Martin Kuba • Director of Vinland
"We'd all love to do the 'right' things, but what if it's not clear what is right and wrong any more, or if all the choices are in some respect bad?"
- The Czech director's film is a timely and intense story of migrant workers that blends the political and the personal, soon to screen in EFP’s Future Frames
Studying at the renowned FAMU film school in Prague, Czech director Martin Kuba has directed a number of short films including The Lion, the Antelope and the Beautiful Blonde (2016) and Night On Fire (2019). His latest film Vinland, due to have its world premiere as part of European Film Promotion’s Future Frames at the 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (1-9 July), is a raw and powerful piece of work focussing on migrant workers. When Daniil leaves Georgia to get work, he finds himself under the control of a Russian boss who exploits him and his fellow illegal workers. He soon finds himself faced with a desperate situation, caught between the need for money and his desire to return home.
CIneuropa: What inspired you to create Vinland?
Martin Kuba: Next to my home, there was a construction site, operated by a group of workers from the East, very skilful and fine guys, who'd apparently been terrorised by their boss. One night, we were alarmed by the dogs barking. The workers tried to burgle our neighbours' house in a very amateurish way, but the neighbours had suddenly returned home. And I wondered, what could have made these obviously fine folks – fathers and family guys – do such a thing and how desperate must have they been in that situation?
What kind of research did you do to write the script? Were there other people telling you their stories?
Exactly, the main source was people telling me their stories. Earlier in my life, I worked on construction sites and, when writing the first draft of the script, I was staying in the work migrants' dormitory. Even the scenes which feel genre-like, such as a moment when Daniil is intimidated by his boss, are based on the real-life stories I've heard – although some of them happened a long time ago, in the "wild" '90s.
The story is both politically charged and a character study of someone struggling with isolation and their own morality.
The script was written before the Russian invasion, so the story wasn’t so politically charged from the start and originally, it reflected the fact that most of the migrant workers around here are Ukrainians and the illegal labour market has long been run by Russians.
Of course, currently we perceive with heightened sensitivity the negative traits of the Russian character, Sergey. All the little lies and manipulations and the disrespect for neighbouring nations, which are based on a sense of cultural and historical predominance.
Politics got into the script through direct observation and by trying to be truthful to the subject and characters, not through an intention to make a political statement.
As for the character's struggle with morality and isolation – we all probably know how it feels to grow distant from somebody we love. We'd all love to do the "right" things, but what if it's not clear what is right and wrong anymore, or if all the choices are in some respect bad? Of course it's wrong to burgle somebody's house, but what if that person is threatening our capacity to provide for those we love, or our freedom?
Where did you find your lead actor?
I'd been lucky to notice Vakho Chachanidze when I was looking for the cast for my debut feature film. I was instantly fascinated by his intensity, charisma and energy. In his roles, he always keeps me guessing, as he's got the potential to fall either on the dark or the light side.
This was also necessary for his part in Vinland, where his struggle to preserve his moral integrity – or let's say, in an old way, his soul – is the hardest one.
What are you working on next?
Together with my producer, we're now in the late pre-production phase with my debut feature film, Three Weeks Under the Sea. With most of the production funding already on board, we're now looking for a third co-producer.
In a genre film way, my debut deals with the traumatising past of Czech-Russian relations, with the history of violence that was brought on by the Soviet occupation since 1968. With the current events, however, the past is suddenly present in a nightmarish way and sadly, many things remain strikingly the same. I feel the subject of my film is now even more urgent than before. For history not to repeat itself ceaselessly, we now have to deal with the illness in the Russian collective unconsciousness, and with the dark side of the Russian soul.
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