Features, Film, Interview

BBFF INTERVIEW: Director Linda Olte on ‘Sisters’

Part of the Boston Baltic Film Festival 2023


The Boston Baltic Film Festival ran in-person from Friday, 3/3 through Sunday, 3/5 at the Emerson Paramount Center, and will continue virtually through 3/19. Click here for the schedule and ticket info, and watch the site for Joshua Polanski’s continuing coverage!

Of the 10 films I saw at the Boston Baltic Film Festival, Sisters will probably be the first I return to when it (hopefully) hits streaming one day. If my recommendation means anything to you, there are still a few days to catch it on the festival’s site

A touching adolescent drama about the Latvian adoption system and foreign adopters (which have recently been banned by the country), Linda Olte’s feature directorial debut is a confident film. In some ways, it’s a more digestible take—playing to big domestic emotions but without the baited messiness—of recent years’ sad-story Oscar darlings. 

Soft and warm as it may be, Sisters has teeth when it needs them. One or two scenes are difficult to stomach—but whatever happens, and much like the lives of the titular siblings, life simply goes on. My favorite scene from the entire festival, one I wrote about at greater length in my review, involves the pieced-together recollection of a horrible childhood memory. Defying the old adage, “show, don’t tell,” this scene tells and it tells it perfectly. To show would have been to erase it as a memory, to lose interest in the perceived reality of the film’s two main sisters: the thirteen year old Anastasija (Emma Skirmante) and eleven year old Diāna (Gerda Aljēna).

Read Joshua’s full review of Sisters here. The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Boston Hassle: Many filmmakers have one or two films that really define their interest in cinema. Do you have one or two films, or filmmakers, you could point to?

Linda Olte: It changes, of course, every year or so. I like (many) European directors, for example, the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre) and the Polish Krzysztof Kieślowski. I love every Dardenne brother movie: how they tell their stories, how intimate they get with their characters.

BH: Where did the idea for Sisters originate?

LO: I wanted to do a documentary. I don’t know how it came to mind—I grew up in a loving family with (a) mom and dad and two sisters, no orphanage experience—but I was coming back from the Berlin International Film Festival, sleeping in an airport thinking about what film I could make, and then I got this idea. I thought I should find a kid living in an orphanage and (show how his life changes during the process of adoption.) But I couldn’t do a documentary because I couldn’t show the faces… so we said, “Okay, we should do a feature.” I think it’s even better because I could collect more stories and put them into one. 

BH: I was moved by the intimate, warm handheld cinematography. Why did you choose this style to tell this story?

LO: We decided we wanted to be very close to Anastasija (Emma Skirmante), the main character. Of course, we did wide shots. But I said to my cameraman that I don’t really care about them. I want to be very close to her. 

One of my first thoughts was that I could (not really) show the worker’s faces and they are just bodies around here. (Laughing) but they are big actresses and they would kill me at the premiere. 

And it’s a bit shaky to show her feelings.

BH: There are several scenes that are difficult to stomach, specifically with the young actors. I’m thinking especially of when Anastasija is groped at the party. How did you film this scene and how was it important to the story you wanted to tell? Why was this an important scene to you?

LO: I wanted to show the reality of these children and how they actually spend time. With families, hopefully, the children are in their beds at this time. But these kids, they are just living and partying (without supervision)

In different scenes, I wanted to show that Anastasija is in danger somehow. With the guy (who gropes her at the party), I remember I had one nice teacher when I was studying (for the film), the German director Fred Kelemen, I shared my outline or treatment and he said, “Okay, nice, but you have to torture your character more. You’re too nice to her.” So yes, But I didn’t want someone to rape her or something like this. It’s too dark for me. In different scenes, I wanted to give the feeling that it might happen.

BH: What was the hardest scene to film?

LO: (The scene) when Anastasija has to jump in the water. My style is I do a lot of takes, but this wasn’t the case. Emma (who plays Anastasija) said ‘no’ because everything was too heavy, with her wetsuit and everything. She never said no, but since she said ‘no,’ (I knew she was serious.) But we really had a great crew. We love it. It’s what we do. For example, my cameraman is very different than me. He’s very impulsive, I’m very slow. 

BH: Can you recommend a movie from Latvia, as well as one from the festival, for the Hassle audience?

LO: Yes, I’d recommend our nice animation director Signe Baumane. Her animated movie, My Love Affair with Marriage, has won different prizes and has a very nice story. 

And from the festival, I think Mariupolis 2 is a very important movie.

BH: What’s next?

LO: I’m trying to tell a story about infertility. A couple in their 40s are really fighting to become parents… and during this period, they almost lose each other. I don’t really know if they will divorce yet. I’m working with producer Matīss Kaža (director of Neon Spring). We do have support from our national film center to develop the project.

dir. Linda Olte
104 min.

Screened as part of the 2023 Boston Baltic Film Festival. Available to screen virtually through the festival’s website through 3/19.

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