Laila Pakalnina is a Latvian screenwriter, director and producer. She has directed more than 20 films since 1991, including Theodore, which won a Special Mention at Karlovy Vary, and Dawn, Latvia's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Laila Pakalnina discusses the role of propaganda, manipulation and humor in her films.
FILMATIQUE: The story of Pavel Morozov has received much treatment, in songs, poems, books, and even an Eisenstein film. You have re-claimed what is considered by some to be classic Soviet propaganda and set the story in occupied Latvia. What drew you to the tale of this young pioneer, who broke with his family in the name of a greater good? What about Pavel Morozov's story resonates with you?
LAILA PAKALNINA: I'm not so interested by the story itself but rather the story as mirror of propaganda and propaganda as mirror of society— not only manipulators, but also (and even more important) the manipulated.
FLMTQ: How do you believe that the re-purposing or re-claiming of cultural legends can allow societies to better cope with their pasts, to better confront their present? Was this artistic mediation among your motivations for making Dawn?
LP: I would say it was the main motivation. For me Dawn is not about the past. Unfortunately it is about the present.
FLMTQ: One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is its humor— the long takes snaking through immaculately designed scenes that escalate into situations of pure chaos. The effect ranges from feelings of encountering the absurd, to the surreal, to madness and hysteria. What purpose does humor have in your construction of a story, and this story in particular?
LP: First— life is funny. In my films I try to keep a realistic proportion of fun and seriousness. Second— to survive we need to smile. Third— power (totalitarianism) is absurd and therefore funny.
FLMTQ: Unlike many contemporary Latvian films that address their former Soviet past, Dawn feels ironic or even critical, but much more subtle in its critique. What is the current political climate like in Latvia in regards to Russia, and how do you believe this sentiment manifests itself in films being made today?
LP: Unfortunately the political climate in Latvia in regards to Russia was, is and will be explosive. But I tried to make a film about one nation as it is so easy always to blame "others." There are no Russians, Germans, Americans etc. in my film— only Latvians. As I wanted to show the madness of a society wherein people lost their individuality by following a "leader."
But this film is not only about Latvians, it is also about Russians, Germans, Americans etc.
FLMTQ: How does your personal political or cultural relationship with this issue inform your own filmmaking?
LP: Maybe there is some natural contradiction. But maybe not.
As an artist I can't imagine thinking about the majority. I create alone. Of course— this doesn't mean that I don't care. I just hate to go where everyone else goes.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
LP: Yes, I am working. But I don't like to speak about unfinished projects. Project presentations for me are torture (but of course I need to do them)— as film for me is emotions and feelings.