NPO Doc interview: The Love Agency

02 05 2014

NPO Doc interview: The Love Agency

This month's screening at NPO Doc is The Love Agency by Martina Carlstedt, a documentary set in Russia, but made by a Swedish director. We spoke with Martina about the making of her film. Read the interview here.


How did you, as a Swede, come up with the idea to make a documentary about a Russian love agency?

This documentary was made during film school through collaboration with the film school VGIK in Moscow. The student from our school went to Arkhangelsk for two weeks to do short films and the Russian students came to Stockholm to do the same. When we were told that we would do this collaboration, I found it very difficult to get ideas on what to film since I had never been to Russia. I was worried that I had a prejudiced image of the country and that I would make a film based on my stereotypical ideas about Russia. Initially I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something about single women. But first we went on a research trip to Arkhangelsk and I got tips on Svetlana's dating agency. I visited her office and she told me about her business, her passion for her job and her eye for matchmaking. I fell for Svetlana's charm and decided to make a film about her agency.

Is it hard to direct a documentary in a country of which you don’t speak the language?

At first it felt really hard not being able to understand and communicate. In the beginning I was assisted by a student from the Russian film school who helped me interpret the conversations. But we decided that she wouldn’t be present during filming. And I think it was easier for the participants to feel comfortable when I didn’t understand what they were talking about. It felt like they forgot about my cameras and me pretty quickly when I started filming. But it was a strange thing that I never experienced before. I felt a bit like a UFO in these situations. It was a very special feeling to be involved without understanding. It was both frustrating but also interesting how quickly I disconnected from the verbal language and began focusing on facial expressions, movements and the moods that occurred in these situations.

You’re filming a couple of quite extraordinary dates from a fly on the wall kind of approach. How did the characters of the documentary feel about you filming them in a very private situation?

The conditions during filming were quite stressful. We had two weeks in Arkhangelsk and I was afraid no one would want to participate. But Svetlana called around to her clients and to my surprise most of them didn’t mind being filmed. I was given a schedule of when we would come and shoot the interviews so it was just to get started. I'm used to longer processes where there is time to build up a relationship and a connection with the people I film. In this case I was thrown into these very private situations. But I felt that the trust from everyone involved was there from the beginning. I also think that it has to do with a cultural difference. In Sweden I think it would be much more difficult to shoot intimate situations like the once in the film. I also perceive Russians as very direct and honest. There are not a lot of nervousness and prestige. I felt that they were themselves in a liberating way that made me very impressed.

One date turns out to be a disaster, while the other date seems to be a flying start of a passionate relationship. Have you had contact with the characters recently? And do you know if they’ve found the love they were looking for?

 A few weeks after filming, I received an update on how it went for Svetlana and Vladimir (from the successful date). Unfortunately they had stopped seeing each other. But Svetlana asked me if I wanted to make a film about her and her search for the right man. I said that I'd think about it. Unfortunately I don’t know about the others but will have to update myself soon because I'm also very curious.

I believe The Love Agency was your third year film and you’ve graduated with Micke & Tommy. Again a documentary about someone looking for love he hasn’t found. Was that a coincidence, or what is it that makes that topic so interesting to you?

I wouldn’t say it's a coincidence even though I actually haven’t reflected so much upon it. I'm usually not that interested in sensational topics, rather the opposite. It’s usually in the everyday, trivial and somewhat boring situations that I find my inspiration. We walk around here in this big world during these few years as we live our lives with all our dreams and ambitions. We are all so similar; we all want to be loved, acknowledged, appreciated and our biggest fear is probably aloneness. For me there is something that is both tragicomic but also touching in that vulnerability and loneliness that’s inside every human being.


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