We watch narrative films because we want to see reflections of ourselves. But we go to documentaries to discover other worlds where, if we’re lucky, we might happen upon ourselves in the process.
Romanian born director Teodora Mihai’s “Waiting for August” is just this sort of documentary. Mihai watches, as if through a window, as a brave 15-year-old girl cares for six siblings in Romania while their mother provides for them abroad in Italy. Shot in widescreen vérité, the film is mounted in such pictorial stillness that we forget the presence of the filmmaker. From day to day in their small social housing apartment these idiosyncratic kids go about their lives knowing that their mother will eventually return from Turin. But in the meantime teenage Georgiana must assume the role of the matriarch.
This is exactly what Mihai wanted to achieve with her debut, a feature close to her heart because she lived this story. As a young girl Mihai spent over a year living alone in Ceaușescu’s Romania while her parents were in political asylum in Belgium. This fragmented family dynamic is not uncommon in a country still reeling from four decades of terror regimes and autocratic rule, even after Communism’s collapse 25 years ago.
Below, watch my Q&A discussion with Mihai, hosted by the International Documentary Association (IDA) in Los Angeles. This lovely and humble director is an exciting new voice for Romanian cinema, and had fascinating things to say about blending art, truth, fact and fiction. “Waiting for August” won Best International Feature Doumentary at HOT DOCS and Best Documentary at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this year. (Watch the trailer here.)