This Land Documentary Producer Undine Buka Interview

The producer of the upcoming film This Land Undine Buka sat down to discuss the film, why they tackled the project and more.

First of all, what an informative film THIS LAND is. Would you agree it might also play a lot differently now to what it would’ve a couple of years ago? So much has changed in the political landscape!

Even though the political landscape has changed, I think society has become even more divided. When we made this film, we really wanted to provide a portrait of the vastness and diversity of America, to show the human side behind democrat and republican politics. I’m used to having at least eight serious political parties. Latvia, where I’m from, has a parliament election coming up on October 1st and we have nineteen parties. It offers much more nuanced options; one can find a party that more precisely fits ones believes. And having so many parties, never leaves one too much associated with them, it’s not a society stamp. I hope THIS LAND manages to show how different Americans are and how the circumstances and environment can impact their votes when unfortunately given just two options.

I imagine a bit of research goes into tackling a film like this. That the case?

Absolutely. The hardest part was selecting the characters. We had an idea just to capture an American portrait, but down the line, we decided that it would be great to do it on election day. One objective being that even it’s a big day, people still are doing the same things and they wake up the next morning and world hasn’t changed that much, at least for a moment we are dealing with the same issues and struggles, have dinner with their family, go to work or school. It was very hard to pick the film’s subjects as every story seemed important, we were looking for stories that gave a wide portrait not just personally, but also geographically. We focused on seven main storylines in Maine, Georgia, New Mexico, California, Illinois, and Texas, but we also had a volunteer crew capturing the day in every single state.

How have you coped, as a filmmaker, during the pandemic? Has it been easy to get projects up?

The beginning was definitely hard. I had quit my job just before to move into freelance and then the pandemic hit…especially as an independent filmmaker it seemed impossible to be able to afford testing, shooting in the bubble etc. We got lucky that we had THIS LAND already going and it was much easier to imagine shooting a documentary at that time. As soon as the vaccines were available it made things easier and already in May I shot my next project this time fiction film THE SEND-OFF (dir. John-Michael Powell). 

Was the film affected at all by it?

Our research was harder for sure, instead of meeting our characters in person, we met them over zoom or phone calls which made it harder to form a more personal connection. As we knew our director Matthew will not be able to be at all the locations at the same time, we needed to do enough research for Matt to be able to at least map out some ideas for our unit directors on what to focus/look for. As it was just one/two days we were with characters, knowing what to shoot was even more important. Also shooting with masks made it harder to connect with the characters, but given all the circumstances, I think we succeed in what we set out to do.

What is it about documentaries that intrigue you- over the narrative feature?

I love both. Documentary puts a lot of responsibility on filmmakers to stay true to the story and characters. It’s rawer in its form. As a producer documentary gives more creative input in the editing process that I enjoy so much. When you have a script you have a roadmap to go about capturing the story, but in the documentary, there are so many roads to explore and try, sometimes one needs to know when to stop, which can be difficult. But I love that story-shaping process. This will be my fifth documentary film and I hope to produce more.

You’ve tackled a lot of serious topics but then you’ll also happily work on a comedy short like Zoe’s Dumpling Crisis. Tell us about this amusingly-titled movie!

Zoe’s Dumpling Crisis was definitely a fun one. My talented friend, the director Ellen Rodnianski, and I were both about to leave the US for work in Europe, and we wanted to shoot something fun before leaving for a while. Ellen wrote this short based on her own experiences coming from mixed cultural backgrounds. The story focuses on Zoe and her grandma putting pressure on her to choose one recipe, but really one culture. I get hungry just thinking about it!

One that particularly interests is The Train Stops At 20:14. What an intriguing premise. How did that come about?

It was a project commissioned by Latvian State Television and interestingly it has some parallels with THIS LAND. It’s a very observational piece about train culture and society overall. The Train really was a great platform to capture and show how different we are as humans. 

What do you have planned for the future?

I’m also producing live music shows back in Europe so just wrapped a tour for the band I work with called Brainstorm, we had five shows that gathered more than a hundred thousand people. Me and my business partner John-Michael recently launched the production banner Cinaptic. Our first projected THE SEND-OFF (dir. John Michael-Powell) just recently premiered in the US and has its international premiere coming up at Calgary International Film Festival later this month. Our second movie, we just locked the cut, is called THE HIDING PLACES and is directed by Brad Barnes and stars Chris Marquette and will be premiering in early 2023.

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