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Victoria Film Festival ’08 Interview – The Class (Klass) director Ilmar Raag

The Class (Klass) at Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“A psychologist told me that if it comes to the fight for a place under the sun, teenagers are ready to use whatever means they have. All schoolshootings over the world have a story of something that happened before. It is always the story of people loosing contact with society. Why it happens? “The Class” is a story of Joosep who is used to be bullied in his class. Everything changes when one of his classmates, Kaspar, almost by accident helps him once. This event turns the leaders of the class against Kaspar. The confrontations escalate because Kaspar considers now that defending Joosep is the question of honor for him. Being the object of the war, Joosep doesn't know what to do, but he's thrown toward the fatal moment, when even he thinks that he cannto stand it any more.” Director Ilmar Raag on “The Class” (Klass) which screens at this year’s Victoria Film Festival.

So you’re in a conversation with someone you haven’t met before at the Victoria fest and they ask if you have a film in the festival. What do you tell them to get them to come see your film? What’s your hook?

I think that many of earlier schoolshooting films have got it wrong. I asked Estonian schoolchildren to tell me stories about their real life and then decided to make a movie without politically correct wishful thinking. You cannut (or you shouldn't) make a film about violence without trying honestly to explain the reasons of the violence. So, “The class” is the story where you could almost think that the guys who are shooting their schoolmates in the school are good guys and unhappy victims. And when the film is over think about that manipulation one more time.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to wanting to make films.

I was once film journalist, then tv manager with decent salary. But the stories that you carry in your head are real burden. One day, I decided to get rid of this burden. So I left my well paid job in television and started with “The class”. My next two films are already written because they make part of that “burden”. I am right know kind of “filmmaker engagé”. More citizen that a filmmaker.

Tell me about how this production came together and how the film was made.

I had the basic storyline. Then I found myself in the company of 15 young people from 15 – 18 to whom I said: “May-be you won't be in the film, but please tell me real stories from your own school.” We had two workshops in a remote location for script development and they basically filled the script with real stories.

As I agreed with them that we were going to make a no-budget film (about 120 000 USD) everything depends on our willingness to put our time into the project. So, when the script was ready, I decided to use these non-professional young people as actors and we spend about a month rehearsing the scenes on the real locations of the film. The real shooting took then only 12 days.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We used Sony XDCcam videocamera with a mount for 35 mm lenses. The aim was to achieve somekind of 16 mm look when we transfer the film later on 35 theatrical print. This was purely financial decision. At the same time, shooting on video allowed to shoot long takes that helped young actors to play always the entire scene without being stopped
The shooting ratio of useful material was almost 1:18.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

Time. Because of the budget restraint, we had only 12 days. I means that with this speed you don't have time to think on the set. You can only execute an earlier plan. There're couple of scenes that suffer from that rushing speed.

Young actors play offered the most pleasurable moments. I remember after a scene I stepped aside because I had tears in my eyes. It was suprising to myself.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

For this film – Lars von Trier. I don't like all of his films, but I admire his methods. “Breaking the waves” is one of my all time favorite films. But then I like very different films and directors – from Ingmar Bergman to Ridley Scott.

How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? Do you have any interesting stories about how this film has screened before? If this is your first festival, what do you think you will expect at the film’s screenings at Victoria?

I have enjoyed the fact that “The class” has been taken as a starting poing for a social discussion rather than an artistic experiment. The international premiere of the film was in June 2007 in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

If you weren’t making movies, what other line or work do you feel you’d be in?

Probably writing.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Critical response is not very important because – first, it can be manipulated, secondly, critical text closes often the discussion inside criticism circles while real choises in real world are determined by much wider range factors. Critical texts are working well within clearly defined socio-demographics – these are people who are use to the reading.

This film will be screening at this year’s Victoria Film Festival, which runs February 1st to 10th, 2008. For more information on this film, screening times and general information about the festival, point your browser to the VFF’s official website HERE. – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/01/08 06:41:50
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