At the 2017 Sarajevo Film Festival, “Yellow Bread” sat down with Serbian up-and-coming helmer Katarina Koljević whose graduation film “Life Lasts Three Days” screened in the “Competition program – Student Film” section of the cinematic event. Here, we talk about the short in question, Short Film in general, the situation of the short form in her native Serbia, women in Film and her next projects.
Can you talk about your background and how you started in Film?
Katarina Koljević: Well, I wanted to be an archeologist. Then, I discovered, when I was fifteen, that it involves a lot of digging where there are insects and bugs and I’m terribly afraid of that. When I was a kid, when I would wake up, I was very grumpy and the way to keep me calm was to play me any film. Film was the thing that calmed me down, that got my entire concentration. So, I started at a small high school film program called Kvadrat. I went there when I was in the eleventh grade and wanted to enroll in the Faculty of Dramatic Arts earlier, but realized it wasn’t not such a good idea. Then, after graduating from high school, I enrolled there into Film Directing, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
What was your inspiration behind “Life Lasts Three Days”?
K.K.: My best friend told me a story of how he and his friend had the key to a very expensive, fancy apartment due to strange circumstances and how they actually spent the night partying there. In the morning, the police came with the arguing couple who was in the middle of a divorce and the man who owns the apartment was just very angry. I was like: “This is a crazy story” and I just turned it around and found in it a perfect setting for a question that troubles me, which is: “How free are we to make our own choices in today’s society?” Society has this big shiny advertisement that says we are all free in our choices and it’s actually pretty hypocritical because it’s not free, it’s completely unfree, and we all kind of play along in this sort of society. Also, with the freedom of choice comes responsibility; the responsibility of our choices… I think that’s something that nobody actually talks about. Add to that the fact that I realized that we call everything “Love” today and that I think we kind of lost love in art and films – especially in films – because it’s been banalized and made really cheap. I wanted to go on a search for what Love really is and wanted to place this impossible love story between two members of different social and economical backgrounds into this vacuum. I thought: “The only place for love today is in this space where there is no time and there is nothing else besides these two characters.”
Your film does not focus on the age difference of the characters, but rather on the nature of a relationship that can only thrive and survive in an isolated environment. Can you comment on that?
K.K.: Yes, that was my main point. I was asked at film school when I handed in the script: “OK, you are a girl. Why are you not doing a story about a younger girl and an older man?” And, I was like: “But, wait a minute! First of all, I can do anything even if I am a female director!” But, I didn’t want to focus on the age difference, because love between an older woman and a younger man is actually something that is socially unacceptable. And, I didn’t want to fight any social, critical battle on that field. I decided to make it possible in this vacuum and rather fight a battle for equal rights for women by telling the best love story that I can with this setting.
It also explores two different social layers that co-exist but barely notice one another in present-day Belgrade. Can you elaborate on that?
K.K.: None of the foreigners who come to Belgrade can actually see it, because Belgrade is a lot of things. I think that people just see one layer. It was basically an experiment. I told myself: “We cross the streets with these people everyday, and they sometimes live a hundred meters away from us…” In Belgrade, it’s like you have these invisible fortresses that people build around themselves and I think that’s really bad because we are losing one really important thing; we are losing empathy and we are losing interest in somebody who lives right next to us. I decided to do this and even though it’s her house and her environment, I included this surrealistic part with the lake and the mountains, because I wanted to dislocate these two characters and kind of drive them out of their social circles and backgrounds to a place where anything can happen. And so, I tried to do that by using as little reference to their lives as I could and just tell something about them as human beings and not as representatives of a certain social layer. I think that that’s actually the best way to represent different social circles; just to drive them out to unknown grounds.
Your short also tackles true emotions and questions the nature of feelings once they are stripped of social conventions that deform them. How and why do feelings preoccupy you as an artist, but also as a person?
K.K.: They preoccupy me because I think they are an endangered species. I think that that is, besides climate change, one thing that can kill the human race, because we are rapidly losing emotions and society actually encourages it. I have, personally, this kind of attitude that I go directly and speak directly to people and express my emotions as directly as it’s socially acceptable, because I think it’s a healthy way of expressing yourself. I think it’s part of our emotional health and I think we have forgotten our emotional health completely. That’s something that brings balance to life, really. I know it sounds like a “Star Wars” quote, but I found, in the past few years, that Film lacks real emotions and that really bugs me. While I was preparing this film, I saw an advert in Belgrade for a chocolate, and it said: “Dare to show emotions” and I was like: “We live today in a world where you have to dare to show emotions,” which is ridiculous, because it’s essential to life!
