Soviet Jeans: Did rock’n’roll kill communism?
BY Yako Molhov
The new international co-creation Soviet Jeans became one of the brand-new hits to come out from the CEE region this spring, earning the acclaimed Audience Award at Series Mania, while in Latvia it was awarded for Best TV Show, Best Script, and Best Actor at the National Film Awards. The new series debuted on Go3 this April and is all set to conquer new markets as part of the catalog of Beta Film.

Soviet Jeans is produced by Tasse Film, financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the National Film Center of Latvia, co-financed by Go3 and TV3, sponsored by DEPO and ORLEN Latvia.

In this exclusive interview with Yako Molhov, writers and showrunners Stanislavs Tokalovs and Teodora Markova share details on the idea and realization of the production and also reveal the focus of the second season of the series work on which has already started.
Teodora Markova
Soviet Jeans is set in 1979 Latvia, telling the story of a young rock music fan who is sent to a psychiatric hospital for political reasons and begins illegally producing counterfeit jeans with his inmates. How was the idea about the series born, where did the inspiration come from?
Stanislavs: The idea for the series is inspired by three real stories of the time. By researching the time around the 80s Moscow Olympic Games for another project, we encountered stories of patients of psychiatric asylums around USSR being used for slave labor to produce underground goods. As well as stories on how healthy people were put in asylums in the first place, just for their views. Three stories from that research combined into an ideas that is Soviet Jeans.

Teodora: We decided to present the viewers with a different perspective on this dark period, which they haven’t encountered before. We discovered a great absurdity in the fact that, at the time, a pair of jeans was considered more dangerous than nuclear weapons and we used this paradox to project it over all characters and subplots; this is how we shaped the tone and the creative vision of the series. One of the guiding questions we explored was whether it was really rock’n’roll that killed Communism.

The series is based on true stories. How did you find them? Did you talk to Latvians living in this era and actual people who were sent to those mental institutions for political reasons?
Stanislavs: We did three waves of research one for the idea. The stories were found in articles, books and word of mouth. That the second wave of the research was connected with the script where we have to check if the dramatic ideas that we created could happen in 1979 Soviet Union. This included wide research on “punitive psychiatry” in the USSR and other topics. And the last wave of research was connected with grounding the research in Latvian SSR state, this part mostly consisted of interviews with real people and then cross-referencing they testimonies of the time.

Teodora, at Berlinale Series Market Selects you shared that you wanted to make the series 'international'. What did that mean when working on the pre-production stage, what were the main elements you focused on so audiences from countries that were not part of the Soviet world would 'get' Soviet Jeans? And what about younger generations not familiar with communism?
Teodora: The first task was to find a significant topic to which all people can relate, and this led us to the theme of oppression, as everyone has experienced this in some form during their life. Being deprived of personal freedom creates an enormous zeal and you find yourself rooting for the characters when they fight and achieve their small victories and you sympathize with them when they are defeated. We aimed to portray every character in a very sincere way, so that you can attach to them for their weaknesses or even their silliness. We were trying to avoid situational comedy or puns, which would limit the series’ international appeal. Instead, we focused on finding humor in the absurdities of the period.

I believe that every generation needs its heroes and rebels. There is always a battle to overthrow the old and establish the new. Our goal was actually to capture the attention of younger audiences through the genre and the love story, aiming to reveal to them this part of our history, because when history is forgotten, it threatens to repeat itself.

Stanislavs Tokalos

Some of the themes explored in the series include music, propaganda, freedom, communism, and love. What other major topics will viewers of Soviet Jeans see in the series?
Teodora: The primary theme of the series is the price of freedom or to phrase it differently, it explores whether one can experience love and joy within an oppressive system, and how to achieve this without compromising your integrity.

Stanislavs: I always like to have one “spark”, idea story that I can carry thought the full circle of production of a project. For Soviet Jeans it was how an idea that things can be different appear in young man’s mind.

The writing team comprises of a Latvian (Stanislavs), a Bulgarian (Teodora) and a Pole (Waldemar Kalinowski). Did that help this 'internationality' and was it a challenge to have people from three different countries working on the scripts?
Teodora: I think it was a challenge, which paid off. There were times, when we struggled to align our views, but as the saying goes, “In argument, truth is born”. Three is a special number because it allowed us to rely on the “decision of the majority” to guide us. This is how, when facing an impasse, we were able to make decisions.

Stanislavs: I also see it as a benefit more than a challenge. As in the end the most price and engaging idea has to win. It is not about ego, but about having the best ideas for the story. As long as authors follow that, the best idea will stay in the script.

Stanislavs, you wore the hats of writer, showrunner and director of the series. What was the most-difficult part of your job?
Stanislavs: As an author who likes to have control and know everything about the work he is doing I was very happy. On a serious note, as so often in Baltics being a screenwriter/director is nothing new. I was always both. But the showrunning position was new. Here I think we divided the work really well with Teodora and also out second director Juris Kursietis was actively part of everything. We just had a great team.

The series was presented at the Berlinale Series Market Selects and at the Series Mania International Panorama Competition, where it won two awards and also debuted in cinemas and streaming platforms in Latvia. What was the feedback from local and international audiences who already watched the series?
Teodora: What’s most heartening about the feedback from viewers is that don’t just talk about liking the series; they often say being “in love” with it.

Stanislavs: Soviet Jeans became a big event in Latvia. The opinions are different, but they all say that they have not seen a series of that level from the Baltics and they are really waiting for season two.

Will viewers see a season 2 of Soviet Jeans?
Teodora: We are already working on Season 2. Our goal is to create an unexpected setting and journey for our characters while maintaining the vibe and mood of Season 1. We’ve discovered that there are even more absurdities to explore in the era of Soviet Union. What we can reveal at this stage is that Tiina and Renars’ love story will once again be at the heart of the entire narrative.

Additionally, we plan to expand our arena and to include other countries of the Socialist block and part of the story will take place in Berlin, on both sides of the wall. We are in the process of looking for partners who can help us elevate the production to this scale.
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