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This Serbian Director Embodies a DIY Spirit

This Serbian Director Embodies a DIY Spirit

Katarina Stankovich lives through her art. In turn, her movies depict the reverse: the world as a stage, living itself as a form of creating art. Indiewire spoke to the Serbian director during her visit to Locarno Film Festival as part of its Filmmakers Academy and as a filmmaker in the shorts program with “Las cuatro esquinas del círculo.”

Can you describe the process that lead you to making films and that’s ultimately brought you here?

Well, I came into filmmaking quite late because I studied Fine Arts first—Audio Visual studies in San Francisco and Amsterdam. My work was more in a gallery context. And then I slowly switched to film, I was already 25 or 26 when I applied for the school for Masters Studies in Cologne. It was a non-classical film school: they don’t have departments for scriptwriting, editing, directing and so on. It’s more that they create the conditions for you to find your own way, making films, organizing everything yourself, giving you equipment and just the opportunity to do so. But then you have to find your own team. So that’s how I made my first three films…

And how big was the crew?

The crew for my graduate film, “Zima” was just me, the cameraman and the sound guy. We didn’t even do any lighting for that. The light was beautiful at the location. There was no set design, no costume design, makeup, etc. I just brought my friends, and the cast too was basically made up of friends. The house where we shot belongs to an artist—and the house was already incredible, so we just felt that if we were to do something to it we would just destroy it.

Later on, when I finished my studies, a couple of years later I applied to Filmuniversity Konrad Wolf in Potsdam and that’s how I made this project [“Las cuatro esquinas del círculo”]. It’s part of that study, just the graduate work. It’s project-oriented study—I don’t have to go to classes, I just have to make my film and write a thesis. The reason I did it was that my basic studies were Masters and I just thought that if I do this project I can use the school again.

I’ve always just applied to these schools not to learn how to direct—I don’t think it’s something that you can learn, I think you have to find your own way—it’s just to have the opportunity. Because it’s so expensive to make films, but now we have free equipment, post-production for free. Then basically I’m just using it to find my own way. Last year, I was in Cinéfondation in Paris, to write my feature script and the Filmmaker’s Academy is part of it—after finishing Cinéfondation, you’re invited here to the Academy. I was offered a place last year but had to postpone because I was shooting in Mexico. So I wasn’t exactly selected here on the basis of my work. It sort of came automatically.

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What was the project in Mexico?

Again, it was accidental, as part of Cinéfondation we were invited as guests to Guanajuato International Film Festival—all 12 of us for the Spring and Fall session of Cinéfondation. Because I knew it was such a long trip, I decided to use the opportunity—stay in Mexico a little longer and use the fact that I had this flight paid for by the festival. To stay longer, to experiment—to try and shoot something. So again, it was a two-man show: me and a friend of mine from New York who’s a cameraman. And we spent another two weeks after the festival. The story of the Mexican part is based on a true story, of a friend of mine, whose dying friend asked him to take him around the city to say goodbye to the city for last time. He wanted to visit places that evoked certain memories…

Coming from a fine art background, do you think of ideas in terms of images—rather than stories—that you then realize into movies?

Visuals first. I’m worse as a storyteller than of an image-maker. My strength is more in shaping the story to images, rather than really writing the story in a classical way. If you believe in the world of images and words, and that images can only be expressed in words—then you’re going to have a straight, one-line film where everything is too explicable. But I also believe that not every story can be expressed in words, and there are certain coincidences or synchronicites, or other mysteries that we don’t understand, what law governs them. But somehow they are there, they are present. In a way, I feel them and I’m always in situations where these kind of coincidences surprise me.
Do you like working in films where you’re in control of the schedule, where there’s a small crew, where post-production is a slow process?

Yes, you might have enough time generally to work on a film—that is, mathematically and technically. But sometimes you have to let the project sit, you have to let it sit. Time passes and you go back to your work and judge it. That is why editing takes so long for me. Technically, you can say, “It’s a short movie, 24 minutes, it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks.” But actually it does take two and a half months, because you are making breaks. You fall into a depression at the beginning, then you have to pull yourself out of it. Doing scene by scene, then you have to put them together. And this putting together probably takes the longest time. You have to calculate and organize it in a way that you feel comfortable. And also not rush for festivals.

Has that slow pace ever caused a problem?

I haven’t done many films. I’m not sure if I can answer that. But with my last film I felt that I was more mature than in the past.

More so than with the others…

Yes, there’s more experience. Knowing what awaits me, knowing that I have to take all these things into consideration. And you really have to do everything: to be the control freak, to know everything, to do everything—from scrubbing the toilets after everybody has left to promoting the film in a festival in a silky dress. Because nobody will care more about the film than you.

And when the film is finished?

After the shooting and post-production, I was really tired so for “Las cuatro esquinas del círculo” I was for one month on an island in Croatia, in a wild camp so I didn’t have to pay. It’s not like I’m coming from a rich family who are giving me a fortune to do this. I went there because I was broke after the movie. So I spent the whole time sleeping on the ground and reading. Not entering four walls, dark studios, not being on the computer, drinking only water from the source that isn’t processed or bottled. It cleanses you completely—you get rid of all the shit from filmmaking. I was rubbing fresh Aloe Vera on my skin, swimming, eating fish. No carbohydrates apart from fruits—no milk, no bread. This is also important for filmmaking.

You need to recover after a shoot to continue working, to be able to move onto another project. Because you can be trapped into reliving the traumas of making the film—it can make you even more angry and stressed than before. So you need to find a way to rejuvenate yourself, to forget, to recharge your soul and your mind and your body.

This article is part of a series written by members of the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy, organized by Indiewire, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Locarno Film Festival.

READ MORE: The 2015 Indiewire Locarno Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

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