A man falls off a roof. Another one drowns. Another catches fire. “God rest their souls,” sigh the widows as they cross themselves sombrely. This is the life and death of the men in Virago - where no man has lived long enough to see his fortieth birthday. Until today.
Hi Kerli thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Hi and thanks for having me! Strange times indeed! I've been hiding from this madness for almost half a year in the Estonian countryside (the very same place that inspired me to write the screenplay for Virago). Nice and calm here, however, as I do have a home and half of my family in the States, it's been tough not to be able to travel back and forth.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Maybe not inspiration but at least some guilt-free time to unwind and a chance to sit down and work a little on my next screenplay and book.
How much has your background in theatre helped you in your filmmaking journey?
Although theatre and film are quite different worlds in terms of technicalities, the creative aspect is the same. I think that this creative "bug" that my theatre and literature teacher planted in me about 20 years ago, has just transferred from theatre to film. It's equally fun to come up with a plot for a theatre play and a screenplay, and to think how to visualize everything and put it out there for audiences. In short, yes, my theatre background has definitely helped to grow my love for filmmaking.
Congratulations on having Virago selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
Thanks! Feels amazing. I can't wait to see the other films. It's also funny because when we were coming up with a poster for Virago, my editor was trying to place different hypothetical laurels on it, and one of them was Raindance! So she jinxed it in a good way.
This will be your UK premiere, does this add any additional pressure on you?
I'm always nervous when Virago is screened somewhere. It's my first baby so I guess I care about it a lot. Corona-times virtual film festivals make it less stressful in a way because I can't sit in a movie theatre and watch how audiences react to my film.
Can you tell me a little bit about Virago, how did this film come about?
I was getting my Ph.D. in Media Communication at the University of Miami and researching minority representation in film. At some point I figured it would be helpful not to just deconstruct films but also look at the other side - how they are made. So I enrolled in some film courses and the very first script I wrote was Virago. I remember my screenwriting professor, Tom Musca, saying to class that there is a film in this screenplay. This encouraged me to pitch the idea to an Estonian production company Nafta Films, who picked it up and asked if I want to try directing it as well. And this is how the ball got rolling. My wonderful producer Diana Mikita built a strong team who shared and advanced my vision and taught me so much about filmmaking.
"Luckily I got to work with amazing A-list actors who helped a lot."
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
The story of Virago is inspired by real events that took place in a Southern Estonian village where I grew up. My grandmother used to tell stories about women who lost their husbands at a young age – some to the war, some to the woods, some to the river, and some to vodka. But the harder the times, the more these women looked after each other. The lack of men put a double-burden on the women, so they grew more powerful with each day, until the role of men in the village slowly disappeared. On the one hand, Virago is a condolence for those country men whose faith is to meet the Grim Reaper too early, but more than that, it is a tribute to the fascinatingly strong Eastern European rural women whose harsh realities weave with the mystical every day.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Virago?
I think we have to tell stories that mean something to us. Even if the story is very local, it can still touch global audiences if you tell it from the heart.
So, although I learned filmmaking abroad, the stories I want to share continue bringing me back to my roots.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?
If I knew I would get a chance to act as a film director one day, I would have taken a directing course before that. In this aspect, theatre skills are quite different from cinema. Luckily I got to work with amazing A-list actors who helped a lot. Haha!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Probably grew out of theatre. Hanging out with cool film professors and movie makers in Miami didn't also hurt!
"I hope to expose audiences to this bizarre Eastern European rural world where the lack of men has put a double-burden on women. "
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Of course! Cinema is this magical, wild place (or space) where you are allowed to go as crazy as your heart desires.
Now that you have Virago in the can do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Tell a story that you care about and surround yourself with a team that fully supports your idea and shares your vision to bring it to life the best way possible.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Virago?
I hope to expose audiences to this bizarre Eastern European rural world where the lack of men has put a double-burden on women. The more they have to do, the more powerful they grow, until they can manage everything on their own and there is no place for men anymore. The word virāgōrefers to powerful women who possess both heroic and hostile qualities. Like I said, this film is a tribute to these amazingly powerful rural women, who never complain about their tough life but face their harsh realities with an ironic smirk on their face.