Maria Avdjushko

Maria Avdjushko is an Estonian actress, producer and filmmaker. She graduated from the Tallinn Academy of Music and Theater in the field of acting and started working as an actress at the Youth Theater immediately after school. From 1992 to 2014 she performed at the Estonian Drama Theater. Today, she works as an independent actress. During her prolific career, she has played over fifty roles in theater and can be seen in over twenty films and television series. To date, she has written and directed two experimental short films and two biographical documentaries. He second short film “Mesmerized” was in the official selection of the Black Nights Film Festival. “Fire Lily” is her feature film debut that opened to national critical success and tells the psychological and thrilling story of Pia, an ophthalmologist who is trying to find her way after her childless marriage has ended.

Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Black Nights Film Festival where “Fire Lily” played in the “Estonian Film” section. 

 

 

 

How did Fire Lily come about?

Maria Avdjushko: Actually, I wrote the script for myself because I worked as an actress for a very, very long time. I started when I was a child – when I was twelve years old – and I worked in theater and Cinema my whole life. I wrote it and then I forgot about it. Maybe eight years went by, and I met my producer, Aet Laigu, and I told her about the script and she read it. That’s how it all started to happen. She then found co-producers from Belgium and France.

Can you talk about the title?

M.A.: The title refers to the flower that fertilizes itself. The fire lily is the only flower that has male and female parts. And the fire lily tattoo on Pia’s back is quite confusing. It’s been there all the time but we just don’t show it like that!

Fire Lily is a female story. There is this woman at the center – a strong female character – and it shows her inner strength, but also the vulnerability of a woman after divorce. Can you elaborate on that?

M.A.: The story is actually about finding meaning in your life because life has no meaning if you can’t find it. This is also a story about her and this is why I tried to create some kind of tension in the sense that we don’t know what is going on, but this woman has to choose what she believes; it is reality beyond reality. This is her story – she made a choice and she’s living with it. Of course, this is also a story about vulnerability because at the beginning of the film, she is in a very weak situation and all this atmosphere around her is also grey because when we are alone and when we are depressed, then everything seems greyish. It doesn’t matter if we have friends or not, but no one really understands us and we basically have to solve our own problems alone.

I like how you portray motherhood in the story. There are three kinds of mothers there. Pia is not able to have children, which changes afterwards. There’s her sadness about it and the way she lives with it; then there’s her own mother who doesn’t care. And finally, there is her friend who has a child and this child changes her, helps her heal.

M.A.: Yes. This child teaches her a lot. He gives her so much goodness and hope; and with him, she also grows. In this film, there are several types of women. For example, the mother is a woman who never wanted to be a mother. She wants to get rid of her kids. In this very egoistical way, she wants to live her own life; it was just an accident that she had these kids. She reflects the other side of motherhood. And then, you have the friend who still wants to follow her husband to India because she wants to be sure he belongs to her.

There is a mystical dimension to the film as well as thriller elements and symbolism that give the film another level. Why did you incorporate that into your story?

M.A.: There are a lot of symbols in the film. The symbol of the eye – that we are watched all the time, that someone is maybe above us or we can call it however we want or miracle, or coincidence or hope or god – but there is something that is watching us. This miracle thing, if something happens that we don’t know how to explain, but that it could change our life forever is also like a lesson to learn. There are so many unexplainable things happening around us all the time and the world is not just this space around us, but it is also something else. It is metaphysical, but it doesn’t give you the answers, so it is up to the audience to find the answer they want. Of course, the potential father figure is this guy who stalks her but he disappears and we don’t know if he’s dead or if she killed him or not, but he’s this practical or realistic reason. There are so many stories in our life when the father figure is not available and we have to go on by ourselves.

Her father wasn’t there and her sister’s father wasn’t there either…

M.A.: Very often the same puzzles or the same stories are repeated in the families.

The film is also about what sort of reality you give your own life.

M.A.: Yes. Very often, when we are talking about the same event with our friends, we remember it absolutely differently and here, she is what she chooses to believe: “This is my story and I will live with it. There is no father. That’s it. I have to go on.” But, I can also say that one of the reasons why I wrote this story was that I remember I read an article in the newspaper about some kind of sociological research and women had to answer who the father of their children was and 20% of women answered that they didn’t know.

These are high numbers! But there is the potential father figure in the barman. Why did you choose for him to go and not stick around?

M.A.: He is the prince figure and when he has to kiss you, he turns away and doesn’t kiss you. He is the free-minded guy who is really afraid of commitment and this is just too much for him. He becomes afraid of all of this.

Going back to Pia… She also has the “good girl” syndrome; she is always taking care of everyone, giving money to her mother, taking care of her sister, of her friend’s child, going to work, but she isn’t really taking care of herself…

M.A.: Yes, she has forgotten about herself. This is what happens often. The kids are taking care of their parents and the children become the parents of their parents, so it’s the same story with her. Her mother uses her. She is a very egoistical person and she takes care of her sister because there is no one else to take care of her. Basically, she will have two children – her sister and her own kid as well as Peetrik who she came to love as her own child.

With the ending you wanted us to see that it is possible to be happy alone, without a man; that fundamentally we don’t need a man and that the kid is enough for us to be happy. Would you agree with that?

M.A.: Yes. Sometimes, when you don’t have anything else, this is what gives your life meaning. This is not a very new thing, but I think that in real life, this is a sort of sign that you are going to live a new life together with your kid.

And another message could perhaps be to be careful about what we wish for?

M.A.: Yes. And this is an Estonian thing. We are a very small nation and we are less religious than others in Europe, but, at the same time, we are very superstitious. Maybe it’s because we want to be close to America with the new age and spiritual mumbo-jumbo or pagan religion. The witch at the end of the film – it’s quite common for our people to visit her or be them. We have witches or warlocks or psychics who are international superstars, everyone knows them and they are in newspapers and they give advice!

Women in film has been a hot topic for the past year. What is your opinion on the situation? How is it in Estonia?

M.A.: The situation is actually wonderful because in Estonia, I think, we have more female directors than male ones and there is a real sisterhood here. I started very young, and the common thinking was: “Women can’t make films” or “films made by women are something very strange” and filmmaking was considered a masculine profession. Now, it is like a sisterhood, and if you travel to festivals, it’s a great feeling to see other women succeed. Twenty years ago, in Estonia, there were only two female directors. Now, there are many more. Women see the world differently – that’s what it is all about! It is not some kind of political statement, but it is biological. We feel the world differently. Maybe it will be a female profession one day… Who knows?

Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?

M.A.: I really enjoyed Top of the Lake and Piano. Jane Campion is my hero. I like her humor very much and how she deals with sexuality between men and women. I feel some kind of closeness to her.

What are your next projects?

M.A.: Right now, I am doing a documentary and I have also made two documentaries before. They are very small cultural projects, but I would also like to do a feature film even if it is quite difficult to find something that will interest me enough for several years because it takes so much time to develop a story. But I have some stories in mind, but they are not clear yet.

 

 

 

This interview was conducted at the 2018 Black Nights Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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