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Tribeca ’09 Interview: “Here and There” Director Darko Lungulov

Tribeca '09 Interview: "Here and There" Director Darko Lungulov

Editor’s Note: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

“Here and There” (World Narrative Feature Competition) Feature Narrative, 2009, 90 min., Germany, Serbia, U.S.
Director: Darko Lungulov
Primary Cast: David Thornton, Mirjana Karanovic, Branislav Trifunovic, Cyndi Lauper, Jelena Mrdja, Antone Pagan
Screenwriter: Darko Lungulov
Producers: Darko Lungulov, Djordjije Lekovic, Vladan Nikolic
Director of Photography: Mathias Schoeningh
Editor: Dejan Urosevic
Production Designers: Phill Bucelatto, Marija Jocic, Ivana Nikolic
Costume Designers: Zora Mojsilovic, Laura Schwartz
Original Music: Dejan Pejovic

Synopsis: Miserable middle-aged musician Robert suddenly finds himself homeless and in need of quick cash. He accepts an offer from a young, enterprising Serbian immigrant named Branko: Travel to Belgrade, marry Branko’s girlfriend, and bring her back to New York. But while on the trip, Robert meets Branko’s mother, discovers that happiness comes when least expected, and begins to question whether money or love would be the true cure to his ills. (Description provided by Tribeca Film Festival).

Please introduce yourself…

I am Darko Lungulov, born in Belgrade at that time Yugoslavia, now Serbia. When in 1991 the civil war broke in Yugoslavia, I moved to New York. In NYC, while studding film at CCNY, I supported myself working as a “man with a van”. From 1997-2003 I worked as documentary filmmaker on staff and on independent film project. In 2003, I returned to live and work in Serbia.

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

Early Jim Jarmush movies, civil war in Yugoslavia, budget cuts at City College of New York. While growing up in Belgrade, Serbia in the ’80s I was always an avid film lover. I also wanted to make films, but thought it was impossible to make the movies I want. At that time we watched a lot of huge production US movies, which discouraged me from even thinking of getting into moviemaking. But then I saw “Stranger Than Pardise’ and “Down By Low” by Jim Jarmush in a crammed room at our Student Cultural center. Those films gave me hope and were a great inspiration to still continue dreaming of moviemaking. Amazingly enough, one of the co-producers on “Here and There” is legendary Jim Stark, who produced “Down By Low,” “Mistery Train” and “Night on Earth” by Jim Jarmush.

Civil war in Yugoslavia forced me to move to New York. There, while working as a “Man with a Van,” I saved some money to enroll in City College of New York. Luckily for me, because of budget cuts, the Russian Area Studies, which I unwilling studied as a “safe” choice, was cut from the program. That gave me an excuse to run across the campus and enroll in the Film and Video program, which I had wanted to for a long time.

What prompted the idea for “Here and There” and what excited you to actually undertake it?

The story of “Here and There” is loosely based on my 5-year stint as a “man with a van” in NYC. While studying film at City College of New York I supported myself driving a van and carrying boxes and furniture every day before and after film classes. Every time my beeper would go off, I would run out of class to make a phone call to my prospective clients. My professors and fellow students thought I was a drug dealer.

I entered many people’s lives as “mover” in New York City. I always knew that this could be a good base for a story. In 2003, I returned to live in Serbia. Soon enough, I learned about the harsh reality of daily life of this “country in transition.” Even though all the wars ended, nearly all the young people there were still longing to live somewhere else. At same time, I remember how I longed to be back in Serbia. That irony inspired me to write “Here And There.”

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

I think, the main quality of low-budget, first-time films is honesty, which you achieve by staying within the boundaries of the story, but also within the boundaries of budget and circumstances. To be pretentious in any way is a big crime in filmmaking, especial when making your first film. I was trying to always keep that in mind while making “Here and There.”

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

The toughest moment by far was, when only 12 days before shooting in Belgrade, Serbia, the US embassy was attacked and burnt by angry protesters. The US government issued a travel warning for Serbia and advised US citizens to leave Serbia. Lead actor David Thornton called me from LA and asked, “Is it safe?”

I was in Belgrade and guaranteed him that it was safe. In the next few days, things calmed down and we started as planned and filmed for the next 3 weeks in the best possible atmosphere. Our first day of shooting in Belgrade was all over the news. At the end of the shoot, all of the crew and cast from the US and Germany were very sad to leave Belgrade.

It is a very ambitious first-time film, because I was actually making two films on two different continents. We shot the NYC part in October of 2007 for 12 days. It was a grueling, low-budget shoot with a lot of enthusiasm, international crew from everywhere and people squatting in apartments to save money.

Once, we thought we lost an HD tape with a major scene on it, which couldn’t be re-shot because our actor Branislav Trifunovic had to fly back to Serbia the very next day. Then it took four months preparation for shoting in Belgrade, with a lot of frustration over money, fundraising, logistical nightmares, and an actor coming to Serbia for three weeks.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Success to me, is to be able to live and feed your family from making your own films. My goals are make films that are sincere, emotional and funny and try not to bore the audience too much.

What are your future projects?

My next project is “The Monument to Michael Jackson,” a comedy inspired by bizarre trends happening recently in small towns in Serbia: people building monuments to Hollywood and pop-icons (Rocky, Tarzan, Bruce Lee etc.) Marko, an optimistic daydreamer, has a simple plan: he wants to breathe life into his dying Serbian hometown by building a monument to Michael Jackson. It will be a wholehearted comedy about at bizarre world of today’s Serbia. As in “Here and There”, it involves American actors.

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