When you want to help young men escape forced conscription in the Red Army, you must get ready to face the consequences with NKVD and KGB. Antons Juhnevics, a rural Catholic priest, who, in the wake of the second Soviet occupation, does something not every priest would do: helping young Latvians to escape forced call in the red army. He hopes that this fight will be over with the end of the World War II, and perhaps, after that, the Soviet will leave Latvia. But how could have a man ever predict that the Soviet will live for seventy long years, and that the fight he puts himself in is useless?
During Canadian premiere of “Alias Loner” at the European Union Film Festival, I had the pleasure to sit down with filmmaker Normunds Pucis to discuss his Alias Loner.
MOVIEMOVESME: Your docu-drama is featuring in the European Union Film Festival opening night. Can you share what you’re feeling, anticipating or perhaps the excitement?
Normunds Pucis: Oh yeah, I’m really excited. It’s unbelievable because when I started to make my movie I couldn’t imagine my movie would be the opening film for the festival. It started with a small budget and the film has grown, so for me it is a great success as my first feature film for opening night.
MOVIEMOVESME: What inspired you to make the film about Anton?
Normunds Pucis: I read the story and it touched me. He is a priest and he becomes a partisan leader, that’s a very unusual situation and there’s a lot of conflict in the story. Where there’s drama there’s a cinema and for me it was an interesting story so I decided to make it into a movie.
MOVIEMOVESME: Where did the idea come from to make it a docu-drama because you have used archival footage like documentaries but roles have been played by actors?
Normunds Pucis: It started as a typical documentary film and then I decided that let’s take one step towards fiction. I didn’t want to make a classical documentary, I wanted to make something that’s hard to identify, even for me. It’s right between a documentary and fiction film and yes the story remains very close to all the events that happened and has been played by actors mostly. There’s also room for interpretation of events as it happens. For me it is more interesting to make such a movie rather than just some historians talking about the events; it’s more challenging in terms of art, in terms of cinema, in terms of searching new ways to make such movies.
MOVIEMOVESME: Based on your research and understanding, what do you think of Anton, a priest deciding to become a partisan?
Normunds Pucis: It’s a strange story and he was a very controversial person. He wasn’t an ordinary priest, that’s why he’s so interesting. He’s a person in a very different situation and he looks for an exit, for a solution and he’s very human. He takes some step and then tries to look for a way out of the situation. That’s why it’s he’s a typical priest, his decisions are questionable and so is he. First he refuses to become a leader and the people are disappointed.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about how you put the screenplay on to the screen and the role of music and cinematography?
Normunds Pucis: Music is essential for the movie because I like this composer very much, he’s quite famous and he composes spiritual music. When I asked him to write the music, he wasn’t able to write because he had his own experience with KGB; he was young. This touched me very much but after a while he decided to write the music and it’s been as successful as the film. His music has been recorded the old-fashioned way; it’s not digital. I had two operators with me in Latvia and as an artist it is very essential for me to feel comfortable in black and white. It was very essential to think about the cinematography and all the sets to tell the story.
MOVIEMOVESME: This was your first feature film and the topic you chose isn’t very marketable.
Normunds Pucis: Yes, it’s not easy to sell this film but I’m not making movies to sell, rather I just want to express this pain and talk about all these people and the history. The film can be a spiritual experience for some people.