‘Side-street’ – the people’s novel
Could have made a book
‘The run of the time is stunning,’ both authors sum it up talking to cultural portal 'Riga 2014' a few days before the anniversary, and admit that whether or not they can call themselves satisfied at the end of this distance will get clear after the premiere. As it is one thing to see it through on the editing table, and quite something else – to watch it, slightly distanced, in the audience on screen. ‘I’m sure there will be those who won’t like what we have cooked here, and ask again – what do you see in your Side-street meriting a film?...
But it mattered to us to show how the street and the fates of its inhabitants have changed in these years.
It is kind of a documentary people’s novel,’ screenwriter and author of the idea of the film Tālivaldis Margēvičs says with a smile (by the way, he has been one of the citizens of the Side-street all his life).
Kaspars Garda, Rīga-2014
He was the one who thought of immortalizing the stories of his neighbors and his native street on film in late 1980s, although it had began as an idea for a book. ‘But we decided on the idea of a film,’ Tālivaldis Margēvičs, assisted by director of the film Ivars Seleckis, continues his story, not making a secret of that, back then, on the eve of Atmoda, it had not been so easy to get permission and money for the envisioned film. Here, in Latvia, they have had to encounter the attitude: What use could be making a documentary about folk from a side-street and who could be interested to see it? ‘But Moscow, where you had to receive the go-ahead in those times, was far more accepting and we were allowed to film,’ the authors are glad to remember and mention as well that it had been quite a bit of work to convince the people of the Side-street to agree to be filmed, but they had succeeded to earn their trust in the end.
The Side-street. Photo by Riga 2014
‘This is how ‘The Side-street’ – the only Latvian film to have been awarded by European Film Academy to date and laureate of other festival prizes, one of the dozen national films included in the cultural canon, came to be made!’ – both of the filmmakers are gratified to say, adding that no small part of their sense of professional fulfillment was also the possibility the film furnished to help several of the film’s characters, for example, to daughter of writer Jānis Veselis Daiga, who had been forced to leave the house of her grandparents and seek a roof over her head elsewhere because of a rift in the family.
‘The then secretary of the Central committee of the Communist Party of Latvia Jānis Vagris had felt so moved by the film that he cried watching it and ordered to solve Daiga’s lodging problem immediately granting her an apartment.’
In turn, the time of making the second film of the trilogy ‘New Times on the Side-street’ in 1998 coincided with the denationalization of property, so Daiga and her brother were able to recover part of their grand-father’s estate. And the publicity had helped stonemason Aldis to find more clients for memorial plaques. ‘So we can safely say that none of our protagonists had suffered injuries in the process of filming and we never received complaints of lives destroyed because of this process.’
‘Are you sure this is not a feature film?’
Eleven years after the first film, Tālivaldis Margēvičs and Ivars Seleckis started on the next part making the ‘New Times on the Side-street.’ ‘You will remember how our society was evolving, don’t you? Rampant pillaging, privatization, prihvat-isation, there were criminal ‘roofs’ to respond to, denationalization gone mad,’ T. Margēvičs recalls with Ivars Seleckis adding that the second installment had been commissioned – the Side-street itself had began a fund-raising for the next film to be made.
‘It was just the time to reflect the developing social processes, but – centering on simple life-stories. And the third film ‘Capitalism on Side-street’ came to follow this model.
For, if you have a chance to document something in the period of twenty five years following the fates of people… I cannot think of another such precedent. Perhaps, it was attempted, in a way by the authors of ‘Is It Easy to Be Young?’ authors reflect. In their view, the most important had been the possibility to present the inhabitants of the street inter-acting. ‘That was what had started the idea that we had made a feature film in the first place: the story telling, the traditional dramaturgy of the film,’ – its screenwriter explains and smiles remembering that Japanese had perceived the film as a feature with acted parts. ‘Since I live on that street, I know their personal tales, and they are not afraid to reveal them to me. And, what they would not disclose, I observe as their neighbor.’ Of course, Ivars Seleckis underlines, the agreement not to defame the side-streeters is strictly observed, otherwise, they would simply refuse to trust the crew. ‘You say there were those who complained that they were left out of the film,’ both gentlemen share a laugh.
Documentary film cannot wait!
In twenty five years that have passed since the first film, quite a lot has changed: some of the people who lived in this street have already passed away and children of back then are grown men and women now… ‘Of course, the process was not served well by the fact that we had to finance the film by scratch.
It means nothing in feature cinema, for you can work on your film for several years, but the documentary genre is one where, having taken up a theme and being forced to stop, you can see everything cardinally changed in a couple of years.’
Asked about other aspects to separate this film from its predecessors, the authors say that, first of all, it is a record of economic crisis, reflecting the consequences of it for lives and fates of people, how they are changed and affected and whether or not they have means to counter it. ‘A millionaire loosing a million will complain of hardships just like the next man. But if somebody looses the basic things in his life, it is harrowing,’ the authors of the film sum up, emphasizing thou that capitalism will not addressed in it as they have not worked to publicize or declare anything; they tell stories of peoples lives.
We don’t divide our characters into good and bad: the film will close in on hobos as well as on Ieva who has lived on the Side-street for long enough to have been a little girl in the first film and to have earned as much as her doctor’s degree in the third part. Therefore, we have the widest spectrum of character!’ Also, it turns out that several people have moved to live elsewhere, while even a few foreigners have chosen the Side-street as their new home…
A story not without an unpleasant incident
By the way, this filming had been nearly fatal choice for the authors themselves, who had to live through quite a nasty experience last summer – they were attacked by an aggressive biker and three thugs who may have imagined that the filmmakers endangered their ‘business’… ‘Their leader literally tried to run us down on his bike and throw us on the ground. But, when we called the police, the rest of them wringed my hand and wanted to unman my cellular and rid Ivars from his camera…’ Tālivaldis Margēvičs is not particularly keen to recall the depressing incident adding only that the Municipal police had refused to react initially directing them to the State police. And only after Mrs. Margēviča had managed to contact the authorities of Riga City Council, the situation had been solved – the police had arrived, taken away the attackers and apologized for the delay.