“I got my first camera at a really early age. At around 13, I got into shooting skate videos. I was so inspired by Spike Jonze’s Fully Flared skate video that I started experimenting with practical effects, like setting skateboards on fire and puppetry,” director Andzej Gavriss tells CR. “After doing it for quite some time, I was offered to do a music video for a local hip hop group. That got me some local hype, which brought in more offers.”
After high school, Gavriss needed to upgrade his equipment and realising he wouldn’t be able to save the money he needed in his home country Latvia, he moved to the UK. A year later, he finally got his first HD camera. “I moved back to Latvia to continue developing my filmmaking skills. But after some time, I outgrew the place and moved to Moscow for a couple of months,” says Gavriss. “I got lucky quite fast and shot a film that was commissioned by Samsung, which helped me to sign with a production company in London. Straight afterwards I started doing international projects all around the world.”
Gavriss has worked on a range of different films and commercial projects including shorts on homelessness in LA’s Skid Row, a fictional musician in creative crisis, and near death experiences in the Philippines. “I don’t really analyse my style so much. What’s really important for me is to fill my films with my energy, DNA, and soul,” he says.
“I want the audience to feel the vibrations coming from the screen, experience my work, and be immersed in the story.” What helps Gavriss is getting inspired by the events that happen in his own life and then chasing that strong feeling until he finds an emotion he wants to portray.
“Right now, I prioritise telling stories that matter. I’m enthusiastic about working on the scripts that spotlight subjects that are important and can make our world a better place,” explains Gavriss. “Even if one person out of a thousand was influenced by my work and considered changing their point of view, or researching the subject more deeply, I would consider that as a win.”
His latest project, We Will Become Better, epitomises this approach and sees the director addressing LGBTQIA+ love in Russia, “a country where it is all but forbidden”. Gavriss got involved in the project a year ago when Russian creative agency Voskhod reached out to him with a script written by Evgeny Primacheko, a writer who by day works as a creative director at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam.
“This story is the first Russian LGBTQIA+ film in years that actually portrays a gay relationship. I thought it was a brave and important project and immediately jumped on board,” says Gavriss. “The idea was so fragile and so loving, which is so different from what I normally do! I wanted to bring all of my own emotions into it, so I decided to co-write it. I wanted it to be an emotional rollercoaster. We built an incredible team with an outstanding crew and cast – filmed in Moscow with Daddy’s Film and Halal as co-producers.”
It was important for Gavriss to work on the project because of the stigma he saw around same-sex love when growing up in Latvia. “I grew up in the 90s in Latvia with a complete absence of sex education, where the topic of same-sex relationships was only a subject for gossip, insults and even blackmail and violence,” he explains.
“Anyone who lived then in the post-Soviet space knows how much society demonised the LGBTQIA+ community. It imposed this completely unreasonable set of stigmas, clichés, stereotypes and aggression towards people who just want to love each other without hiding their feelings – to go to work without wearing a heterosexual mask, to just hold hands in the park without the fear of getting physically injured. I wanted to break the clichés, the stereotypes – and just talk about pure love. If the Russian audience feels for the couple, hopefully that can change their minds.”
One of the challenges for Gavriss is getting his “passion work” financed and he says the process involves patience and a thick skin. So in between these projects he works with a range of clients on commercial work, ads and music videos, with clients including L’Oreal, BBDO, Leo Burnett and many others.
“In most cases, commercial clients hire me to do something special for their brand. I love collaborating with creatives and finding the right approach to the project. Maybe I am blessed, but clients usually trust my vision,” Gavriss says.
“My approach to filmmaking is like putting a puzzle together, and I love all the challenges that occur on the way. Also I try to surround myself with a crew that inspires me, so there are always answers to the most complicated tasks floating in the air.”
Ultimately, through the work he creates, Gavriss hopes to galvanise other filmmakers. “I just hope that people will be inspired, just like I was while watching Spike Jonze skate videos when I was a kid,” he says.