Following a thuggish pack of deaf high school students through prostitution and stomach-churning violence, Ukrainian director Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe” isn’t for the weak-hearted. The film, told entirely in sign language, has won top prizes at almost every international film festival abroad. It screens this week at St. Anthony Main.
Vivacious Russian star Yana Novikova, who like the other cast members is deaf, appeared last month at a preview screening of the film, sitting down later to discuss her debut with the assistance of two sign language translators.
Q: How did you begin your acting career?
A: I always wanted to be in a deaf acting program. I fell in love with it at 6 or 7 when I watched “Titanic.” That was what inspired me. My mother told me “That’s probably not possible because you’re deaf.” The problem I had was that I live in Belarus, where there’s not a lot of opportunities for that program in college. They really have only two options for deaf people. Mechanical engineering was one option or I could be a seamstress. I didn’t like either one.
They had a theater school program in Kiev, an academy that had very difficult requirements. It was an entirely hearing program with spots for just three deaf participants. The academy didn’t take me and I was heartbroken. It was my dream to be an actor. But Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy was in the audience, watching our auditions. He gave me his business card and asked me to come back and audition for “The Tribe.” I was really surprised and very excited, so I came back to Kiev. And now there were 300 deaf people auditioning for that movie! A week later I found out I was cast.
Q: “Titanic” is romantic. “The Tribe” is so dark. How did you feel about performing in such a demanding film?
A: As an actor, the part is the goal. Whatever emotion a character has, happy or sad, that’s my goal. “The Tribe” is very dark, yes, really awful sometimes. But it was my first acting opportunity, so I was thrilled to take advantage of it.
Q: Your character experiences so much pain. Was that an emotionally trying role?
A: It was very different from my life, constantly needing money, the physical abuse, being a prostitute. So for me to try to think about what Anya was experiencing, that was very difficult to get in that person’s head.
Q: It portrays the school experience for deaf students as one full of violent hooligans. Is that entirely fictional or is there some truth?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent accurate, but the director did use real stories from real life situations and kind of collaborated them into one. He did want to show that the deaf have a mafia, if you will. They really do have that in Russia. And when it showed to deaf audiences in Ukraine, a lot of them cried and said, “That really happened to me.” It really resonated with them because they really connected with a lot of those characters.