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TORONTO 2018 Discovery

Marija Kavtaradzė • Director of Summer Survivors

"I send my love to those people who see themselves or their loved ones in our characters"

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- We chatted to Lithuanian director-scriptwriter Marija Kavtaradzė about her feature debut, Summer Survivors, which tackles mental-health issues from a different perspective

Marija Kavtaradzė • Director of Summer Survivors

Emerging Lithuanian director-scriptwriter Marija Kavtaradzė deals with mental-health issues from a different perspective – and through a road trip – in her debut feature, Summer Survivors [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Marija Kavtaradzė
film profile
]
. After its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival, we talked to Kavtaradzė about her inspirations, her artistic decisions and the importance of survival.

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Cineuropa: What was the main inspiration for this film?
Marija Kavtaradzė:
 Summer Survivors was inspired by real-life experiences, and the main purpose was to talk loud and proud about mental health, so that people who are struggling will feel less alone.

How do you think your film can help regarding mental health?
I hope that Summer Survivors will contribute to the great work being done by some people – not only in Lithuania, but all over the world – to destigmatise mental illnesses. Now we are talking about it more openly, spreading information every day. Only by talking in a really simple way and by letting the viewers get to know and love the characters can we achieve that. Also, I can’t overemphasise the importance of talking about these issues now. I didn’t want to wait, because all too often, we start a dialogue when it is already too late.

Was it difficult to research and depict the symptoms of the illnesses?
The most difficult part was exploring life experiences – those experiences that I never suspected would become part of the “research” that later led me to this film. Of course, while writing the script, I consulted psychiatrists and psychologists because I had to get to know the mental-health system better from their perspective in order to make things more believable and real.

Apart from the actual road trip, what does this journey symbolise for your heroes?
Every journey has its challenges during which the characters truly reveal themselves. I wanted to throw them into a situation where everyone would be equally vulnerable. I love road movies, and it was a pure pleasure writing the script. I felt like I was travelling alongside my heroes while, step by step, I was getting to know them better.

Furthermore, I wanted to create the feeling that my heroes may seem, from a distance, like another group of carefree, happy youngsters, who are just going to the seaside. Only the viewer gets the chance to get closer to them and to observe the real struggles they are going through.

Is this also the reason why you call them “survivors”?
I like the word “survivor” because it suggests that our heroes are active; they are fighting to survive, even though it doesn’t always seem that way. It’s an incredibly hard job to stay alive when you are fighting a war in your own head. You achieve recognition for your work, but no one awards you for staying alive, and this is more difficult.

So I wanted to send my love to those people who understand better than anyone else what this film is about, those who see themselves or their friends and loved ones in our characters. I do see a great deal of strength and even hope in them – in their battles and in their will to survive. It might sound incredibly cheesy, but for me, they are superheroes, and that’s why I wanted to call them survivors. I just wanted to say: “You may not make it till the end, but you came a long way, and I respect you for that. I know what you are going through, and I know it sucks.”

Although instead of going for a dramatic approach, you gave it a more light-hearted feel.
I strongly believe that humour is a way to face suffering. When you are close to death, you fight back with laughter. Practically, this is really all we have.

How did you approach the story with your actors?
We talked, we rehearsed a lot, and we even listened to music. We did some research – for his role, Paulius Markevičius, for example, studied bipolar disorders. All three of the main actors are great professionals, and very sensitive. It was a real pleasure working with them.

Regarding the music, why did you use Hiperbolė’s songs?
Hiperbolė is a well-known band for Lithuanians, and their music gives it the feeling of something safe and recognisable. This is in contrast with the changing moods and the loneliness that the characters face. Also, their songs are very emotional, and they hurt my heart, but in a good way.

What were the main challenges when shooting the film?
I believe the biggest challenge in any film is to open up and to be honest. On the practical side, we didn’t have a huge budget, and we only had 18 shooting days. I can’t complain, though, because it was a conscious decision to make this film, at that time and in that way. As I said before, I didn’t want to wait.

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