Interview with Writer/Director David Bezmozgis (Natasha)

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”

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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.

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NATASHA, Movie Review

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

natashaNATASHA (Canada 2015) ***1/2
Directed by David Bezmozgis

Starring: Alex Ozerov, Deanna Dezmari, Genadijs Dolganovs

Review by Gilbert Seah

Written and directed by David Bezmozgis based on his short story, NATASHA tells the tale of the forbidden pre-teen romance between two Russian Immigrants living in the north of Toronto during one summer.

It all starts with Mark Berman’s (Alex Ozerov) uncle bringing over a new wife from Russia to Toronto. With the new wife comes baggage in the form of her young daughter, Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). The new wife is not what she seems and neither is Natasha. Natasha hates her mother, calling her a whore. Natasha is not that innocent either, having participated in the sex industry in Russia. Mark is given the task of showing her around and a romance develops. Mark on the other hand, supplements his pocket money by selling pot in his neighbourhood.

Director Bezmozgis is a good story-teller His film is never boring and he fills his film with solid supporting characters from Mark’s family to the suspicious new immigrants. A lot of Russian atmosphere is also integrated into the story with a large portion of the dialogue spoken in Russian as well as in English.

NATASHA is also a film proudly Canadian. There are shots of northern Toronto where the film is set as well as shots of the Toronto Subway system and the ferry to the Centre Islands where Mark takes Natasha. The film feels and looks authentic and there are no false notes in the story. The catchy opening song and music adds to the film’s innovative feel.

A bit of philosophy is added for good measure. Mark reads German philosophy and some good message are offered to the audience. Natasha says that all of what she is told, she already knows, but Mark remarks that she knows only because it is said out aloud to her. So true. It is these little details that makes Bezmozgis’ film attentive.

The Russian content in the story and the fact that this is a dark tale involving young sex creates the atmosphere of a Vladimir Nabokov novel as in LOLITA and LAUGHTER IN THE DARK. Secrets are laid out into the open but are yet not apparently visible.

But the forbidden romance, incest upon consideration is not really incest as the the two overs are actually related through marriage and not blood. Still, the fact that the families trust the boy on looking after the 14-year old girl makes the sex forbidden. The sex scenes are kept at a minimum and within good taste while remaining quite erotic at the same time.

The two teen leads deliver quite good performances. Ironically both are young recent Russian immigrants like the characters they portray, Ozerov immigrating to Toronto and Gordon to the U.S. Ozerov is a young star to watch – young, sexy and brooding, already proving himself able to carry a lead in this film and in other films like the recent COCONUT HERO and A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY.
NATASHA is a well-made Canadian entry that deserves to be seen.
 

 

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