Q: Your latest film November is a take on Estonian fairy tales. What drew you to these stories?
A: NOVEMBER is based on Estonian fairy tales where the main motive is greed. They are tales about the fox who cheats the wolf or steals milk from the old woman.
The fairy tales of my childhood are more scary and sad than bright and happy and that influenced this film.
I was a little bit afraid this story would remain very specific to an Estonian sense of self-irony. But we are all living in the same world nowadays, looking together for something beautiful that helps us to survive in a pragmatic but greedy world.
Q: November has rightfully received lots of praise and is being talked about as an Oscar foreign language contender. How have you responded to this praise?
A: I AM a much happier person now!
Q: The film is visually incredible. What sources of inspiration did you have for the film?
A: DESPITE the fact that this film is based on Estonian fairy tales, I wanted it to look very realistic.
I found photographer Johannes Pääsuke who pictured Estonian peasants in the 19th century. It was like an anthropological overview of how they lived and what they looked like. They lived in small houses together with their animals and they wore strange clothes – not at all the folk costumes that we now know.
It was a pretty sad and ugly world but it was unbelievable – like a fairy-tale – at the same time. So I took the visual key from these old black and white photos.
Q: What were the biggest challenges of putting together such a creative and ambitious project?
A: THERE were a lot of animals, non-professional actors and difficult weather conditions in the film.
These unpredictable circumstances make you depend on accidents and wait for miracles. You let things go the way they will, so waiting for miracles became our main approach to the difficulties.
One time, it started to snow at exactly the moment it was written in the script. That is what we were waiting for. If the miracles were not happening, there was something wrong.
Q: What was your approach to the film’s actors? What kind of atmosphere did you want to foster on set?
A: I USED non-professional actors so their simplicity would be authentic. Their ungainly, helpless and slightly clumsy demeanor fits this film.
I did not want their performances to be too advanced or too nuanced. A helpless person seemed more interesting than an actor playing a helpless person.
I did not completely forgo professional actors. The main characters are played by actors as are the people connected to the manor. I never underestimate an actor’s performing talent, but I learned from the amateurs – as did the actors, themselves – that sometimes you do not have to act. It is enough to believe you are someone else. This was interesting and beautiful.
Q: Rea Lest is an actress we admire greatly at prestridgesquared.com. Can you talk about working with her and what qualities she brought to the film?
A: THE main characters, Liina and Hans, are pure and innocent lovers, which is quite difficult to act. I planned to use even younger actors – 12 to 14 year old children even.
But then I saw Rea play the role in a believable and interesting way during casting. I did not have to use any kinds of directing tricks. Rea is powerful, even a little bit of a wild woman, who can act without any compromises.
Q: I have been reading about worldwide interest in Estonian cinema from streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. Is there more room for creativity in Estonian film industry?
A: I BELIEVE creative power does not depend on place or time.