70th Berlinale | 2020
"And I didn’t want to find just anyone, but strong characters who ideally would forget the presence of a camera: individuals who are all very different and who would each contribute to the picture of a society by letting me portrait their individual microcosm."
Perspektive Deutsches Kino
Russia’s Far North is an inhospitable region where winter never seems to end and the fresh snow is covered by the black soot of industry. Here, on the edge of a city where a mining company is the sole employer, garages stretch out into infinity...Together they form a microcosm that reveals a hidden part of society in which there is also room for humour.
Hey Natalija, it's great to talk with you, how have things going?
Good, however quite turbulent: With the premiere ahead, everything seems to happen at once: The final touches of the film, the artwork, interviews like that. It’s great, though, to feel the energy of everything falling into places.
Congratulations on Garage People on being selected for the 2020 Perspektive Deutsches Kino at the Berlinale, what does it mean to you to have your film at the festival?
The festival premiere is always a very important step in the life of a film. So it is a big honour for me to be part of the 70th Berlinale, in such a prominent place and bright spotlight. And it’s also great to be considered one of the eight filmmakers who seem to deserve this spotlight, where fiction and documentary storytelling are treated equally at this year’s selection.
Garage People is your debut feature film and will have its World Premiere at the Berlinale, does this add any extra pressure on you?
I am super excited and very much looking forward to the premiere after such a long process of making the film. However, since I have never presented a film to and spoke about it in front of an audience, I also feel very humbled, especially since the venue is the Kino International, not only quite a big place, but also the cinema where all the premieres in the former GDR took place. To be given the opportunity to be a first timer at this particular place, surely puts an extra pressure on me. But to show the film in my home town will also be quite comforting, since a lot of my friends and family will be by my side. But I sure hope that the film will speak for itself and that all this is not needed in the end.
Will there be any nerves ahead of watching your film with a festival audience?
I think there will be, as it is very important for me to feel the people in the room, where there is laughter, where I can sense the tension and to eventually know how the film is received. And of course watching it with the whole team, friends and family on a such a big screen in the cinema is an experience I wouldn’t want to miss. But I can't deny that it makes me also nervous to think about the range of reactions the film might cause.
"Once, we found ourselves in the middle of a mass brawl where someone was almost killed."
Can you tell me a little bit about Garage People, what was the inspiration behind this film?
In 2014, when I was working in the directorial department on a fiction project in the Kola Peninsula region in Northern Russia, I was responsible for finding and recruiting extras. While looking for them, I found these crazy fields of garages in every part of the town, like a hidden world offering everything we needed: fish, skiing equipment, handcrafts. I was immediately intrigued and fascinated by the range of personal stories and ways of coming to terms with their living conditions. These images stuck. So, when coming home after the shoot, I decided to make a film about this particular part of Russia. I wanted to open these garage doors and show the worlds of the garage people and their little hideaways, adjusting to the system, trying to achieve their personal fulfilment.
Did you have any apprehensions about getting people to be part of your documentary?
I found that people in Russia are by their nature and life very distrustful, so it has been a long way to win them for the film. The garage worlds are kind of extralegal spaces, and their owners have no permissions for anything they rebuild, add or reconstruct. So yes: I had a lot apprehensions before and also while shooting - I had to win the trust of the garage people to enter their world. And I didn’t want to find just anyone, but strong characters who ideally would forget the presence of a camera: individuals who are all very different and who would each contribute to the picture of a society by letting me portrait their individual microcosm.
What has been the experience for you working on this film?
Researching and shooting for more than a year in different seasons brought us very close to our protagonists: We got to know their problems, their dreams, we visited their families and were there when tragedies happened, but also during moments which were touching and full of love. Once, we found ourselves in the middle of a mass brawl where someone was almost killed. Also, one of our protagonists died while shooting the film, another one shortly after. I think we had a true experience of real life in Russia.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I think: yes. Since my high school years I have been working in film productions and on film sets in different positions. Always interested in telling stories, I had and eye-opening experience while working on this particular film in Russia: As part of a second unit, I could direct myself for the first time. And the creative flow while shooting was so energizing that I got hooked to create the content which I am passionate about and to be on the artistic side of the filmmaking process. After finishing my first film now I can’t really say what I like more: the process of shooting or the one of editing. But what I can say is that being a film director is the toughest job I ever had, but by far the most fulfilling one.
In that sense, it doesn’t really matter for me to direct a documentary or fiction feature: For me, the form has to follow the story I want to tell in that particular moment. For GARAGE PEOPLE it was clear that it had to be documentary, but right now I work on documentary as well as fiction projects.
What have been the biggest lessons you've taken from making Garage People?
You shouldn't make any compromises, in regard of the quality of the project, even if you have to make steps others don't like. You have to be a fighter, at the same time to love your protagonists and their stories, to be interested in life in general and to understand mindsets and worlds which might be absolutely contrary to yours.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
When I first met my future DOP Axel Schneppat and talked about GARAGE PEOPLE, I was still wondering if I should go and properly study film (to actually be able to do this film.) Axel told me: Go and prove yourself, do this film and regard it as a life film school. Being part of the Perspective section now proved it to be the right decision, as nothing has probably prepared me better for the filmmaker’s life to come than the four years of making this film.
As a filmmaker what advice would you offer anyone making their debut film?
To very closely choose your partners. The period of making a film is very long, and you are kind of getting married to your producers as well as to your team. You have to absolutely believe in your idea, to be passionate about it and also very patient. Making a film is a very hard and long process, not bringing you money or any success while doing it, and you somehow have to be ready for going all the way.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Garage People?
I hope the audience will be touched by the stories and the protagonists in the film, to feel what life in Russia is like these days and how humans can adapt; that Is the best I could hope for. And surely that I will be recognized as a filmmaker with a vision so that I’ll have the chance to tell my other stories in the future. Not only about Russia, of course!