Egija Smeile
Timeless Awards: Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Egija Smeile: My name is Egija Smeile and I am a director based in Riga, Latvia, just graduated from specialized art school and now studying at the Art Academy of Latvia and University of Applied Sciences, planning to continue my studies abroad. I have worked on a film set as an artist and photographer. Working with a team of young and passionate artists Balcony is my first directed short film. My dream is to continue exploring the experimental genre of cinema including topics such as mental health awareness and gender equality.
TA: Why did you choose film as a way of expressing yourself?
ES: As a child I was interested in psychology and human relationships, the reason for it probably was my own struggles with family and interaction with society, and because of this fear and anxiety, I remember, slowly starting to fear the outside world and falling into depression. Movies were the way I could get to know about how relationships and human existence could be and still have a feeling that I’m not missing out on living, even though I was laying in my bed all day sick and unhealthy. From that point on movies have become a big part of my life and transformed from a way of escape to more expression and consumption of emotional and visual content.

I am an absolute visual person so any kind of audio-visual stuff has always been my thing, such as photography, cinema, and art of any kind. I think that Balcony is somewhere in between all of those.
TA: We all love to hear how things are made. So, would you like to share your creative process with us? What was your first idea? How did you expand it, step by step? How did it grow into your film?
ES: The first sketches of the scenario were created already in 2018, where initially the center of everything was the crumbling balcony of a five-story building and a lot of symbols of Soviet times in the place where I live – Eastern Europe. At the same time, I had heard a number of interesting conversations on this subject, which seemed quite unusual for classical problems - collapsed balconies. But somehow as time went by the idea modified into something more emotional rather than factual. I came to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be much value to portray general basic stereotypes of the post-soviet countries, so I started to dig deeper into my own existence here in Latvia – what matters to me the most? And I came across a psychological term – the role of the victim (the presence in the Karpman’s drama triangle) and it somehow connected the whole meaning of the balcony and why does it have to collapse. I’ve seen my mother and grandmother living with this psychological condition most of their lives, but not only them, but it’s also one of the main problems that summarizes our society here. So, I wanted to make an abstract and visually strong portrait of this feeling. Of the feeling of being stuck and not really knowing much of how to help yourself, not having any tools for that.

More about the practical side – the idea was that the film has to be no longer than a one-day event. I wrote an approximate scenario of a day in a girl’s life. But as the montage process began, we decided to break the timeline and make it more dream-like or to be more precise – nightmare-like, to show it more from the character’s point of view.

We spent a lot of time searching for the best cinematic locations and more importantly for the special balcony. But unfortunately, in the final assembly version, the balcony itself no longer appeared, and the same could be said for most of the other beautiful, diligently sought-after locations. We were looking for a birch grove everywhere in Riga, but unfortunately, the urban environment was not visually simple and clean enough to portray the idea of the shot. A few days before filming, we managed to find a suitable grove in the deep countryside, where all the trees were arranged in precise rows and looked perfect. And it’s also my favorite visual shot.
TA: Filmmaking is all about decisions. Tell us about key decisions you made and their substantial influence on how your film looks and feels on the screen.
ES: The decision to not include the balcony collapsing was a harsh one but definitely played a big role in the way “Balcony” looks now – more minimalistic, mysterious, and feeling-like. The decision to use more close-ups rather than the visually appealing wide shots was again, important because we wanted to force to be close to these emotions that the girl is experiencing and to not run away from them with the calm and beautiful landscape. And last but not least, to use a very simple sound without words or explanations.
TA: What equipment did you use for filming?
ES: We used a Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4k camera with Sigma 50-100mm and Canon 70-200mm lenses. Schalter stands, Bi-flex M7 Aladdin, D12 HMI lights also were used.
TA: Why did you place your film in Time category?
ES: As I already mentioned, I chose to break the timeline, the actual feeling of time, because in this state of mind that I wanted to portray – there is no timing or events – it’s more like a big glimpse of a continuous nightmare. All this is exacerbated by the lack of sleep, in this mental state a day is no longer a day and a night is no longer a night. Life feels endless and time - unexperienced.
TA: I particularly like the sequence that starts with a shot of a girl running down the stairs and ends with her standing by the sea. It has been edited perfectly with perfect timing and flow. Is there a special meaning behind this sequence?
ES: I think it all needs to be perceived as a whole but if we talk specifically about the primary idea behind the sequence, I wanted to create an emotional build-up with a sense that there is hope to escape from the feeling, and that could be the running, the sea – may be a suicide attempt.  But behind the perfect editing was our editor Stefan Stabenow who was the best thing that could have happened to “Balcony”.
TA: The last shot of your film. It could not have been easy to make, I guess.
ES: The last shot actually wasn’t the hardest one, thanks to our amazing actress Lolita Sturmane, the hard part was maybe the exceptionally cold weather. It was the last shot of the day and we pushed the most out of it.
TA: Can you tell us a bit about your workflow?
ES: Before I came to the world of the filming industry, I thought that my workflow was exceptionally chaotic and always last minute, but now working with all the film set people I don’t even feel like that there ever was a different way.
TA: Can we see your film somewhere? Is it available online?
ES: No, not yet.
October 2021