Boston Baltic Film Festival Interview: Director Uģis Olte on Upurga

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

In one of my favorite films from the festival, Uģis Olte’s feature debut Upurga features a group of young adults on a camping trip near the Latvian-Estonian border for a vegan hot dog photo shoot. The environmental ignorance and vapid natural resourcefulness of Mara (Elvita Ragovska), amateur videographer Oskars (Reinis Boters), boyfriend Matiass (Rihards Sniegs), ad agency marketer Eva (Inga Tropa), and to a lesser extent Mara’s adventure tour guide brother Andrejs (Igors Selegovskis) is one that puts them in instant danger in the wilderness.

By contrast, the indigenous Livonians, a Balto-Finnic indigenous people in northern and northwestern Latvia with a waning population, live intimately connected to the land they live on, completely aware of its snares and vices—including one special flower with unique side effects. (The last person to speak Livonian as their native tongue died in 2013.) Once the forest, perhaps the film’s most important character, forces the group to separate from each other, the friend group lacks even the most basic outdoor skills to piece together the new information they come across. They’re so ignorant that new knowledge is pointless— and this is where Upurga derives the bulk of its horror.

Read Joshua’s full review of Upurga here. The following interview, conducted over margaritas in a Mexican restaurant, has been condensed and edited for clarity.

BOSTON HASSLE: My wife absolutely loved Upurga and she wanted me to ask about a few scenes. She was researching everything she could after, and she doesn’t do that very often.

Uģis Olte: After a few screenings, only women had dreams. Very specific and intense dreams. Men had nightmares, but women had dreams.

BH: Do you know why that is?

UO: I have a theory. Nature is a feminine force, so they are more connected to it. The moment we started casting, we found the women really dug deeper into the script than we ever intended. For example, Eva (Inga Tropa), the ad-agency girl, her casting session was 25 minutes of her talking about the interpretation of the character and only five minutes of line reading.

The casting director offered only one option.

Read more at the Boston Hassle.

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