Latvian director Viesturs Kairiss, who won the international narrative competition at the Tribeca Film Festival last year with his coming-of-age drama “January,” is prepping his next feature film.
“Ulya” is based on the real-life story of Ulyana Semjonova, a girl raised in the Latvian countryside who reaches a height of seven feet and would go on to become a famous professional basketball player.
Set in the 1970s in Latvia, which was then part of the Soviet Union, the film follows its titular heroine from the time she leaves the countryside at the age of 14 and travels to Riga to play basketball. Kairiss described that as a “crucial stage” in Semjonova’s life, as her body was undergoing dramatic — and traumatic — changes for a teenage girl, while she also began to learn how to overcome adversity and, through basketball, find her place in life.
Kairiss said the film was an homage to “a person with a different view of the world. A person whose language of emotion is peculiar and beautiful.
“The film is simple and complicated, comic and tragic, epic and intimate, local and global,” the director added. “This won’t be a sports film. It will rather be a film about medieval times — about acceptance, human cruelty, fighting and the triumph of spirit over flesh.”
“Ulya” is produced by Guntis Trekteris of Riga-based Ego Media, with Pille Rünk from Estonian production house Allfilm attached as a co-producer.
Kairiss is the director of five feature films, with “January” scooping top honors in Rome and Warsaw after its Tribeca triumph. The coming-of-age film, which Kairiss has described as an autobiographical work, sheds light on the political upheaval in the early 1990s through the eyes of a 19-year-old aspiring cinematographer trying to pursue his dreams of making movies and enjoy the freedom of young adulthood.
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