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TORONTO '07 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Teona Strigar Mitevska: "We filmmakers must be braver and bolder in

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire September 11, 2007 at 4:21AM

Throughout the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.
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Throughout the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.

Fourteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions. Director Teona Strugar Mitevska is at Toronto with her feature film, "I Am From Titov Veles," which TIFF describes as offering "rare insights into the experiences of Balkan women who want something better than the lives they've been given."

Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?

I was a child actor between the ages of 5 and 12 in Skopje, Macedonia. This was in the time of Yugoslavia and time of Tito's communism. I went to the national radio television every day after school where assignments were given, some days we did exercises of voice, movement, diction, but most of the time we worked - really worked hard - almost like a full time job. I acted in television shows and in between we recorded an awful lots of radio dramas. We were not paid, of course but we were offered a vacation, twice a year, we went skiing in the winter and to the sea in the summer.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I went to an arts high school where I did painting, and then studied visual communications at college. After working as an art director in advertising, I moved to New York City to study film. In 2001, I finished my third year at the NYU Graduate Department, Tisch School of the Arts, and this is definitely one of the turning points in my life. Boris Frumin was my main professor and mentor tought me all about cinema but must importantly gave me the confidence to be the filmmaker that I am today.

In 2001, my second year film "Veta" received an award at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 2003, I shot my first feature film, "How I Killed a Saint." I did the film 6 months after my son Kaeliok was born. Making a film and a baby is one of the craziest things one can do, I firmly do not recommend to try it at home. The film premiered in 2004 at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. In 2006, I shot my second feature film "I Am From Titov Veles", and here I am today. I write my films myself, and it is a beautiful process but very time consuming also.

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

I want to distribute my film. I offer another vision of the Balkans that is contrary to the usual films we see from the area. I do not care for the excess and the macho universe that are often depicted as the proper picture of the Balkans. My film depict a unique world and reality, I present you a different picture of the Balkan that I believe is important to be seen.

Where did the initial idea for your film evolve?

In the summer of 2003 I read an article in a local newspaper about two sisters who died in a fire in their family home. When they were found, one of the sisters was laying closer to the door with her head smashed while the other lay beside her, hugging her tightly. After some research I learned that they were both heroin abusers.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

In "I Am From Titov Veles," there are a few sex sequences that were a great challenge for me to develop, foremostly because of my wish to introduce a narrative within the scene and not only a presentation of the sexual act. I also tried to form them visually, so this visual enriches the context of the scenes, for example for one sex scene I used expressionist drawings, for another I thought of my main character as Joan of Arc.

Another challenge were the dream sequences. We decided - me, the DOP and the set production team - to create the dream scenes entirely "in camera," the production had no budget for CGI-special effects, so we were forced to think inventively. All effects were hand made, with a lots of man power, willingness and creative thinking, just like in the old times. It was difficult but I enjoyed the process.

What are your creative influences?

Gilles Deleuze is someone I am devouring at the moment. I have also been reading Maurice Dantec whose universue I find enormously inspiring.

What are some of your all-time favorite films?

"Eclipse," "Zabriskie Point," "Empire of the Senses", "Good Morning," "Father and Son," and "3-Iron."

What are your interests outside of film?

Fishing.

How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Two years ago Peter Greenaway visited Macedonia he suggested it is end of cinema and the only way cinema will exist in the future is as an art form. Today I am experiencing great difficulty distributing my films, when cinema theaters have become an almost close territory for author cinema, this fact greatly worries me. I do not make films to feed the needs of the market, I make films because I have something to say, I push the boundaries of form and expression, I create art and I can see film only existing as such. We filmmakers must be braver and bolder in the films we make.

[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE's special Toronto '07 section.]

This article is related to: Features, Interviews