The Tribe was a bold new cinematic experience for me. Starring entirely deaf actors speaking sign language with no subtitles for hearing audiences, The Tribe turned the tables on me and let me feel like an outsider in a world that was still entirely clear. I got to interview director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky when he came to Los Angeles for AFI Fest. Now that The Tribe is expanding to theaters across the country, it’s time to share our discussion on The Tribe.
Because The Tribe left me with so many questions after watching it, this interview may work best if you’ve already had a chance to see the film. The last few questions discuss spoilers, but they are spoilers you will want to know about as much as I did. Check http://drafthousefilms.com/film/the-tribe for playdates of The Tribe.
Nuke the Fridge: Since there’s no spoken dialogue in the film, were you ever able to shoot a scene without sync sound at all?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: No, we always had a big sound department. All the sound from the scenes was actually recorded in the scenes.
Nuke: Will there be a different title card in every language explaining that there are no subtitles or translations of the sign language?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: Yeah, I think in different languages, it’s the distributor’s business, but I think yes. In France, it’s in French.
Nuke: Would you consider putting a version with subtitles on the DVD, so that after people view it as intended they can see it again with a different experience?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: We have a sales agent who sold the film to different distributors. He already sold more than 30 territories and everybody who buys the film, there’s an article in the contract. The film without subtitles, voiceover, it is an artistic decision and you must respect it. Any subtitles, voiceover or any changes is completely restricted. It’s the obligation for any distributor.
Nuke: So you maintain that even for home video.
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: Everywhere. This was the one question I would not discuss with my agent.
Nuke: Were you concerned that viewers won’t know the characters’ names because they’re never spoken?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: I don’t think so. People can read the credits but nobody reads the credits. Of course I can tell The Boy, The Girl, The Second Girl. They have names and some of the characters have the names of friends from my childhood.
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: Of course. They can watch it just like usual films because they understand the dialogue. It was a very interesting thing. The film was already released in France theatrically. The French newspaper Le Figaro made a very interesting experiment. They asked a popular French writer, daughter of deaf parents, who could understand the sign language to come into The Tribe. Then she reviewed it for this newspaper. She said she could understand something like 20% of the film. Of course she liked the film because she understood. I took the film to different places and different countries and have always told them I didn’t make a film for deaf people especially and I didn’t make a film about deaf people especially. I just made a film with death people. This is a film for the general audience. It was a big challenge to me that people understand my film without any subtitles. Yes, people can understand Ukrainian sign language, they could understand the dialogue. But to be clear, it’s at most 10% because it’s a very special dialect.
Nuke: Even though most of us don’t understand the dialogue, are you proud of the dialogue you wrote in the script?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: Of course, I wrote an absolutely usual script in Final Draft with spoken dialogue. Deaf people spoke my language in sign language. We have an interpreter who had two obligations. The first obligation, they must help me communicate with the actors. The second, they must control that the actors speak what it says in the screenplay.
Nuke: Why did you decide not to have any music underscoring the film?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: It’s a long discussion. I have a position. I think music is not necessary for this story. It’s right especially for me. For a different director, it’s different. For example, for the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction it’s something incredible. It’s very different but it’s great. For me, I agree with Dogme, Lars Von Trier, the Italian neorealists. If you use music, you must show a radio or player. It’s a very simple way in my opinion. I can put a monkey on the stage and put Bernard Hermann music and [it seems like] the monkey is nervous. If I put very romantic music, then [it seems like] the monkey is in love. But it was a still monkey. This is something I control. This is a really great happiness for someone who likes total control.
Nuke: Was it an added challenge to film so many scenes in long takes?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: It is not correct to just discuss one certain element. For my story, I think it works better without spoken words, in sign language, with a moving camera, in the long takes, long shots. It didn’t change the point of view of the camera. Everything makes the movie work, all those elements. Any element by itself doesn’t mean anything. It’s only together. Yes, it was a little bit difficult because you must prepare very well. It was very funny because when we would start to shoot, the actress was great but for example the steadicam missed the actual action. When the steadicam is moving to the actor, the actor is already tired. In the end, you have to put everything together to make a good shot. Sometimes our movie shift was going on for 24 hours, nonstop. We had an Arri Alexa, because if we shot on film stock we’d be completely bankrupt, not only me but my producer as well. Of course our secret is a lot of rehearsal, an incredible number of rehearsals. We have a week or two week rehearsal, without any equipment. Just with camera crew and actors and we’re working so when we shoot the scene it is ready.
Nuke: How many takes did you have to do of THAT scene, and how long does that take actually run?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: I think approximately six or seven. I’m very proud of this scene because everybody’s talking to me about “abortion scene.” Somebody was sick in London about the abortion scene and was a little bit shocked. It’s a completely illusion. We have a real dangerous scene in the film. For example, the death of the pimp in the truck park, it was very, very dangerous because it’s a real truck, it’s a real deaf guy. He’s not a stunt man. It was iced ground. It was hard to stand on it so it was very slippery. The truck actually weighs 25 tons. It’s very dangerous. We have seven stuntmen taking care of this trick but under the car was actually the real actor. We can actually put it in the Guinness Book, this actual trick with a deaf person. But the abortion scene is not a dangerous scene. It’s completely illusion but we rehearsed very well. We went to a hospital with a woman who actually works as an abortionist. They had a rubber body of the woman with a vagina. You practice on this rubber and if you do something wrong, it screams. Then this doctor was sitting close to me and watching on the monitor and screaming louder than me when something was going wrong in the scene. We prepared it very well because it’s completely illusion but it impressed people. To be clear, it’s absolutely safe, this scene. For me the scene was successful. The circus has tricks like cutting a woman in half, all those kind of illusions.
Nuke: I understand it’s an illusion, but it’s powerful technique.
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: It’s very funny because this way of abortion, they used to do it this way. I’m not a big expert in abortion. Of course I am a big expert in abortion after I worked on the film. This woman told me how to do it and I put it in the movie.
Nuke: I’m interested in the illusion of filmmaking. For the head crushings, did you have to use visual effects?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: I want to be an old school director. We have no CGI in the film. I mean, we used it to remove a shot of the boom in a mirror.
Nuke: What do you want to do next?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: I think now is the best time for me to collect money on the next film. As well, I prepare something like a neo noir. It’s called Luxembourg. It’s a film about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone but called Luxembourg because when you come into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, they always give you a drill on how to stay safe. There is a moment when they compare the size of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to Luxembourg. It’s actually the same size as the country. I had a very short career as a journalist in the agency that manages this place, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Nuke: Will that be a traditional film with spoken language?
Miroslav Slaboshpitsky: I’m just working on the script and developing it. I’m not ready to answer your question right now.