a film by Eliza Hittman

Could you tell us a bit about your relationship to the world of Russian Immigrants in Brighton Beach?

My great grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe, from the region known as the Pale of Settlement. They moved from the shtetls to the tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. While a lot of my family still lives on the Lower East Side, I grew up smack in the middle of Brooklyn. I was always very intrigued with the 1st generation Russian cliques at my high school. I felt like they were my exotic distant relatives. Having grown up in South Brooklyn, I feel there is an unbalanced interest in the developing arts and legions of young creative transplants in North Brooklyn. There are many micro budget narratives about people moving to the city and carving out a life. My goal is to highlight the experiences of native Brooklynites without reaching to the other polar extreme and showing a ghettoized image of the city. I am really passionate about shooting films in working class neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Gravesend and Gerritsen Beach, areas that are rarely pictured in the popular imagination of the city. Most films about Russians are violent and have some crime element. I wanted to push beyond that fantasy and show a slice of life.

Did you do a lot of research about this particular community?

The Russian Community is not so removed from my immediate world. Mike, who plays Sonya’s father owns a shop in the neighborhood I grew up in. I bought all my school supplies from him as a kid. Mariya, who plays the landlord, is an old friend of my Grandparents. She’s a nurse and does home visits in their building. They’ve both known me since I was born.

What inspired you to tell this particular story?

The story was inspired by a close friend I had when I was a teenager. Her mother passed away and her aging father kept trying to fill the void with kittens. Their small apartment became quickly overpopulated and there was lots of pressure on them to get rid of the cats. One day, I went over to her house and they were just gone. She refused to tell me what happened to them. I empathized with her a great deal because both of our mothers battled breast cancer and a lot of our teenage years were spent in hospitals. It was still challenging to navigate adolescence without much guidance.

My first sexual encounters were very impersonal. Growing up in such a massive sprawling city, you are very independent early on. There can be a lot of randomness to your sexual experiences as a teenager – not just as a young urban professional. I was interested in capturing those experiences from the point of view of a sixteen year-old. You go out, meet someone, it’s momentarily exciting, you let your guard down, the night sours and then you never see them again.

The title Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight is a reference to the 80’s song Total Eclipse of The Heart. Why that song in particular? And why did you decide to give your film this title?

It takes me back to high school.  It’s kind of timeless. In Brooklyn, girls have these big banquet hall Sweet 16’s. This song played at all of them. It was kind of a nightmare at the time, but the song has grown on me since then. I listened to it when I was writing the script and it seeped in. I think the sentiment of it is very true to the way young girls experience or want to experience romance and the end of romance.

Were there any specific films or filmmakers you were looking at when you made this film?

My role models are all female filmmakers. There aren’t enough of them. I love Andrea Arnold. Fish Tank came out right before I shot and it really motivated me. I love Catherine Breillat’s A Real Young Girl, Lynne Ramsay’sGasman, Keren Yedaya’s Or (My Treasure), and Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl. I also really love Maurice Pialat’s A Nos Amours and Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever.

What is your favorite moment in the film?

I love the slow motion shot where Dima tugs on Sonya’s boot on the boardwalk. It’s a very sexy and suspenseful moment.

What was the most challenging part to shoot?

To be honest, the whole shoot was challenging. I didn’t have a producer so I was concerned about those issues too. It was really cold. It doesn’t look cold on film, but it was frigid. I had a difficult time working with a new crew and lots of sickly stray kittens. Even though we had an EMT on the beach, I was terrified Dima would step on glass in the water or worse –  get frost bite. I worried a lot and it distracted me from getting exactly the shots I wanted. But, I was never worried about the performances. I felt very confident in the cast even though they had no acting experience. They had so much fun and in the end that was all I cared about.

How did you go about casting?

I had a good casting director (Anne Teutschel) who reached out to a ballet studio in Brighton Beach called Brighton Ballet. We found Nina Medvinskaya there. I do a lot of street casting. I love hanging out in those areas, looking at people, and talking to people. I found Fedor Filonov on the train (who plays Dima) I chased him for several blocks before I managed to ask him to audition. He just moved here from Chelyabinsk. When he told his parents back home about the film, they thought he’d moved to America and had become a porn star.

The sexual encounters in the film felt very natural. How did you prepare yourself and the actors to capture these moments?

We didn’t rehearse the scene. We tried and I realized that it made the actors more nervous, so we stopped. I just worked with them as we filmed. I burned through more cans then I planned, but it was worth it.

Finally, we have to ask: What was it like to deal with so many kittens?

Would you believe me if I told you the apartment we rented to shoot in was owned by a cat hoarder? It’s true. There were hundreds of cats in his apartment. They were sick and it was like stepping into a crime scene. I would not have been surprised to see them feasting on a dead body. I rescued all the ones we used in the film. We had about 10 kittens total on set, but it was too much to control. I couldn’t keep them in the frame. They weren’t good at taking direction.

Eliza Hittman is an award-winning filmmaker, born and based in New York City. She received an MFA from CalArts, School of Film / Video (2010). Her critically acclaimed debut feature film “It Felt Like Love” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in NEXT <=> and the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Tiger Competition in 2013. It also screened at MoMA, Viennale, London Film Festival BFI, Melbourne and more. It was voted one of the Top Ten films at Sundance in Film Comment by Laura Kern. Her short films have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Oberhausen Kurzfilmtage, the British Film Institute, BAMcinemaFEST, and the Guggenheim (Bilbao). Her short film “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight” was on Indiewire’s list of “the Best of the Best” at Sundance in 2011. She was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Indie Film. She teaches graduate level film directing at Columbia University, School of the Arts.