Set to premiere in the East of the West competition, Aik Karapetjans’ People Out There is an intense Latvian film about a young man who dreams of a better life despite his difficult circumstances.

Producer Robert Vinovskis talks about Latvia, language and coming to Karlovy Vary.

The film paints quite a bleak picture of contemporary Latvian society. How did People Out There come about?

Although the film is set in Latvia, the issues it deals with are well-known in every country, regardless of its standard of living. Which is why from the very beginning, our objective was not to do a social critique about the situation in Latvia, but rather tell the very human story about a specific problem – the difficulties that young people from disadvantaged societies face when they don’t have any goals in life, and the fact that there’s very little chance that they will get out of this hole.

The film is centred around the character of Jan, with Ilya Scherbakov giving a great performance. How did you go about casting him for the role?

Since the film is in Russian, our opportunities for finding actors in Latvia were very limited. Which is why we went to St. Petersburg to cast. It was quite difficult because we needed young men around 20 years of age, which means that they haven’t had much film experience. We met with a lot of actors, and chose Ilya; this is his first time on the big screen. Our casting agent, Nelly Barkova, also put in a lot of work – she’s been doing this job at Lenfilm for almost 50 years!

What was the filming experience like, given that this was Aik’s first feature film?

Although Aik had only made one short film before making People Out There, he’s one of the most structured and disciplined directors that I know. I was already assured of this during pre-production, so when we started filming, there was nothing to be nervous about. We didn’t spend a single hour more than needed on the set because of Aik. Consequently, we were able to work on other project at the same time – the horror movie The Man in the Orange Jacket – which will be finished at the end of this year. In short, Aik didn’t have any of the problems that new graduates from film school usually suffer from; and now he can call himself an experienced director. I hope we’ll be able to continue working together.

How do you think people will react to the film and its depiction of Latvian society?

The film has a very complicated context in Latvia. It’s the first Russian-language film ever financed by the Latvian government, even though almost 40% of the population speaks Russian. We chose to go down this road because it corresponds to the film’s story, which is rooted in a certain reality. Three years after the project’s start, when the film was almost finished, various political machinations in Latvia had brought about a referendum about giving the Russian language status as the second official state language. The referendum was held 12 days before the film’s opening. In the politicized atmosphere of the time, no one was talking about the film itself any more, but rather about the language issue. The Latvian language ended up staying the only official state language (with the help of my vote, as well), and when the situation cooled down, the media started noticing the film’s quality and other characteristics. It was seen by a large part of Latvia’s Russian population, which usually doesn’t go out to see films that are made in Latvia. I think we’ve done a good job in terms of integration. And I’m very happy that, regardless of the language in which the film’s characters speak, we’ve managed to communicate through the language of film – which is understood by all audiences, no matter what their mother tongue may be.

You’re also working on The Man In The Orange Jacket, the first Latvian horror film to be made in many years. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

When the People Out There project was put on hold due to various production issues that required waiting times, we decided to make a small genre-film in which we could try out the assembled filming group before we started to shoot People Out There; like football teams, when they hold test matches. But the project turned out to be much bigger than we had anticipated. As a producer, I was constantly worrying about the dilemma between making a “pure” genre film, and my inner need to somehow intellectualize all of the ridiculous blood-spilling. It’s really going to be the first horror film made in Latvia for a long time. Strangely enough, the horror film genre has never been close to either my or Aik’s hearts. We’ll see soon enough if this will have any impact on the outcome. But there’s one thing I can say for sure – there’s nothing more fun than filming horror.

What does it mean to you that the film is set to premier in Karlovy Vary?

It is a great honour and joy to show a film in a festival in which many masters of film have participated, and which is also one of the oldest film festivals in the world. I’m especially happy that we’ve been able to achieve this with our first film, and I hope we’ll be able to return to this festival with our next films.