RIVERBANKS. The emotion of people who will never be able to accept the separation from their beloved ones on the other side of the river
“Best Feature Documentary” and “Best Cinematography” are the first two awards received by the documentary “Riverbanks” produced by Telefilm Chișinău.
The film “Riverbanks” was produced with the support of the EU’s “Confidence Building Measures” Programme, implemented by the UNDP, along with five other films. We asked Lucia Taut what inspired her to develop the script of this film and direct it.
Lucia, please tell us what the film “Riverbanks” is about. How would you describe it to those who haven’t seen it yet?
In the documentary “Riverbanks” you will see and feel emotion. A lot of emotions. It is the emotion of people who live on the banks of the Nistru river, who will never be able to accept the separation from their beloved ones on the other side of the river. The film also tells the story of the villages that were the largest Jewish marketplace in Moldova — Rascov and Vadul-Rascov. It is a documentary that reflects the life of people as it flows, people that regardless of political impediments, continue to communicate, even by shouting across the river. These shouts that cannot be forbidden by politics.
What motivated you to work on this film? How did you craft the script?
I fell in love with this village from my first visit to the region. Not only nature is fantastically beautiful there, but it also has a very interesting history. Settlements with a common past. The legend says that both villages were founded by a landlord, Rascov, whose estate stretched on both banks of the Nistru. Then the Jews set up a market that became famous throughout Moldova. There are many “stories” and life stories in these villages known too little by the general public. The original script of the film was to show both villages through a hero who takes people with the boat from one shore to another. Due to the pandemic, we had to change the scenario. That’s how we came to watch the life of both villages from one bank only.
While making the film, you traveled, like the heroes of the film, the same route — from the right bank to the left bank of the Nistru river, and back. How is life like between these two banks? What other stories could be screened?
I like people’s life stories. And in such multiethnic villages as Rascov and Vadul-Rascov, you will find many incredible life stories. Especially since these villages is the homeland to many outstanding personalities. I think that from a cultural point of view, a very interesting documentary could be produced. I would also be interested in a documentary about the fate of the Jews who lived there. People say that Jews still come to the graves in the Jewish cemetery nowadays. They either have relatives buried there, or they have lived in these villages.
How are the filming on the river, different from the usual locations on “land”?
Filming began in late May, the scenes were filmed during the summer and autumn (2020). The last filming was in November.
I remember a situation during the filming when we went to interview Uncle Sasha, one of the heroes of the film. He was the boatman on the Nistru, the one who makes the connection between the two villages, transporting people or packages sent by people from one bank to the other. We were not allowed to cross the river for filming, due to pandemic restrictions, so we asked permission for Uncle Sasha to come to the middle of the Nistru, so that we could approach him in another boat, from the other side of the Nistru, to record the interview.
We did an interview right on the Nistru water, floating down the stream, and from time to time we had to straighten the boats, because we were crossing the middle line of the river too much. At the end of the interview, the operator had the water up to his ankles, because during the filming I could not get the water out of the boat.
We had two video cameras in the boat. The cameras are expensive and we faced a high risk of dropping them into the water. The adventures did not end with this interview.
We were sailing with the boat on the water, with Mrs. Ana on the oars, the hero of the film, and on the way back she thought of taking the opportunity to meet her daughter, Lenuța, on the shore. Rowing up the river, her daughter came ashore and after they exchanged a few words, Lenuta told her mother to come closer to the shore, to the shade of big trees, to put a box of vegetables in her boat. Something that shouldn’t be noticed. I had great emotions at that moment. I filmed the moment and it appears in the film, towards the end. There were just a few moments we will never forget!
Were there shots that were not included in the final version, but you would have wanted to be there?
Of course, I had many more scenes that could not be included in the film, although they were just as good. I had also scenes that had to be shortened. For me, such situations are the most difficult in the work process. But no matter how much we care about certain scenes, we have to make logical decisions. In this sense, the international expert I worked with on this film, Irene Langemann, helped me a lot. I am indeed grateful for her collaboration and guidance provided during the project.
How did you end up working with an international expert? Did you need support, including financial?
