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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 First Feature Competition

Lauris Abele, Raitis Abele and Marcis Abele • Directors and DoP of Troubled Minds

“There was kind of a mission to address bipolar disorder as an everyday problem”


- We talked to the Latvian creative trio about their debut feature, which examines the fine line between artistic creativity and mental-health problems

Lauris Abele, Raitis Abele and Marcis Abele  • Directors and DoP of Troubled Minds

A Latvian creative trio consisting of three brothers, directors Raitis Abele and Lauris Abele, and cinematographer Marcis Abele, examine the fine line between artistic creativity and mental-health problems in their debut feature, Troubled Minds [+see also:
film review
interview: Lauris Abele, Raitis Abele …
film profile
. Cineuropa had the chance to chat with them just before the world premiere of the film in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Troubled Minds is based on your personal experience; why did you decide to bring the topic of mental health into the film?
Lauris Abele:
Almost all of the events are based on our personal experiences or the experiences of our close friends. These small bits are all blended together in a single story, and this was our artistic choice. There was kind of a mission to address bipolar disorder as an everyday problem. In the USA, mental-health issues have been portrayed in films and the media, helping them overcome a lot of stigmas; in comparison, in our region, the Baltics, these mental problems are still addressed with certain prejudices.

Raitis Abele: We have a good childhood friend, who is bipolar. As we grew up, we experienced many funny, sad, crazy, uncomfortable moments, all at the same time, and that's how we learned what bipolar disorder is. And these memories have become a big part of the movie. We wanted to speak about it not in a sad or moralising way, but without pointing a finger at what is good or bad. He was a crazy, extravagant artist, but because of the medicine and by trying to be “normal”, he lives close to his true self. Wanting to understand what was happening to my friend, I went to study Psychology after school. I wanted to make Troubled Minds, so I kept on studying and got my master’s degree, and now I am writing my doctoral thesis, so let's see where that leads.

How close is your relationship to contemporary art, and why did you choose it for the film’s background?
Lauris and I play in a band, doing lots of concerts and tours. Our friend was a video artist, and his breakdown happened when we were on tour in Hungary. So, while writing the first draft of the script, we were thinking about portraying musicians’ lives, but it just didn't work. It seemed too autobiographical and didn't allow a lot of artistic freedom, at least not for us. Our friend did some video art and projections for our band, Soundarcade, so step by step, we came to the field of contemporary art.

LA: Our connection to the art scene goes back a long time. A small country like Latvia has a strong contemporary art scene. Some of the now-famous artists were our friends ten or 15 years ago – it was quite a community back then. So even during the process of writing, we asked for advice from the artists and requested some kind of supervision.

Could you talk more about the artists and their performances that are present in the film?
Yes and no! If we reveal everything, it might take away the movie’s magic. Some of the performances came directly from the artists – for instance, our actress Daniela Vetra already had a pre-existing art performance with a huge wind turbine ventilator and a parachute, called Graduation. We adapted it to the needs of the film, decided to spray it with black paint during the act, to bring to mind a Rorschach test, added some coloured smoke, and chose a location to remind us of Pink Floyd’s album cover for Animals. Her partner, artist Arturs Virtmanis, has a long-established art performance with a ship that he makes from different materials. Throughout the film, we also have a ship or a boat metaphor. And that just fused together so well. Also, they both helped us with a lot of creative input while on set. Overall, we got love from a lot of artists, like Kaspars Groševs, the Golf Clyderman duo, Kristians Brekte, Laimdota Malle and many more. Together with our production designer, Zanda Zeidaka, they created realistic and believable locations, but still with a lot of creative input that was necessary for the story.

RA: The Black Cube performance was made specifically for the film. During the location scout in the port city of Liepaja, we found an abandoned Tsar-era shipyard, and Zanda immediately decided this would be the perfect place for the Black Cube. In the story, Martin (played by Marcis Lācis) locks himself up in the cube for ten days. In order to have a believable performance of him coming out from total darkness, we asked Marcis to stay naked in the cube for 24 hours, and he did it – it was kind of an art performance during the shoot.

How difficult was it to shoot the film in the Arctic Circle?
Marcis Abele: I loved it: panoramic landscapes and early wake-up calls. We met some great local people and experienced all kinds of weather, from -12°C to bluebird skies to sudden fog and snow. The weather could change quickly, so the crew and the actors had to adapt even during the day. It's only seven hours of daylight that you get at that time of year, so we chased the sun along with the locations. The “Magic Hour” lasts just over an hour, and the light falling everywhere and making everything glow is just unbeatable and so darn pretty.

Some of the locations look impressive, as do the art performances in the film. What are the specific processes behind filming these performances?
When shooting these art performances, we set up a good plan, set the mise-en-scène and rehearse. When the 1st AD calls out, “Action,” things do go according to plan for the first few minutes, but then the actors/artists start to improvise, and the situation can become challenging. I had to look in the viewfinder and capture the performance, and at the same time, look around and predict what might happen and where to place the camera next. It was like shooting a wild documentary. But throughout the whole shoot, we did a lot of documentary-style filmmaking – letting actors talk to people on the street, following them through the crowd or just letting them live in the location. Sometimes, what was not planned ended up in the cut.

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