It was a pleasure sitting down with the writer/director of the feature film “Natasha”, which is the opening film for the 24th annual Jewish Film Festival on May 5, 2016.
For tickets and information, go to: http://tjff.com/
David Bezmozgis is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He is the author of the story collection, Natasha and Other Stories (2004), and the novels, The Free World (2011), and The Betrayers (2014). David’s stories have appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Harpers, Zoetrope All-Story, and The Walrus. “Natasha” is his 2nd feature film as a director.
Interview with David Bezmozgis:
Matthew Toffolo: The tagline on the film’s poster is “It is the opposite that is good for us.”…
David Bezmozgis: Yes, that’s HERACLITUS. That’s the quote from the novel that’s the basis of the film.
MT: What does it mean?
DB: It’s a contradictory statement. Everyone wants the opposite. The overall theme of the film.
MT: From directing your first film “Victoria Day” to now directing “Natasha”. What is the biggest thing you learned?
DB: I’ve loosened up. I think “Natasha” is a much looser film in the way we shot it. My approach on set was better. The first film was heavily storyboarded. This film was planned out with Guy Godfree (Cinematographer), but we gave ourselves more freedom to create on set. I was much more open on the day. Some decisions are hard to change because we’ve planned out so much in prep, but we can change the blocking and some wardrobe changes for example on the day. It made for a better film.
MT: Did you rehearse before production began?
DB: Oh yeah. Just a couple of days, but it’s so important. The biggest thing is that the actors can get to know each other and form a bond before we begin filming.
MT: The female lead, Sasha K. Gordon, is very new to acting…
DB: Her first time on set. Her first film.
MT: She’s really good. A lot of depth and emotion to her character. There’s a darkness to her. How did you find her?
DB: We looked and looked and looked. She found us more than we found her. She really pulled off this performance. She’s tremendous.
MT: Most of this film is shot on a hand-held camera.
DB: There was some tri-pod blocking, but as the film progresses the film is definitely much looser.
MT: You mentioned your cinematographer Guy Godfree. How was your collaboration together?
DB: Terrific. This is a small film. Low budget. So everyone needs to be on board. From Guy to all of his keys and their crew. They need to believe in the project because there are a lot of productions happening in Toronto and they can definitely be working on higher paying projects. So they have to believe and it starts with Guy.
You come up with a look and come up with an idea and everyone has to believe in the process and the project. It worked.
MT: Was the entire film shot on location?
DB: Every single frame. We couldn’t afford a studio.
MT: Did the Production Design team do a lot of changes to the location, or was most of it shot close to the location you shot?
DB: Some locations we didn’t dress much, as others we re-did everything from scratch, like the basement scene. Other places, like Natasha’s apartment, the main house, is as is. This is a Russian neighborhood and a Russian character driven film, so a lot is what it is.
MT: Who is the audience for “Natasha”? Most of the film is in Russian? How are Russians reacting to this film?
DB: It’s played at some festivals where Russians were in the audience and they were thrilled. They’ve never seen their world portrayed before. I hope this is a film for everyone as most cultures can relate to this story and situation.
MT: In very generic terms, this is a coming of age story, like your last film “Victoria Day”. Is this a theme in a lot of your novels and writings?
DB: When making a coming of age story, family is mostly involved. I wanted to tell a story about this culture and the family within this culture of a boy hitting a crossroads in his teenage life.
The character Natasha is a twist to this story as she enters an English world but speaks only Russian. The character Mark is drawn back to his culture as she draws him back. And there are many twists and turns with him doing that. So it’s “coming of age”, but it’s a 2nd generation story about a boy coming back to the 1st generation.
MT: In the synopsis, it describes Mark as a slacker. I really don’t see him that way. I see a boy who’s really trying to figure out who he is in the strange world that he lives in.
DB: I really don’t see him as a slacker either, but people need shorthand.
MT: This is also a tale of sexuality. Mark is inexperienced. As Natasha, even though she’s still the same age, is much more worldly.
DB: She’s more mature. She is more worldly. Yet she’s still a kid. There are a lot of things that she sets in motion in the story where she’s too young to handle it all.
MT: It’s also about power.
DB: Well you can say that the major theme of this film is power. Family power. Generational power. There’s a major power struggle between the mother and sister, and it takes everyone down with them.
PHOTO: Actors Alex Ozerov, and Sasha K. Gordon in “Natasha”
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.