The city of change
Elina Elizza, filmmaker and International model talked to ZOTEYE about love, passion, fear, Global citizenship and of course Brussels. A city that she hated at first sight and now loves more than any other place on Planet Earth. She has been working on her dreams there while traveling the World at the same time. And for the next 10 months, you can find her in France.
Who is Elina Elizza?
I was born in Latvia, attended University there, and the moment I finished left the country and started traveling. I was having an identity crisiswhen I graduated so I didn’t really know who I was. In Latvia a lot of people see me as a very disrespectful person because of leaving so quickly after receiving my degree. But I feel the opposite, I feel like a World Citizen, and I feel more comfortable being perceived as a foreigner than being labeled a Latvian. The world seems to be becoming less united. Look at Brexit and the messages that Donald Trump is spreading globally. It’s so sad to see and hear. But the thing is, it doesn’t work like that in real life, people actually walking in the streets of this city don’t have stamps on their foreheads that say, for example in my case: LATVIAN. We are simply all humans, Global Citizens. Unfortunately fear has creeped into people, fear of the unknown, fear of others.
Why did you come to Brussels? How was it to arrive here from Latvia?
My first experience with Brussels was horrible. When I first arrived I felt people’s fear everywhere around me. It was also my first time abroad so that didn’t help of course. The first shock I had was in the Brussels South station. It was July, and after I got off the train I walked out of the station and walked right by a public urinal. The smell was unbearable. Then a few minutes later when I got on the subway, I was the only woman who was not veiled. I felt very uncomfortable and immediately a dialogue started in my head about cultures and people’s many different ways of living and thinking. Last but not least, my hotel was in an area where a lot of muslims live, so the reactions when I walked outside were sometimes extreme. Men shouting at me and looking at me as if I were an alien who just landed. The culture shock was huge.
Were you planning to stay in Brussels at that moment?
No, I went back to Latvia after a few days and decided never to come back to Brussels. It was a short trip, and as a tourist who doesn’t really know the city, it is very likely that your experience is not good. That can be for many different reasons or due to certain events that happen during your stay. Which is possible with every trip you make all over the World.
But you still came back?
Yes, I began working as a model and met some Belgian photographers who ended up becoming good friends. A bit later I met someone in Brussels and we started a relationship. That ultimately made me decide to move to Brussels and create a life here. I started to discover the city bit by bit and ultimately fell in love with it.
It’s interesting to hear how your relationship with the city evolved. From dislike to deep, intense love.
Yes, there are so many fantastic things in this city. I am preparing to leave Brussels in a few weeks for my career, and I sometimes catch myself thinking about what I could still do to stay here. I will miss the city so hard. What makes it so unique is the fact that the people of Brussels have no identity. The population is so mixed that we are all foreigners. And it’s exactly that which makes me feel at home. When I look back at my adventure here, I realise that life can be funny, but it always works out.
I think that no matter what, with all the difficulties and struggles we sometimes face in our lives, people often make their lives more complicated than they actually are. As soon as you stop seeing yourself as a victim and start believing in your life and enjoying each minute of it, it can be so beautiful. Only you have control over that.
In addition to being a model you are also a filmmaker?
Making films is my dream and my passion. Linked to that my life is going to change drastically over the next year. I’m going to do a kind of Erasmus in France where housing and cost of living is provided in exchange for filming at the University. It will also be a great way to practice my French every day, which I’ve been learning intensely here in Brussels. It’s not the most artistic work that I’ll do there, but it is film and I’m excited about it. I start this Fall and it will last ten months. It’s in the south of France near Spain so the nice weather will also be a big plus. But first I’m going to travel a bit more and be the Global Citizen that I love to be.
As a filmmaker, what’s been the most positive moment that’s happened so far?
When I created a short film about Brussels and had the ability to express my feelings about the city, that was a life-changing moment for me. The feedback I received was so supportive that it helped me keep going as a filmmaker. Shortly after the release I left Brussels for more modeling-related travel, and I felt very happy and sad at the same time. Sad because I was going to miss Brussels so much while away, yet happy because I could finally give something back as a thank-you for everything the city had given to me over the years. I loved how I was feeling both emotions at the same time. My creation could now be seen by everyone. I believe that sharing stories between people is important. No matter in what medium or format you do so.
What is your HeadSpot, EyeSpot and MouthSpot?*
Being at home in the places I’ve lived are definitely my HeadSpots. I just love to be in my own environment when I am contemplating life and my career. I find peace there and enjoy listening to the sounds of the city through the windows.
For the EyeSpot I absolutely love small, independent cinema’s. For example Cinematek is fantastic, as well as Cinema Nova and Cinema Galeries. I love going there to watch the big variety of independent films.
As a MouthSpot I like the bar Belladone in St Gilles, Brussels. It’s an old-school typical Belgian bar, very cosy. Such a great experience every time. Certainly try their gin & tonics, they are delicious!
One word for Brussels:
The city changes so much. I travel a lot and every time that I come back it’s different. It is constantly moving, morphing, evolving. Each area is like a little village and all of them together become Brussels. I’ve lived in two of those villages, and they were each so different. Sint Jans Molenbeek is changing a lot for example. The artistic energy is really growing there. I stayed there for two months and it is amazing to feel the vibe.
What’s a song that brings you instantly back to Brussels wherever you are in the World?
A song that I listened to a lot when I first started living here is All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun by Jeff Buckley & Elizabeth Fraser. I’ve walked many of Brussels’ streets and sat down on several of its beautiful squares with my headphones on and this on PLAY. It’s a song that helped me start loving and becoming part of the city, as well as also helped me with making sense of who I was and now am:
X Published on October 28th 2017
X Interview and photography by Johan Bockstaele in St. Gilles, Brussels on July 5th 2017
X Images captured with a Hasselblad film camera, Zeiss optics and Ilford FP4 Plus
X Interview conducted in English and has been edited by the clever ZOTEYE minions
*a place in the city where the person being interviewed goes when he/she needs a place to get inspired, contemplate about life or think about what to eat that evening (HeadSpot), a place to look around and give the eyes a blast or a meditative session (EyeSpot) and a place where he/she keeps going time after time to eat and/or drink something because it is ri-di-cu-lous-ly yummie. (MouthSpot)