Interview: Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi on The Tribe

Interview: Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi on The Tribe

The Tribe (2014) is about a young deaf mute boy starting out at a new boarding school for the deaf. He quickly realizes that in order to fit in with his new school's social hierarchy he must join The Tribe, a gang that deals in crime and prostitution. He takes part and climbs the social ladder until he gets mixed up with one of the gang's women. 

The Tribe is essentially a silent movie – it has no subtitles, no dialogue, and only a spare use of a soundtrack – yet it has been called one of the best films of the decade and a full on film going experience. Kyle Eagle spoke with director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi about the film, his upcoming project on Chernobyl, and the silent film era of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charles Chaplin.

More Q Than A: How did you approach this film from a production standpoint? Especially when it came to assembling the cast of deaf actors and rehearsals.

Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi: This is my first feature film, definitely, and is a story I've had in me since I was in school. It's been released in more than 45 countries and it has... changed my life. I'm glad to hear that it is going to seen on a big screen. The Tribe is on Netflix but is better served on a bigger screen theatre setting.

A film without dialogue is a film with dialogue! It is a real foreign film to everyone, except to the deaf people of Ukraine. I wanted to make an homage to silent films. The Tribe is a series of long shots like silent movies. I'm talking about the Mack Sennett films, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, or Charles Chaplin – very physical films – so without subtitles or title cards like in the silent era, I wanted to make a film that can communicate with all.

I had this crazy idea since childhood – I should mention the school that is used in the film is part of the school I went to as a child. One part was for the education of the deaf. I saw how they communicated with each other and my imagination took effect, and I saw how they communicated with emotion and passion and on the highest levels. So, throughout may childhood I write this story about sign language, and develop the script and I knew I could this story with sign language but without being about sign language. 

Through film festivals and support from my short, Deafness I was able to make The Tribe, and with about a year to complete the project.

What was the casting process? Where all the actors actually deaf or only the primary characters?

MS: The deaf community here, and support, the "deaf" mafia, are a huge community and they have a huge social media presence, websites, publications – very different from ours – and I called every principal of every deaf boarding school in Ukraine, as well as Russia, and Belarus to get the word out to anyone interested in being cast in this film. I found they were very enthusiastic – we had over 300 people who answered our casting call.

Everyone was deaf, all of them. There is scene with about 300 hundred people i was concerned how we were going to pull it off. Though I would add extras in that could hear [but I was told not to] because the deaf actors would know, and that would come off on screen and dilute the effect. So all 300 were deaf, and it was a bit madness, but it was worth it and fun.

What was the on-set environment like? 

MS: I worked with an interpreter because I do not understand sign language. It was a set that was like no other set as you can imagine. I wrote all the dialogue and it had a little improvisation. We rehearsed and work shopped in each actors's apartment one day a week and we shot the film in about half a year and very fast editing.

With such a unique, young cast was there an effort made to lighten up the heavy subject matter in between takes? Though The Tribe isn’t nearly as graphic, I am reminded of how the kids working on Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom said that they never felt like the movie they were making was nearly as upsetting as what eventually became the film.

MS: Ehh, actually I think, we all discussed this. We had some problems with nudity, but every actor was an adult – all legal – but I can tell [you] the set was not like we were a bunch of strangers, we were very aware of what the story was and about.

Your reason for the lack of subtitles has been well stated before, but what was your motivation for going with a lack of musical score?

MS: There is, it's just [isn't] in words or music! When I approached my sound guy (Sergey Stepanskiy) who is a good friend of mine and one of the best here in Ukraine, I told him you can use any noise and that can understand and help to tell what is happening, like in silent films. I wanted to make a film in which you cannot just listen to but have to see and be totally visually. I even have contracts with everyone that this film can't be dubbed at all, ever!

What do you have coming up next? Are you going to keep challenging us with films that force the audience to confront uncomfortable subject matters and the normal conventions of narrative film making or are you going to take a break and make a sweet romantic comedy or something?

MS: My manager sent me my first American script and jokingly said "it's perfect for you, it's very dark and very violent."

I'm starting a film on in Luxembourg about Chernobyl, which Luxembourg is about the size of the exclusion zone in Chernobyl. It's about the day in the life of the exclusion zone. I'm hoping to finish it with in the year and then who knows maybe I'll make that American film. I do have an idea about a story in Florida.

Here in Florida?! Do tell!

MS: I talked to a producer about this and who knows after spending a winter in Chernobyl it may be a good idea to move to Florida... something like C.S.I. Miami

Well we have lots of sun and low taxes. Anything you want to say to our audience?

MS: Thank you, enjoy the film, and if you want to discuss anything with me I can be reached with social media, Facebook and Twitter.

This interview originally appeared on The Gallery at Avalon Island's Facebook for More Q Than A, a biweekly film series in Orlando, Florida.

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