and help viewers understand that what they are seeing is not necessarily how it happened, fact by fact. But how much is “made up”? I never met the journalist who inspired the main character; I only met her husband. So I knew him a bit better, while I could only imagine her and say something about her based on her work. So it’s important for me to underline that, yes, they’re characters in the film, but the facts and the events that happened to them are real.

So is the footage from the early sequences in the movie, showing the protests, real?
Yes, this is the actual footage that the girls took on that very day. Coming back to the question of what is real and what is not, I’d like to add that each event we show is a bit altered [from reality], and the events are also condensed: what we show in five or seven minutes in the film actually happened over the course of five hours in reality.

What’s striking is how you show different approaches to life under the regime. Lena is fighting against it, while Ilya opts to leave the country. How important was it for you to show these opposing attitudes? Is it a debate that many people in Belarus are having these days?
I think it’s one of the biggest and one of the most common subjects that people discuss today. But I wouldn’t say the question is: should we leave or fight the regime? Rather, people ask themselves: should we leave, or should we risk going to jail by doing something? Basically, people who are outside of Belarus are more at liberty to try and take action to influence the situation than those within Belarus. I'm not saying that no one there is doing anything, because that’s not true. There are people who are risking a lot by staying in Belarus and helping out on the ground.

The questions of whether you leave and at what point the risk gets too great are very common. That's also why I chose this story – not just because I have a personal connection to it. I do know a few journalists working for independent media outlets – I used to be one at one time. I think that the choices the characters in the film are making, the thoughts they are having and the consequences they have to face represent the bigger picture of Belarus. Because the way their life changes and falls apart is also symbolic of the reality of all Belarusians changing and falling apart.

How did you find your actors, Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich and Valentin Novopolskij? They have great on-screen chemistry, and their discreet way of acting suits your film perfectly.
I was looking for a very specific acting style: not expressive, but hidden. Let’s call it low-key. I think that style also reflects our Belarusian temperament, to some extent. Also, I like working with actors who live their emotions. The female lead, Aliaksandra, is Belarusian, but she's based in Poland. I found her when I was casting for my short film, which focuses on the same protagonist, but shown in an extreme situation.

Finding a male lead was very difficult. Obviously, I was initially focused on Belarusian actors first, but Belarus is a small country, we don’t have a big film industry, and I couldn’t work with actors who were still in the country. So, I looked outside and found a candidate who seemed a good choice, but the chemistry between him and Aliaksandra didn’t work. Then I remembered that I’d met a Lithuanian actor [Novopolskij] a few years back, and he was extraordinary. He was kind enough to come and meet me, and I saw that the relationship between him and Aliaksandra would work. I really think that a huge part of the film is them – without these acting choices, their talent and the effort they put into the film, it would have been very difficult.

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