P.O.V. No.21 - (A)TORSION

An interview with Stefan Arsenijevic on (A)Torsion

Richard Raskin

Could I ask you to fill me in on the development of this project? How did (A)Torsion begin? How did the project unfold? And am I right in assuming that the international collaboration involved was quite extraordinary?

The late Slovenian producer Jurij Kosak bought the rights for the script from the most famous Bosnian writer Abdulah Sidran. Then he looked for a young director to direct it. I was a student in the final year at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade and got recommended by my professor Srdjan Karanovic, after having done several pretty successful student movies. I sent my movies and director's concept for (A)Torsion to Kosak and after a while he called saying he decided I should direct it. And so a real adventure began for me. I was directing my first professional movie in Slovenia, where I had never been before, and with a crew I was to meet for the first time. The crew actually consisted of people from all over the former Yugoslavia and that was one of the first collaborations of that kind, after the war.

Was the film storyboarded?

I draw the storyboard myself and each drawing was just a sketch - a few lines showing characters and location, just for me and the DOP to have a reminder. I usually work that way. I never hire a professional storyboard artist since I believe that makes things too determinate. Most of all I enjoy an actor's creativity and I would consider a detailed storyboard as a simplification of their job. So I leave it in just a few lines.

May I ask about the choices you made in casting?

It was a hard job, since I come from a different state than the actors. We did castings in Bosnia and Slovenia and since I didn't know the previous work of most of the actors I met, I had to relay only on this short encounter at the casting. It was too expensive to get all the actors from Bosnia for the shoot in Slovenia, so we made the mixture. Some Slovenians played Bosnians and they were pretty concerned about their accent. Plus there's a different school of acting, a different approach, in these two countries which made it even more difficult. I like to work a lot with the actors before shooting, but in this case we had just a few days, in some cases one night together before the beginning of the shoot. All I could do was convince them that I knew what I wanted and make them believe in me to lead them through the film.

(A)torsion is rich in many ways, including visually. Can you tell me about the "look" you were aiming for, particularly in the indoor scenes?

I had the great luck and honor to work with the magnificent DOP Vilko Filac, who shot most of Emir Kusturica's movies. In a way he was the main star of the crew. I was very nervous before meeting him. Among other things, I heard he refused a Rolling Stones music video in order to work on (A)Torsion.

But when we met I realized what a normal and great guy he is. He was a great support and a wonderful inspiration.

In the very beginning we set the visual concept. The idea was to have this warm, Christmas-like atmosphere in the stable, since the story played with many Christmas elements. But in no case did we want it to be eye-candy, because it was the story of how a small miracle can happen in hard war times. The idea was to find this delicate balance between a Christmas atmosphere and a rough reality.

In making this film, were there any particular storytelling qualities you were striving for, and any others you deliberately tried to avoid?

My main aim was to tell the story in such a way that viewers would believe that singing to a cow giving a birth during a war is a logical and realistic situation. As mentioned regarding the visual approach, my main concern was to find and keep the balance between the real and surreal, to prevent the allegorical level of the story from overpowering believable reality and still to keep the magic.

Do you see the film as - in some ways - a kind of fable?

I never thought of that...

The beads we see fleetingly in the main character's hand near the end of the film - are they Muslim or Christian beads, or could they be either?

Either. The story refers to all the people.

Is there anything else you might like to tell me about the making of (A)Torsion or about any of its qualities?

There is a small dedication to my generation at the end of the movie. In the original script the choir leaves and there's a kind of happy ending. But it bothered me during the preparation, I felt something was missing. Then I realized - it is a happy end for the choir, but what happens with the new-born calf? They helped it come into the world and then left. Is that a happy ending? So I finished the film with a boy and a calf together, while we hear the war in the distance. This is the position of my generation.

Do you see the short film as an art form in its own right? And do you believe that the short film involves essentially the same kind of storytelling found in the feature film?

I guess to answer that question, I would have to make a long feature film and see for myself. Right now I'm writing a script for one. Of course, the things you have to take care of vary with the length of a film - in a short film you have to be condensed and in a feature film you have to keep the interest of the audience during whole hour or two. But essentially, I believe a film is a film, no matter how long.

Is there any advice you might give to student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?

Just do it with all your passion and sincerity, like it's the only film you'll ever make. It will be fine.

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