Kira Kovalenko’s feature Unclenching the Fists was initially inspired by a line in William Faulkner’s novel Intruder in the Dust. Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International awards-season event, the Russian director said she thought a lot about Faulkner’s line, “While some people can endure slavery, nobody can stand freedom,” when she began co-writing her sophomore film, which is now Russia’s submission into this year’s International Feature Oscar race.
“While I was thinking about this line, I realized that I needed to find the place that I could tell this story about, and this place was a small mining town close to the place I was living,” Kovalenko said via her producer Alexander Rodnyansky, who was interpreting for on the panel.
Veteran producer Rodnyansky, who has long been a champion of unique and new voices hailing from Russia and the Ukraine, said he was compelled by Kovalenko’s story because it is “a very special combination of the human tale of people who have been traumatized and are fragile [with] the story of a region that has very much been incognito.”
Unclenching the Fists, being released theatrically in the U.S. via Mubi, is set in North Ossetia, a sparsely populated part of Russia on the border of Georgia and next to Chechnya. It follows a young woman, Ada, who is struggling to escape the stifling hold of the family she loves as much as she rejects. Milana Aguzarova, Arik Karaev and Soslan Khugaev star.
The film played at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year where it won the Grand Prize in the Un Certain Regard section.
Check out the panel video above.