Obviously. A good film production requires a lot of resources. Both human and financial resources. Sometimes even very large. Often you have to give up one idea or another for financial reasons. You can’t start a film idea just out of enthusiasm. You can make a film from your own resources, but at some point you will not afford to ensure a good quality. A movie needs support. Support from the team, technical and financial support. I had the opportunity to talk to producers and directors from different European countries who said that they work very hard to get financial resources, because otherwise you cannot exist.
I had the support of my colleagues for this film, without which I would not have been able to make this film. It was also very important for me to receive the funding from the European Union. The support was provided through the “Confidence Building Measures” Programme, implemented by the UNDP Moldova. Through such projects, a documentary film can attract larger audience on both banks of the Nistru river and become known to a whole world. I would also like to mention the fact that thanks to this project I was able to involve an international expert. I worked on the drama line with Irene Langemann, an experienced director from Germany, from whom I had the opportunity to learn a lot.
In the case of documentaries, is it better to have real actors or real protagonists, i.e. the heroes who inspired the creation of the film?
I’ve always opted for real protagonists. I think that the documentary differs from the feature movie exactly because of this. Because of real heroes. As long as the protagonists of a life story actually exist, I would choose they play their own roles.
How did “Riverbanks” get nominated for the Toronto Film Festival? What award did it get?
The value of a documentary film grows along with the awards it collects from documentary film festivals. Thus, after launching it in Vadul-Rascov, I participated in several international festivals. For now, we have the results from a festival in Italy where we received the award in the category “Best Cinematography”, and respectively, from the Toronto festival which is dedicated to women in cinematography around the world. There I received the “Best Feature Documentary” award.
How did the team you worked with on the film react to the good news?
It was a big surprise, when I received the message that the film was first selected for the festival, and the news that the film was also awarded the nomination in the best film category, was fascinating. The reactions, obviously, were very positive.
What does this award mean to you, but also to those who supported you in making the film?
The Toronto Award has given us hope and confidence in what we do. It encouraged both me and my colleagues to persevere and continue making documentaries about Moldova, about the people here.
Moldova has as well the potential to shine on the international film market, especially through documentaries.
Where else will the film be shown?
I have proposed the film for several international documentary film festivals, such as: ArtDoc, goEast, European Cinematography AWARDS (ECA), Atlanta Docust, and other festivals in Italy, France, etc. We will receive the results from many of these festivals during the next year.
While editing the interview, Lucia Tăut wrote me that the documentary “Riverbanks” also obtained the mention of semi-finalist in the “Best Feature Documentary” category at the Paris Play International Film Festival.
Would you like this film to reach a specific festival?
I would very much like to be selected, at least, at one of the festivals that take place in Cannes. We follow the events that take place there, and maybe we will have the chance to be among some nominations.
Why the success of a film is associated with the awards/mentions received at a film festival such as Cannes or Berlinale?
The international acknowledgement of the work, of a documentary or artistic film, is very important. It helps you work harder on its quality, to want to do better, to be more creative. The awards of such festivals as Cannes or Berlinale help you understand how important and good the subject line was, the approach, the quality of the images. The competition at these festivals is very high and the higher the competition, the better the quality of the product you made. Therefore, we, our creative team is very proud of the success we achieve at international festivals. Thus, we manage to make ourselves known abroad and in the cinema world.
Is there artistic potential in our country? Is it possible to produce films that reach even the top film festivals?
Of course, there is a great artistic potential in our country as well. This is also demonstrated by the awards received by directors, producers or filmmakers in our country at international festivals such as Cannes, Berlinale, TIFF. I think that our filmmakers should have more confidence in what they do and have the courage to compete at famous festivals.
I think that there is creative but also thematic potential in Moldova, that could make a lot of competition internationally.
Are you working on another film now? Are you looking for a story or maybe the story of a future movie is looking for you?
I am now working on a new documentary film project. It will be a film by which I want to show the beauty of Moldovan traditions, in parallel with the Nepalese ones. The main protagonists will be a Moldovan-Nepalese couple. A Moldovan married to a girl of noble birth from Nepal. The project is in process and I hope to find the necessary financial resources to start filming soon.
Interview conducted by Lia Chetrari, UNDP Moldova