Parental Guidance in Filmmaking.

Do you show your work to your parents?

I am sure American parents are super supportive, otherwise how would you explain the unfathomable self assurance of most Americans? The school system conspires with the parents, too.

– Both teams have won! – a referee announces to 2 competing groups of 9 year olds.

– Everybody gets a prize! – an arts teacher ends a drawing competition in a kindergarten.

– You are so pretty, you should be next Shirley Temple! – all girls in the class get the same note on Valentine’s day.

But I was brought up by Eastern European parents, the tough breed that doesn’t shell out encouragement easily.

– Did you draw this with your toes? – they say after you give them a handmade Happy Birthday card.

– You were 0.2 seconds short of the school’s previous year record, – after you win a 500 meter distance race.

– You look like an ugly teenage boy, – when you (a girl) are about to go to your first date ever.

– It’s not true and you embarrass our family, – my mother told me after my short story was published in a local paper. I was 14 at the time.

It was a personal funny story about me clearing out our pantry from perceived useless stuff like old burned pans, moldy jars of lard and rusted sieves only to have my mother upon returning from work to retrieve all the junk from the trash bin.

Since then my mother was always quite weary of my stories, they always revealed too much personal information for her cautious Eastern European self.

I don’t have a problem writing stories about imagined people, in fact, I LOVE writing pure fiction, imagined characters in fantasy events that never took place outside my head.

The problem is that no one is interested in my fiction. It is sappily emotional, overly romantic and it roots for an underdog (poor, old and disabled) whose psychology is not well comprehended by the writer.

In my long history of writing and telling stories I have discovered that people prefer narrative from my personal life, and they find it funny. My critical, unforgiving Eastern European eye makes it for a good comedy.

So, I write personal stories and sometimes I make personal films like “Teat Beat of Sex”. Perhaps that’s why I moved from Latvia to New York and make films in English – so that my mother wouldn’t understand them.

But the word got to my parents that their daughter is making a film based on family events.

– Relatives are worried, – my mother warned me a year ago. – They don’t want the family secrets fly out all over the place like drunken bats.

– Don’t worry, – I replied. – I’ll never release the film in Latvia.

But we don’t live in an age of Iron Curtain, and languages don’t create safe barriers anymore.

When we run a Kickstarter campaign, about 150 of our 800 backers were from Latvia. They unambiguously stated their interest to see the film translated and released in Latvia.

In campaigning heat one makes big promises like a horny man who temporarily loses his mind and promises marriage to a woman he intends only to “enter and exit”. Of course, I said YES we’ll translate the film!

But in the after-campaign sobriety a different thought had entered my mind. How could I upset my family? Latvia is a very small country of 2 million, everybody knows everybody else. Latvians, like their parents, are an opinionated and critical bunch, their comments can be skin scraping harsh. One of the infamous proverbs in Latvia is “The most delicious food for a Latvian is another Latvian“. I live in a safe distance from the place but my family members would have to pay consequences for my indiscretion.

However, translating the film is tempting. After all, I could lend my voice to 2 translations – in Latvian and Russian. It would be exciting to see how the film works in language other than English. Also, Latvians would probably be more appreciative then Americans of the strange visual metaphors and symbols used in the film, as they are coming from the same culture.

On my recent trip to Latvia for a brief (weeklong) visit, my parents insisted I show the film to them.

– We want to see this baby of yours, – they said. – To check if all the toes and fingers are in place. If something is missing, we’ll tell you.

I had no doubt they would.

Shivering with an apprehension, I set up my laptop for the screening on the kitchen table. I knew they had no power to stop me from releasing the film, but there is this 5 year old inside me yearning for parental approval. Some very small but still a part of me thinks that if they put veto on the project, that will be it.

The film started to roll and my worries were pushed aside by the hard work of trying to simultaneously translate the dialogue. It’s an impossible task for an inexpert like me, a lot of subtlety got lost. “It was the brief moment around Summer Solstice when everything explodes with blooming – nature’s way of assuring that seeds and fruit ripen just before the first frost in late August kills life and growth” was translated as ” ehr… Summer Solstice short… flowers… seeds… ehr… frost kills”.

20 minutes into the film I noticed my father’s face relax. Since it was HIS side of the family depicted in the film, I was anxious to know his thoughts, so I stopped the film and asked how they felt.

– It is fictionalized, – my father said simply.

– Are you concerned what your sibling might say about it?- I asked.

– No one would recognize this story as our family’s, – my mother said.

– Just wait till we get to the part with you, Mom, – I replied. – We’ll see how fictionalized it will seem to you then.

But when the part with her came on she just wanly smiled. She didn’t think it was her.

At the end of our kitchen screening they said they liked the film.

– It is an important story that should be told to Latvians as well as everybody else, – was their verdict. – Go ahead, translate and release the film here!

Such support and encouragement was unexpected. What is going on?

Have my parents got Americanized after watching too many American shows on Latvian TV?




About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Depression. Personal Stories, Hazards of being an artist, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Parental Guidance in Filmmaking.

  1. Jud says:

    They’re just setting you up Signe! That’s how parents work! hehehehehee…
    “When we run a Kickstarter campaign, about 150 of our 800 backers were from Latvia.”
    How wonderful! That delights me!



  2. tonatw says:

    wOw – I read this holding my breath, expecting the worst (I’m afraid my parents may have had a little bit of Eastern Europeanization). But here’s my thoughts on the parents thing: it isn’t Americanization but rather Getting Older that “mellows” them – at least that happened with mine. I’m so excited you’ll be translating it! – dubbing it, I assume – it’s really really hard to translate for subtitles because it always takes more words to say the same thing in the other language.

    • I think you are totally right – as parents age they get more tolerant and understanding.
      And YES we are going to dub the film in Latvian and Russian, the moment we have some income coming, to pay the fees.
      Thank you for your support!!!

      • Niffiwan says:

        Excellent, as a backer of the film I’d be interested to watch it in both English and Russian. I wonder which version I will prefer. Do you ever find that certain ways of speaking about things just work better in one language? In my case, speaking with family and about things closer to my heart is done in Russian, while speaking with strangers and about more complicated technical things is done in English.

        Also, you might want to do something like what Nina Paley did for “Nina Sings the Blues” and open it up to your fans to create subtitles in different languages:
        There’s this very nice website called “Amara” that allows people to do that very easily – it’s like a Wikipedia for translations. Although this method DOES rely on you putting the film out in public online, and you might not want to do that, at least not at first.

      • Wow! what a great advise – about film’s translation! I’ll definitely look into that once we get there – putting the film online for free may take a while since we are not in Nina Paley shoes and have music rights.
        THANK YOU!
        As to languages – I totally agree with you about how different languages express different sides of us. I speak fluently 3 languages – Latvian (my mother tongue), Russian (second language I learned when I was 5) and English (started to speak it when I was 29). Each of them brings out different part of my brain. I love Latvian for it’s use of metaphors, very poetic. In Russian I can express the side of me that is nasty and vulgar (how can one not love Russian curse words and slang!). English is the language I swim in every day, so it’s the best to describe everydayness. One thing that surprises me about English that it has so many words for the same thing, each of them tainting the object it names in a different shade of emotional color. Interesting.
        In any case, I think that a good translator could own the “Rocks In My Pockets” text. Like, J.L.Borges work translated in Russian was an amazing read, while reading the same work in Latvian or English was only so so. The Russian translator made the text his own.
        Oh, I could talk about language forever.We should meet one day and continue on! Do you know a good Russian translator?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s