YIDFF 2023 New Asian Currents

Raise Me a Memory
Varun Trikha (Director)

Interviewer: Kusakabe Katsuyoshi

The “dream” motif

Kusakabe Katsuyoshi (KK): This film is set in Estonia, in a community of the indigenous Seto people. Can you first tell us why you chose this border region—this divided land—as the setting for your film?

Varun Trikha (VT): Looking back now, eight years after the filming, I do not feel so much that I chose this place, but rather that somehow, this place chose me. I can try to explain this by describing everything that happened, but in the end, I do not think it will really make any sense. The truth is that when I went to Estonia eight years ago, I was going through something, feeling somewhat lonely, but not alone. I felt something akin to loss, or let’s say that I was attracted to the idea of loss. It is hard to articulate exactly what happened—whether I went to that place, or whether something led me there—but I do feel grateful that I decided to listen to the feeling that was inside of me. For me, such feelings are rare, and this was not really a conscious decision on my part, but more of an emotional one.

KK: We can feel this emotion, and from the very first scene this film seems to convey your personal sense of loss. The film begins with you undergoing what seems to be a hypnotherapy session, and then abruptly cuts to footage of someone running and then wandering through a forest. It feels like we are seeing your inner world—or perhaps we are in a dream of yours. The three Seto people who appear in the film also relate their dreams to us, but why did you choose to make this a film centered around the motif of the dream?

VT: For many filmmakers, including myself, making films is an attempt to figure out who you are, to make sense of your own self and what is going on with you. In my own case, this film was an exploration of how we understand dreams, and an attempt to articulate the language of dreams. I met the three people who appear in the film through a series of coincidences and almost mystical encounters, and when I met Evar for the first time, the very first question I asked him was, “What was the last dream you saw?” He was a bit taken aback, but he shared with me the dream that I show in the film. That dream was very sacred to him, so he never spoke of it again after that first time, but somehow it set the tone for this journey. “What was the last dream you saw?” was a question I just intuitively started asking, and that’s how everything began.

KK: In this film, we hear the dreams of these three Seto people who are inhabitants of a divided land, and we also hear about your own dreams of your grandfather. The scene where you discover your grandfather’s briefcase seems to connect these elements together, but can you tell us what significance this briefcase has for you?

VT: The significance of the briefcase is something I am still trying to come to terms with. It is difficult for me to give a definitive answer, but one thing I can say is that when I recently moved to Toronto, the first item that I decided to take with me was this briefcase. I somehow feel like a refugee in today’s world, just like my grandfather was when he carried it, and this briefcase feels like something that is taking me forward.

One’s own inner world, reflected on the screen

KK: Listening to your story helps me to understand that this film is deeply connected to your own personal sense of loss, and your own origins. The film starts and ends with scenes of your hypnotherapy session, and we see how you confront your own sense of loneliness. Could you tell us why you decided to structure the film in this manner?

VT: This is not only my story, but also the story of the three people you see in the film, and something about it is very cyclic. In the end, you have to return to where you started, and this is the structure I wanted for this film. I must point out, however, that the hypnotherapy session was not something I underwent for this film. It was in fact part of a different journey, but when I was editing this film, for some reason this memory came to me, and I decided to use the recording I had of this session. And when I added these scenes, suddenly the film started making sense to me.

KK: The stories of the three people in the film each revolve around their own unique feelings towards their departed loved ones. First we meet Aino, who continues to suffer the pain of losing her young son in a railway accident several decades ago. Next there is Evar, who seems to embody the act of prayer through the daily prayers he offers on behalf of the deceased grandparents who remain in his thoughts. And finally we encounter Lea, who is comforted by the deceased father who visits her in her dreams and her belief that we continue to exist alongside loved ones who have passed away, and who appears to be “saved.” So here we have the three stages of suffering, prayer, and salvation, which seems to be connected to a Christian worldview which also relates to the “cyclic” theme you just mentioned. Would you say that there is a Christian worldview centered around prayer behind your film?

VT: It is interesting that you ask this because before I went to Estonia, I was working on a project in Goa, and was interested in how religion is appropriated according to the local culture. For example, Goan Christians practice a kind of Christianity that is very “Indian” in a way, and would be unrecognizable in mainstream Christian communities. When I first visited the Setomaa region, I was also intrigued by the religious practices I encountered there. Even though the Setos are Orthodox Christians, not all of them are practicing Orthodox Christians, and there is something about their Finno-Ugric identity that still seeps into the religion they now belong to. In some ways, this seems to be a form of “communication” between their old religions and old identity, and the Orthodox Christianity they were later converted to.

Your question is also interesting because this is the first time that anyone has asked me about the religious elements in this film. Since it took time to find the funding, it took a lot of time for this film to actually be made, but in a way, this film was finished for me when I edited it two years ago. So while I feel a closeness to it, I also feel a sense of distance. This interview has been like a therapeutic session for me, an opportunity to reconnect with my film.

In the work that I did before this film, I feel that I was somewhat masking myself. I was externalizing my feelings, and trying to find a context for these feelings. But in this film, I bared myself for the first time. So in this respect, I feel that this film is a new chapter, the beginning of something new for me as a filmmaker.

Compiled by Kusakabe Katsuyoshi
Translated by Lisa Somers

Photography: Koseki Hiroto / Video: Oshita Yumi / Interpreter: Nakazawa Shino / 2023-10-06

Note: This interview was done for an online interview collection that was only to be in Japanese. Therefore, the text was prepared in Japanese based on a transcription of the words of the English-to-Japanese interpreter. When funds were found to create an English version, the Japanese text was then translated into English. Please thus be aware that the text above will not necessarily reflect the exact words spoken at the time of the interview.

Kusakabe Katsuyoshi
Born in Sagae City, Yamagata Prefecture. Former director of the YIDFF Yamagata office. After graduating from university, Kusakabe worked for a cinema while involved in independent screening activities. From 2007 to 2019 he worked in theYIDFF Yamagata office. Currently he is an author, contributing film criticism and articles to Kinema Junpo and other film journals while working as a caretaker for the elderly.