Interview by Agnese Civle, www.anothertravelguide.com
It seems that Mara Ravins is one of those women who knows the secret of youthfulness. She has been practicing Bikram Yoga for many years, paints her lips red and explores how the seduction of red is able to change a woman. She seeks beauty in everything.
Beauty itself, is the language in which the Toronto film writer, director and producer, born into a Latvian family, speaks, even when talking about exile to Siberia.
Mara Ravins and Latvian film director Jānis Kalējs docu-drama film Morning In the Pine Forest (1998) was shown at the International Film Festival Arsenāls in Riga, then continued its journey to the Montreal International Film Festival. In 2008, Arsenāls delighted its Latvian film audience with the black and white dramatic film Solace (2006), which had previously graced the cinema screens in Canada, New England and New Mexico film festivals.
Since September, Mara Ravins has been in Riga to fully devote to writing a dramatic feature film screenplay Siberian Story. Weaving throughout one story the essence distilled from the memoirs of those who were exiled to Siberia in the 1940’s, she addresses existential questions that are still relevant today.
Most of her life has been devoted to working in the Canadian film and television industry (in the 90’s making films in Latvia). Mara Ravins has frequently received support for her independent cinema projects not only from the Canada Council for the Arts, but also from the Ontario Arts Council and from the Soros Foundation and yet… has never felt that Canada is the place where she can meet artistically like minded people, hence her future plans are associated with finding a place where dialogues flow naturally – in Latvia.
Just recently you spent some time at the Ventspils International House of Writers and Translators where you were working on a film script. Do you always seek a particular milieu where to work?
For the most part, we live in circumstances where an ideal milieu is not available. If earlier someone had been observing me in Toronto when I was running around the city with my laptop seeking peace and quiet to work, they would have laughed out loud.
I had just left my day job to finally have some time to write… I beautifully renovated my living room – painted the walls gold, organized everything to a minimalism, sat at my writing table… then my home started to shake because of the monster drills working on the condominiums across the street, but in the courtyard at the university, where I usually took sanctuary under the old trees, the air was filled with the construction sounds from the renovations on the clock tower. The whole city had become one large construction zone, nevertheless, in some magical way we each learn how to deal with that, sit down, tune in and write.
Most amazing is to write in nature, when all the associations that one has with a city or home in which one lives, disappear. I like to take walks to clear my head then thoughts and ideas flow in a pure manner.
Please tell me about the script on which you are working right now.
At this moment I am writing a script for a feature film Siberian Story. The foundation is a story that has been created from hundreds of memoirs of those exiled to Siberia in the 1940’s – Latvians, Estonians, White Russians and Ukrainians.
I must add that I arrived at this work through an intuitive rather than a rational manner. In 2008, when my film Solace was presented at Arsenāls, I by chance grabbed a few books off the back shelf at Jānis Roze bookstore, which were women’s memoirs of their experience of exile to Siberia. In the airplane, flying back home, I started to read these books and wondered, why has no one made a dramatic film exploring this topic? I started to read more of these materials, go deeper into them. I would put them aside, but then again return to them. Intuitively I felt that this is the right work that I need to be doing. This time the work found me and everything is unfolding in a natural way.
Based on an episodic treatment of the story I wrote, a Canadian arts fund (The Canada Council of the Arts Established Film Artists Category) gave me a grant to write a script. I continue to write this script and to seek international co-producers. The film must be made as a co-production with four countries. This endeavor is huge and the process is slow. It is important to shoot this film in Europe.
Do you believe that it is possible to portray this situation in all of its dramatic amplitude in one film?
This theme can be explored from so many perspectives and every one, who creates a work about this, will have their own view. In truth, it is something boundless. Telling the story about Siberia, someone can make a film about those incarcerated in the Gulag or those who were sent to remote villages. I chose to situate my story in a village.
Reading the materials, I strived to extract the collective experiential essence and to raise various existential questions. This will be an existential film and I am trying to create it so that it will be understood on an international level.
In these times when people are forced to leave their homes and life as they are accustomed to living it because of economic circumstances, natural disasters, these questions I am exploring are relevant now. An individual can wake up one morning to find everything destroyed. He just has his suitcase, maybe not even, and he has to start from scratch. That is why I ask questions such as: What are you, when all has been taken? What defines you? What is important to you? What do you value, hold dear?