What inspired Mariam?
Mariam is based on real events, on the border between documentary and drama. I was working for a local TV channel when a woman contacted us to tell us her husband had disappeared. She had four kids, no means to survive, and couldn’t get state financial support because her husband was not officially declared dead. I went with a TV crew to her village, 400 km away from the city of Almaty, and then 3 km by foot. I was shocked: this woman Meruert lived in total isolation. Her husband had left with his brother. The brother was found dead, but her husband is still missing after two and a half years. On the way back to Almaty that night, I was haunted by images from Meruert’s life. In one week, I wrote a script and started pre-production.
What challenges did you face?
I was very afraid since it was my debut feature but I decided to make this story, whatever happened. I didn’t want to wait for funding so I became my own producer. Since we had no real budget, many professionals were unavailable, but I found passionate people who loved the story. We shot with a six-person crew in one week in February: we had to carry the equipment 3 km from the road in deep snow. We stayed in Meruert’s house, without light and water.
Who plays the lead role?
I thought a lot about that. She could be played by any actress, but it wouldn’t be truthful. Then I saw Meruert herself in the role. I talked to her and saw a spark in her eyes, so we started working on her character. She had a huge desire to show the world who she really is. The film shows her own surroundings, her world, her vision, and her kids.