After a long road, Australian director Jayden Stevens’ Ukrainian-language film A Family will hit cinemas next week.
The black comedy premiered at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival, winning the inaugural Damian Hill Award for Independent Filmmaking.
However, the theatrical release plan was waylaid by COVID-19.
“Just before COVID hit we were about to do what we’re doing now, which is start talking about getting it out into cinemas,” Stevens told IF.
“It all stayed quiet until about two months ago [when] I got an email saying, ‘Hey we’re back on’.”
A Family tells the story of a lonely Ukrainian man who hires actors to portray his family, and stars Pavlo Lehenkyi, Liudmyla Zamydra, and Tetiana Kosianchuk.
Stevens co-wrote and produced the film with Thomas Swinburn, who also served as director of photography, with Olga Mykhaklets and Clea Frost producing alongside.
In crafting the script, Stevens wanted to blend the serious tone of a foreign European film and clash it with absurd dialogue.
The foreign language element was chosen to match the tone, but Stevens believes the need for subtitles also contributed to the final products’ success.
“When we were writing the dialogue we found it hilarious, but we thought ‘It’s so strange, I wonder if it’s going to be better read than said’.
“We thought reading it, it was really quirky, but when you start talking out loud and saying these things it might not work.
“We thought if this was subtitled it would keep that humour.”
The choice to set the film in Ukraine came naturally out of the writing process.
“The tone of it felt quite foreign, and so when we were thinking about places that we could shoot it, it just made sense to set it in a place that already felt quite foreign and removed and also a place that had a timeless feel to it.
“Ukraine is such a interesting place, where it has all those things.
“You can walk down the street and some parts of it feel like you’re in the ’70s with the cars they drive and the architecture. The aesthetics of the country were just perfect for the narrative of that story.”
An Australian directing Ukrainian actors posed a unique set of problems.
“The biggest challenge was it was much slower,” said Stevens.
“Everything had to go through a translator which was our producer Olga.
“I’d give her directions, she’d tell the actors what I said, then they’d have a discussion and she’d come back to me with some questions. The back and forth took quite a long time.
“The thing is, you watch a foreign film and you don’t speak that language but the performance still moves you.
“Whether you speak the language or not a bad performance is a bad performance so i was sort of going off my gut for most of it.”
A Family will screen in Dendy Cinemas as well as Lido Cinemas Melbourne, State Cinema Hobart, and The Pivotonian in Geelong from June 17 via Pivot Pictures.