How hot was it when you were shooting?
We shot in the spring and the summer. It was very hot, sometimes 50 degrees. Once the shepherd said it was okay, we were there, and we had one chance to shoot. You see it onscreen. We tried to repeat it, because we thought we might have problems with the film stock, and we couldn't develop it right away, so we weren't sure what we had. When it was shot, we understood that it was magic. You felt that you were a witness to a miracle. We wanted to repeat it, but it wasn't possible. The sheep would run away, and the next time they would give birth would be November, when it was a different situation.
Was the story based on a true story, on something that happened?
There were some situations that I knew beforehand, but I just improvised, together with my co-writer [Gennady Ostrivskiy]. I knew one guy in Kazakhstan who had a problem with ears. He could not marry because he had big ears. I also met a family with a girl named Tulpan. This is not typical, because the word is Russian. It means tulip. The mother called her Tulpan, because it was spring, and there were a lot of tulips in bloom. I decided to combine these situations. Now in a city, these situations are not so difficult, but in this place, it becomes a big problem.
Barack Obama has ears like this - it has changed the situation completely for men with big ears. It might help the film. How did you cast?
I understood that shooting would not be easy and would not be a short period. I did not know that it would be four years, but I was sure that it would not be three months. These were strong characters, so they had to be very special actors, people who wanted very much to make the film, who had enthusiasm. And, of course, they had to be good actors. We did a huge casting operation in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the theater school there is very bad - Soviet-style, very artificial, not organic. It was very hard, because when you met the acting students, they were interesting, but when they started acting, it was awful, all the time. I realized that I could not use actors who had a lot of theatrical experience in Kazakhstan. So I looked for young actors, without much experience in Kazakhstan. We looked in every city of Kazakhstan. We had an assistant who made video recordings - everywhere - in the streets, in theaters, because you never know where you will find somebody. I saw thousands of people.
We found the main character in the film school. He was a student of directing. It shows that this broad casting approach is very effective. Sometimes you find people in such a place where you can't imagine finding someone.
Baumgartner: The shepherd is an opera singer.
Had he been in a film before?
Dvortsevoy: I think once he had auditioned for a role in a Kazakh film. But I felt he was organic. He can be silent but you feel an energy, always. Looking at his face, his body, at the way he was talking, I was sure that he would be very good.
What was the hardest thing to get your actors to do? When you watch the film, there's the birthing of a sheep. The actor had to breathe into the newborn sheep's mouth. If you're not used to that, it must be quite a shock.
I told you that I took people who wanted very much to make a film. I told them it will be very hard, that they would earn money, but not so much money, and they would spend a lot of energy over this part of their lives. So I felt that they wanted this very much. I told them that there would be very difficult situations like giving birth, because I knew already that the actor playing the shepherd was an opera singer, but I knew already that in his youth he was a shepherd, or the assistant of a shepherd, so he knew this life a little bit. All the people in Kazakhstan, even if they live in cities, they came from villages, where families have six or seven children, even today.
The girl in the film, who was from northern Kazakhstan, very close to Russia, had never been to a yurt before. I remember how hard it was for her. She had never eaten on the floor.
You have a beautiful effect in the film with the dust that is everywhere. How difficult a situation was that for filming, with the threat to the cameras of these particles?
We covered the camera. Dust in that place is very dangerous, because it is very tiny. There was dust everywhere.
Baumgartner: In 40 weeks of shooting, we had no damage to the camera, because we had a great cinematographer, Jola Dylewska.
Did you expect the shooting to go for 40 weeks?
Of course not. But when you're not there, you don't understand that a slight problem becomes a huge problem there. For example, if your tractor is broken, how do you repair it? You have to bring spare parts. This is 500 kilometers from a city. If your camel runs away, how do you find another camel? For the crew, for health, there are a lot of spiders and snakes. It's dangerous. In my opinion, we were very quick.
Dvortsevoy: The problems were not only problems of nature. I changed the script during shooting. With a birthing scene that ended up being ten minutes, I then had to cut some scenes and review the story. It was an amazing scene, so I could not cut this. In my life I could shoot this scene only once, it was so fantastic. I saw this a thousand times, and even now when I see it, it feels like magic. It's very difficult to redo the script during shooting, but I realized what we could have, in the end, an extremely interesting and alive movie, a very different type of movie.
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