Star of our tribe

The interview with Yana Novikova, who woke up famous after the showing of Ukrainian drama Tribe

The Listapad Film Festival saw Tribe competing for the main prize, with Yana Novikova introducing the film personally. We talked to her before the opening of the festival.
By Anastasia Kostyukovich

For some, the story of Cinderella is a fairytale. For Yana Novikova, it’s an unusual ‘true story’. This girl from a Belarusian village in the Gomel Region seems quite ordinary (although, in fact, she is hearing impaired and uses sign language). She woke up famous after the showing of Ukrainian drama Tribe, by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, at the Cannes International Film Festival this spring. Since then, the film has taken part in more than 70 festivals worldwide, and has received 15 awards, becoming the most titled in the history of Ukrainian cinema. Meanwhile, Yana Novikova has become a film star of European scale.

Yana NovikovaThe Listapad Film Festival saw Tribe competing for the main prize, with Yana introducing the film personally. We talked to her before the opening of the festival.

Yana how much has the film changed your life?

Completely! Before the film, my life was dull and ordinary. In childhood, I didn’t go to kindergarten because, in our village, there was no kindergarten for deaf people. I studied at home with my mum, who always wanted me to be creative. Then, I studied in Rechitsa, attending a boarding school for the hearing-impaired. I took part in dancing, and pantomime, and painted a great deal. Having finished school in 2010, I didn’t know what to do next, as there aren’t many educational institutions for those who can’t hear. I entered the Gomel State Machine-Building College, but gave up in my 3rd year, as it simply didn’t suit me. I was wasting my time to no purpose.

Had you dreamt of becoming an actress?

Deep in my heart — yes! It’s such a beautiful profession! When the dream came true, I simply gasped: could it be true that I’d become an actress?! I’d never before believed that I could do so. I remember, as a little girl, watching a cartoon about Cinderella: how she transformed from a servant to a princess. Certainly, I wanted such a wonderful transformation. Now, after shooting the film ‘Tribe’, I can afford to see the whole world, and meet interesting people, directors and film stars.

What brought you to the cinema?

I went to Kiev to audition for Mimics ad Gesture Theatre Raduga (Rainbow). There, Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy approached me and asked whether I wanted to audition for a film. At the casting, there were many people, so I didn’t believe I’d be chosen. When I received my invitation to shoot, I jumped with joy! I had been given the leading female role!

Scene from the film Tribe, awarded the Grand Prix at Listapad Festival
Scene from the film Tribe, awarded the Grand Prix at Listapad Festival

Your parents must have tried to dissuade you from taking your trip to Kiev, or from acting in a film. How did you convince yourself and them, that it was a worthy risk?

At first, my mum was absolutely against the idea, being worried for my safety abroad. However, in my heart, I felt that this was a path to a different future. I didn’t see my family for six months while shooting but, when the film reached Cannes and won a prize, my parents were not only surprised but began to trust me more.

Have they seen the film?

Not yet, but ‘Tribe’ is being shown in Minsk for ‘Listapad’! Although the film is in Ukrainian, I represent Belarus and am very proud of this. At last, my boyfriend, my younger sister and friends will see the film. Until now, they’ve only known about it from me. Now, they can see everything with their own eyes.

Tribe has now premiered at more than 70 film festivals worldwide. You’ve been travelling a great deal, representing the film. Which festival do you remember most?

Certainly, Cannes! After all, it is the largest film festival in the world: a place of concentrated bohemia, stars and celebrities. It was very exciting to think how the public would receive our film. The first time I saw the film was in Cannes. I remember how people clapped, and how I cried with happiness when I appeared on stage alongside the director, to take our prize [the Grand Prix for Week of Criticism section]. Myroslav lifted me in his arms on stage: very easy for him as, after shooting, I weighed just 49kg. (Laughs.)

It’s important that this film isn’t your first and last. Do you think your meetings with people from the world of film will bear fruit?

At the ‘Golden Apricot’ Film Festival, in Yerevan, I met Director Dzhivan Avetisyan, who has offered me a role in ‘Mysterious Fairytale Girl’. I also met well-known Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who praised ‘Tribe’ greatly. I plan to dabble in direction: a short-film called ‘Callas’, which is interesting to me. It compares women with flowers and is already at the stage of splitting into scenes. I plan to shoot in Kiev, and to continue my studies. In France, there is a school for deaf actors, so I want to learn how to apply. I have big plans and dream of gaining an Oscar for Best Actress, before going in for direction.
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