Interview with Martti Helde, director of the ‘In the crosswind’

Interview with Martti Helde, director of the ‘In the crosswind’


In the crosswind, first feature film by Martti Helde, is the latest hypnotizing discovery in Estonian cinematography. Film had premiere during Toronto International Film Festival 2014 and from this time collect well-deserved awards on many international festivals. However, Martti Helde remains far from red carpets, fleshes and all this glamorous staff. For him the most important are people, their stories and the form of expression. He is only 27, but he is interested in cinema until he was 16. He finished Baltic Film and Media School at Tallinn University and he made many short films and commercials. In the crosswind is a black and white, still and in some way poetic drama about a woman, who among thousands of Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians was deported to Siberia in year 1941. Actually, you can watch this outstanding movie on “Behind the curtain” film festival.


You are young, so it’s not so obvious that you are interested in history. Why you decided to make a film about so difficult subject?

I was interested in the history since I was very young. My grandfather was imprisoned in camp so I grew up with his stories. He told me about the war, about reality in 1940s, I knew this topic. When Estonian Film Institute organized the competition, in the beginning I wanted to make a documentary film. Then I decided to use tableaux vivants to make a still film. After the year, I decided that it might be too good for the documentary so I re-decided and now it’s a feature film.

Form of In the crosswind is amazing. However, it was a brave decision – it’s masterpiece, but it could be also a complete disaster. Why you decided to make a still film?

I like challenges. Difficult things are great motivation to hard work. I was working on the story during the night because the deadline was for tomorrow. I found one letter, it was from my relatives, written by one lady. There was a line ‘I feel like the time has stopped with my body, which has taken into Siberia, but my soul is still in Poland‘. Then I decided that I want to make a film where I can create a feeling of stillness. I wanted to freeze the time. And the stabloyone was the only option to make it. Usually when you watch life action films, you have a freedom, you can decide where to look, where is the focus point. I wanted to change that. Why? Because in soviet system people didn’t have a chance to choose, what to do. System made decisions for them. My idea was to recreate the feeling of this kind of open prison. Of course, I didn’t have any idea, if it would work or not. For three and a half year I had hope.

How the process of shooting looked like?

Basically it took six months. We prepared one scene, then we shoot it and later we had couples of days off. Next, we started to prepare the other scene. Every single scene which you can see in the movie has been shooting during one day, because we didn’t have money to replay that.

To make visually sophisticated film you should have a great imagination and many ideas.  What was your source of inspiration?


Actually, when I was young, I finished art school. I studied painting and composition. When we were preparing the film, we didn’t use other films as a reference. We used photographs, paintings and sculptures. I bought all the books, which were possible, about the art history, sculptures, human body and the movement. During my meetings with costume and set designers we were sitting around the table and watching all those pictures. We talked about the light and how body is positioned on those paintings or photos. We wanted to find the essence, we were trying to catch on how artists before us used the human body to express certain feelings. Our goal was to understand what is going on inside the picture.

The film is based on letters written by Erna Eliide. It was a real person or it was compilation of different correspondence?

The 60 percent of letters which you can hear in the film is from the same person. Of course, her name was changed. The other part is a mix of archive materials and the other letters.


Landscapes in your movie are amazing. They also play an important role in the story. How did you find those shooting places?

Our intention was to find as similar landscapes as possible to those from Siberia. We took reference pictures from the Internet or from the archives and later we tried to find similar in Estonia. Obviously, nature in Estonia and Siberia is quite different, so all the process took about three years.


Could you give an example one of the shooting places which is your favourite or in some how special?

My favourite location was in Tapa. It is in the eastern Estonia and it is a place for military resources. It was an old forest, which people cut down. Could you imagine huge field full of pieces of wood? It was a real open space. It didn’t look like Estonia, it was exactly like Siberia. I remember when we made first black and white photo of this location – we saw that there is something special, something really interesting to capture.

It works. To be honest, I’m not very familiar with Estonian cinematography. Could you tell me if you have many films which talk about similar subjects?

No. It’s the first film because Estonia reach her independence in 1991. Before that, it was not allowed even to talk about those topics, so to make a film was impossible. In 1991 we couldn’t afford to make movie like that, it was too expensive. What’s more, it was too delicate subject. I think that if something tragic happens with one nation, than the next generations need time to rethink about it. The distance to evaluate what exactly happened is unnecessary. In result, there is a 20 years gap in Estonian cinematography. After all, In the crosswind it was an accident, we wanted to make a documentary. Actually, I heard that Latvia is doing the feature film about the same topic.

In the crosswind visit many international film festivals and quite often get some prizes. How do you feel when your film is awarded?

I don’t know. Of course, prizes are nice, but I’m not really to them. I like when people came to me and say ‘film really moved me, it was something special’. For example, after the premiere, one older guy came to me and said that he was deported when he was a child. He was about 8 years old, but he remembered those events in similar way, how it was shown in the film. It was compliment, which gave me more than whatever prize. I made this film to be some kind of the monument. I want to make films which will last longer than I do.

After so unusual début, I am very curious about your following films. What will be next?


That’s a good question. Certainly, I’m not planning to do a still film again. I want to make a live action. So I think my first film is still coming…

Now, I’m intrigued. Could you tell something more?

I like to experiment with form. For me the filmmaking is finding the right form to express the feeling. I hope that I will find nice and inspiring way to express the story, because just to capture the action is a bit boring for me. I would like to explore the mountains of cinema, that’s my goal.

So actually you are looking for…?

Always for a good story.

Monika Martyniuk

Reprint from

The article was written during the Film Journalism Workshop organized by NISIMAZINE in Tallinn on November 2014.

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