TATIA PILIEVA

NATALIA BONIFACCI MEETS TATIA PILIEVA AT HOME IN THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS. HER MOST RECENT SHORT, PRESENTED BY WREN, 'FIRST KISS', ABOUT 20 STRANGERS KISSING FOR THE FIRST TIME, WENT VIRAL WITH 60 MILLION VIEWS IN LESS THAN A WEEK. WHILE HER FIRST FEATURE 'FOREVER' IS ABOUT TO GO TO FESTIVALS. THE SELF-DEFINED HOPELESS ROMANTIC SHARES WITH NATALIA HER THOUGHTS ON LIFE, WORK AND LOVE

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Describe ‘First Kiss’ in three words
Tenderness. Vulnerability. Love.

How did you come up with the idea of ‘First Kiss’?
The idea in itself of doing ‘First Kiss’ stems from my own love life. I have a folder on my computer entitled ‘Kisses’ and it’s basically pictures and videos of Andre (her husband) and I making out (she laughs). It’s a collection of our nine years together: really crappy files, pictures from flip phones, silliness from all of our relationship. I look at it at times when I am down and I need a little cheering up. I guess I thought, “If I like it, maybe someone else might like it? What if these two people don’t know each other? What would happen then?” So the idea comes from my own heart and my own life.

Melissa (Coker, the creative director of Wren) and I had talked about potentially collaborating for years. We met in NYC in the late nineties, right at the end of high school. Life landed both of us in Los Angeles, I’ve lived here 10 years now. She eventually started her incredible line. I went on to get my masters at the AFI. This February she called me, she was in town (Melissa has been spending most of her time in NYC recently), we had a coffee.

“Look, I wanna do a film for Wren’s Fall 2014 collection. Would you wanna do something? I don’t have very much money, or time…’ But she’s always been very supportive of the arts and creativity. I said “I have a few ideas, but I’ll have to think about it overnight.”

Literally the following night I sent her my idea of ‘First Kiss’ and it’s pretty much exactly what you see in the film today.

When was the moment that you realized that ‘First Kiss’ was special?
When I was on set. I was really, genuinely, moved by what I was watching. Of course I didn’t think that just because of that all these other people would be moved, but I, as a human being, was incredibly moved. I couldn’t wait to see it come together. I couldn’t think about anything else from that moment.

Also, when we made the first cut, we tested it on the editor’s wife (she starts giggling in the cutest way)… I remember staring at her face as she was watching it; it was just incredible. I always test the cuts to see the reactions, so I showed it to two of my friends. He’s a director, but his wife is not in films and she started crying. I thought if I can bring someone to joyous tears in three and a half minutes, then it must be very special (she pauses). But I never imagined what actually ended up happening. I was just happy that my friends liked it, and I wanted all of you to like it (she refers to the cast of ‘First Kiss’; I happen to be in it). I wanted the people that were in it to be proud of it, THAT means the world to me.

If you were to explain the word ‘vulnerability’ to a small child, what would you tell them?
That’s a very good question (she laughs and pauses for a bit). Vulnerability to me is purity. So if a child asked me, ‘what does it mean, if you say, she’s vulnerable?’ I would say, that in that moment, ‘she is pure’.

What’s the quality you admire most in people?
Kindness.

Which is the one you like least?
Greed.

When did you find out that you wanted to be a film maker?
In high school. I was probably 15/16… As long as I remember I wanted to be a filmmaker (she laughs).

Sometimes I feel that it takes a particular courage to decide to pursue any kind of artistic path, because, normally, people around you, when you reveal those kind of dreams, at first, treat you just as a dreamer; there’s a lot of negativity, it often feels impossible… How did you go through that aspect? Did you ever think you were crazy?
I mean, all along the way, I am not quite sure that I’m through it. I think I am still working through it (she laughs). I don’t think I am on the other side of it quite yet. You know, especially with my feature (she just finished filming her first movie ‘Forever’) for instance, because I worked on it for sooooo long, I think it took me seven years, right, to get it made.. There’s this point where you just ask yourself, is it ‘perseverance’? Or is it just ‘obsession’, ‘pure obsession’? There comes a point where you just don’t know.

You really do doubt yourself, but, purely by instinct, you keep going. I think also support from people you admire in your personal life, and respect, really helps. But obviously you’re not going to get that support from everyone, including your elders, who probably worry about your well-being (she laughs).

Did your parents support your choices?
They were actually quite supportive, in the beginning, especially. But, you know, after graduating from school for a while and I hadn’t made a feature just yet, they were, well, in not so many words, they were questioning my choices (we both laugh). I think they were careful about not coming out straight up and saying, ‘are you crazy?’, but they were certainly thinking that. In the end I am lucky because they were very supportive. I have so many friends who have just as much love from their parents, but, at the same time, they have more doubt at home. I think, at the end of the day, I felt that there was belief.

What was their reaction to ‘First Kiss’?
It was incredible because they loved it. I showed it to them right before it blew up and they were delighted. I am so glad they saw it without the public opinion, they watched it just as something that I’d made. Actually, they are not always easy going with the work that I create, so I was very touched that they liked it. After the press started going though, I called them (they live in the Republic of  Georgia) to tell them, just in case, that it was crazy what was going on, but apparently a friend of my father’s had called them before I did and told them that “all of Tbilisi is watching Tatia’s film,” and I felt really good about that.

When and where was the last time you said ‘I love you’ to someone, and who did you say it to?
To Andre, my husband, this morning, here at home.

What is love to you?
Happiness. And Andre (she giggles). I think I made him a card at one point that says ‘Andre equals happiness’ (she laughs self-mockingly). I know it’s very cheesy, I realize that… I think he got it framed (we both laugh). Oooooh, I sound like the biggest cheese ball! I’m a hopeless romantic.

Can you share with me your first kiss with your husband, cinematographer Andre Lascaris?
The craziest story between Andre and I wasn’t so much the time we kissed, it’s more interesting the time we didn’t kiss. We met at AFI in grad school together; he was part of the cinematography department and I was in the directing programme. He was shooting this movie for a director friend of mine. The shoot was somewhere in some forest outside of LA. They were all going to camp out there and shoot.

The director asked me if I wanted to help out and camp out with them. I said, “I don’t camp, I’ll help you, but I’ll drive back and forth every day instead.” So of course I showed up there and my car broke down. No one was driving back, of course, and I had to crash there, but there was no room for me to stay, except for Andre’s tent. So we spent four nights sleeping next to each other. Nothing ever happened. We never kissed, but I think that that was the beginning of our relationship. That was the time we kissed in our minds.

When was the moment that you realized that you were in love with him?
It was shortly after. I just couldn’t stay away from him (she laughs). That was nine and a half years ago. At the time I tried so hard to spend time away from him, and I couldn’t do it to save my life.

What scares you?
A lot of things… I think losing a loved one is one of the things that scares me the most.

What’s the first rule to be happy?
What makes me happy is Andre, my friends, my family and my work. Having that in my life is everything.

If you were to be able to give your fifteen year old self a piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?
Trust yourself.

Do you have a motto?
“At each touch, I risk my life”, it’s by Cezanne. When I first read it, I put it on my desk, and I think I kept it there for seven years, because it really moved me. I could identify with it in a sense… Everything and anything that matters is always dangerous, in a way, and you always have to be willing to take the risk: in life, in love, in work.

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