Marysia Nikitiuk • Director of Lucky Girl
“For me, making a film is a journey, and this trip is always unique”
- We chatted to the Ukrainian director about the background to her film, revolving around a popular, selfish, career-orientated TV presenter who gets seriously ill but soldiers on
Lucky Girl [+see also:
interview: Marysia Nikitiuk
film profile] by Ukrainian director Marysia Nikitiuk was presented in competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The story revolves around a popular, selfish, career-orientated TV presenter called Nina. She is tenacious and successful, and after getting seriously ill, she wants to keep living her life on her own terms. We talked to the director about the background to the film and her lead actress, among other topics.
Cineuropa: The film seems to be based on the real story of television presenter Yanina Sokolova. What did you know about her story, and why did you take on such a difficult topic?
Marysia Nikitiuk: I’m convinced that all films are based on real life somehow, and almost every movie can be inspired by a “true story”. I wrote the script and filmed it: it is partly based on the story of Yanina Sokolova, and partly on other people whom I interviewed. At that time, Sokolova’s story was well known; it was in magazines and was very well covered in the mass media. That is why we decided to take the problem of cancer and approach it more broadly. It’s the background to a story about a strong woman who is haunted by illusory values imposed by society. In fact, the entire film is devoted to her search for renewed strength, a new self – her real self.
How did Sokolova herself react to the fact that you portrayed her in a less-than-complimentary light?
She is the producer of the film, so of course she has seen it. Again, I did not set out to portray Sokolova; it's not a biopic. This is a separate film – let’s say that Yanina Sokolova is the initiator, the creator of the idea and the producer. I conducted about 30 interviews with doctors and patients, and actually, the script grew out of all that material. Yanina was constantly involved in the process, since she was the producer. She didn’t just come and watch; she had a constant presence in the creation of this film, at every stage. Therefore, she obviously had a positive attitude.
Some people say that a director’s debut film is more personal, and in the second, the filmmaker already has his or her own signature, as he or she shoots it with a steadier hand. Did you feel this was the case?
I love my work. For me, making a film is a journey, and this trip is always unique. Maybe some people will have their own system, but for me, that’s absolutely not the case. What I mean is that each film is unique. Of course, there is a big difference between shooting a short and a feature – here, of course, there are more people, more responsibility, more work and greater effort. But I always study the topic I want to cover and do the research. Even at the stage where you’re creating a script, you are always on a journey. You have various tasks and there is a starting point, but you always move through the process in an unpredictable fashion. And I like to explore and use a kind of “childish” approach. It’s the same during filming itself because no matter how well prepared you are, the filming process, the set and the actors bring surprises and contribute additional meanings, which are sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
The premiere of your first film, When the Trees Fall [+see also:
interview: Marysia Nikitiuk
film profile], took place at the Berlinale. Why did you decide to show this film at Tallinn instead of taking it to the Berlinale again?
Tallinn is a wonderful film festival. Moreover, with what’s going on right now, you might be here today and gone tomorrow. Sorry: I'm based in Kyiv, and I'm already used to the way life is today. I think all of the team, including Yanina, is getting used to it there. Moreover, for me, personally, Tallinn Black Nights is a very special festival because it is the first foreign festival that I went to, back in 2015, and it was the first time I presented When the Trees Fall, at the co-production market there. In 2015, this market was my first gateway into a professional, international environment. You remember things like that. This is a class-A festival, and I feel very good about being here, especially since I am now presenting Lucky Girl here in the main programme. Also, during a co-production session at the market, I am presenting Cherry Blossom, my next script, which I developed at Sarajevo. In fact, at the Sarajevo Film Festival, we won the Eurimages Special Co-production Development Award [see the interview] for the development of this screenplay.
What did you ask of the actress playing the lead role? How did you choose her and what was most important to you about her performance?
Ksenia Khyzhniak is better known as a blogger and theatre actress, and she had no film experience as such before this, but that didn’t stop me. Ksenia was incredible during the rehearsals. She conveyed just the right kind of tragedy, and a sense of transformation, and she had the wide range that I needed for the embodiment of this role. She also had great courage because there were naked shoots, traumatic shoots, tantrums... I believe that this can be traumatic for the actor. She had to jump off a bridge – in other words, she had to perform tasks that not every actress would have been able to manage. It takes guts to agree to all this, come to the casting, and then pull it off in a professional and cool-headed way.
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