Would it be fair to say that, in a way, one of the messages of the short is: “Carpe Diem”?
K.K.: Yes, definitely! I personally try to change one thing in my own character and try to influence the people around me and those who see my work. We kind of hide our feelings and we don’t react immediately and spontaneously to things and I think that’s the root of all misunderstandings and prejudice. I think prejudice is one of the worst things that can happen to a human being and I guess I have found a source in this lack of spontaneous reaction. I think that, yes, it could be said that the message is really “Carpe Diem” and kind of try to be spontaneous.
Why did you choose these particular actors who pertain to a new generation of brave and talented Serbian actors who are currently reshaping Serbia’s cultural scene?
K.K.: I’m very happy and lucky that I grew up at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, working with this young generation of people like Marko Grabež – whom I have worked with on several films – and we kind of grew up at the University together, which was great! And, of course, Slaven Došlo and Milan Marić who are amazing. I think this generation could really change things, because they are not settling for the standard that the previous generation has left us with. And, our parents’ generation actually has left us with some kind of disappointment of in terms of standard that’s constantly corroding and it just isn’t going anywhere. I think these people are bold and I just try to keep up with their pace, because they are really courageous actors who ask a lot of smart questions, which are really important for the film. And, in the process, they asked such important questions that really made me stop and think, because these guys are really making a difference. I am really hopeful that they will change the face of Serbian Cinema and of regional Cinema as well, because I think that this new generation of filmmakers and film artists in general has the opportunity to really set some things straight in the region; things that are in a very bad condition now. And, I think that we got left and stuck with these bad things and we have to take responsibility. That’s what we have to do; we have to take responsibility and we have to show the older generation that things could be done differently. And, I think these guys and these girls are really doing that. And, I also have to say that I see Miloš Timotijević – he is a part of the older generation – as a true support. He is a wonderful, wonderful actor and I think his time is just coming. He’s been a great support, because he actually starred in my first year silent film and he acted in my graduation film. So, it was as if my education came full circle with Miloš Timotijević and I’m really lucky and grateful for that.
What is your opinion of Short Film?
K.K.: In a way, it’s a stepping stone for a feature film. But, I also think, since we have all these serious directors who have done dozens of feature films and who still sometimes come back to the short form, it’s really great. Short films give you the opportunity to catch a single experience, a single emotion, a single spark. Of course, feature films can do that, but I think that short films are sincerer and they have the opportunity to be sincerer, because they’re usually made by young people who, luckily, still have hopes about life. These hopes are what keeps us going and I always find that in short films.
What do you think is the current situation of shorts in Serbia?
K.K.: Well, I think the situation is not really good, because everybody is using it as a part of the ladder to climb to the feature and not really thinking about the form, because the form itself is different, the dramaturgy is different, the rhythm is different, everything is different… And, I think the situation could be better, but I think that the level of festivals also has to rise. For instance, Sarajevo has a really serious shorts program like Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, and I think that in Belgrade we don’t talk about shorts enough.
And, that of women in Film?
K.K.: The situation of women seems to be changing and I’m happy about that, really, because I think this is the time for it to change. It’s an old story, but, you know, none of the wars were started by women… And really, I don’t hate men; I’m not a radical feminist. I think the term “feminism” is misunderstood and it has this bad connotation and people don’t actually understand what it means. I think that in today’s society that lacks emotions, women can be this defending wall. Women in Film are really, really in a bad situation and we need to stand up for the woman standing next to us more and show more solidarity because we don’t; we just choose to act like men and then they treat us the same way. They treat you the same way only if you turn into a man psychologically, emotionally, and I don’t think that’s the way of doing it. I’m trying to be a woman and a director, because I don’t think that these two terms are colliding; I think they actually co-exist and it’s completely natural. And yes, I think it’s bad. Why? I have to re-quote myself and try not to sound like an egomaniac, but the position of women, for me, is like this: you’re in a crowded club, everybody is dancing, and you don’t have any space for dancing. But, the way to make space for dancing is to keep on dancing and to dance really hard and really well, without hurting anybody around you, but just to dance and make space for yourself.
What are your next projects?
K.K.: Well, I have a completely prepared script, budget and all the aesthetic stuff as well as some parts of the cast for another short that I am hoping to do next spring. I decided to take it easy on the writing and take a break from it because I really love directing. This short is written by my mother who is a screenwriter, Melina Pota, and again, it’s a love story – surprisingly enough – but, it’s a love story about prejudice and what it can do to a relationship. I am starting, again with Melina Pota as screenwriter, to work on a feature film. Hopefully, I will shoot it in the next two years.