Despite having impressed festivals such as Venice and Berlin with his fare, Hočevar tells Igor Pop Trajkov that southeast European producers should not look to Western funding for their projects but should band together.
Until recently, Slovenia had little impact on the international film world. In the late 1990s, that all started to change and a string of films from the small Alpine country began to make waves abroad. V leru (Idle Running, dir Janez Burger, 1999), for example, won over 20 awards abroad, and Kruh in mleko (Bread and Milk, 2001), directed by V leru's star Jan Cvitkovič, picked up the covetted Young Lion of the Future award at Venice, the first time a Slovene film had been represented at the festival in over 40 years.
Both V leru and Kruh in mleko came from the E-motion Film production house, whose other feature films include Rezervni deli (Spare Parts, dir Damjan Kozole, 2003), which played in competition at this year's Berlinale, Oda Prešernu (Ode to the Poet, dir Martin Srebotnjak, 2001) and Porno Film (dir Damjan Kozole, 2000).
Earlier this year, Kinoeye spoke to the man behind E-motion Film, Danijel Hočevar, at the Skopje Film Festival, where Rezervni deli was playing.
How and when did you decide on your profession? Did you do anything else before?
No, I was working in the Student Cultural Centre in Ljubljana, in the so-called film department where we were working on some films , retrospectives and such. This was in the 1980s. At the same time, I was producing some not really amateur but rather semi-professional films that were shown at small film festivals dedicated to amateur film in what was then Yugoslavia. That is when I met Damjan Kozole in 1986 and that is when we decide to produce a small low budget film, the low budget Usodni telefon (Deadly Phone). This was in 1986 or 87 and the film was done for some DEM 30 to 40,000 with a camera we borrowed for free. We got some other things for free as well. That's how it all started.
With Damjan, we did also the next movie in 1988. I didn't intend to get involved in the making of that film, but I also didn't mind doing it. Through doing the job I also got to like being a producer. The first film I did was true research of all things involved, the technology and the way the work was done. So, the first film was in a way a practical experience. I met some people, organisers and film directors, who advised me and that is how I started.
A frequently used term now is producer's cinema. This implies that the producer is to suggest or impose his views on the film or director. All your films can be recognised by their style, do you favour this concept?
It has never been my inclination or intention to impose my own views in terms of the creative work of an artist, or to influence the director in undertaking some novel approach. Were any of my suggestions to be adopted it was solely a result of my wish to improve the quality of the film. Likewise, it is my opinion that the so-called producer's cinema cannot function in small industries such as ours. It might function in Hollywood, or it may even be successful in France, England, but I'm not so sure about Germany or Slovenia. It could be possible in some segments of the films, but not the film as a whole. Most frequently this is done with blockbusters. I cannot say that this is possible with any other cinematography.
On the other hand, I definitely think that a qualitative and comprehensive co-operation between the director and producer is needed, so that films with unnecessary expenditures are not made. Film is simply too expensive to be done on your own whim, so to speak. Because of this when there us a lack of this sort of cooperation we get films which are totally difficult to see or are just liked by a small audience.
For example, Rezervni deli is a very difficult film, but it is not lacking communication. This is what I am trying to push forward—the projects that should be done with active co-operation between the producer and director. We shouldn't make stupid films that cost millions of euros and are not seen, let alone appreciated, by anyone.
I have noticed that almost all your films are done in co-operation with TV Slovenia. What is your opinion on the influence of television on film productions? Do they insist on glamour in the movies?
All east European television stations must understand that by insisting on certain projects that they feel will have high rating will lose that rating by doing so. On the other hand all east European producers must understand that they cannot realise a project without the involvement of the television stations. A co-operation between these two segments can come up with an interesting film—an auteur film—that is financially of higher quality than the standard television productions. To us, the producers the co-operation with the television stations is financially closing the project. The financial situation of TV Slovenia in the last three years has been quite bad. The co-operation we have with them now is basically technical, which is all right by us because those are things that we would usually have to pay for. In the next few years it will have to reconstruct and be a real co-producer, investing cash, being a partner, working on presentation so that the co-operation is one of quality.
What inspires you most-Slovenian films from the 1970s? What aesthetic guidelines do you use in choosing screenplays?
The only thing that attracts my attention is a well-written screenplay and of course a theme that corresponds well with our present or near past life. In terms of Rezervni deli, we didn't even ourselves realise how popular the theme was going to be even when the film was finished. From the time the idea came up in 2000 until the first screening of the film some things became less important than others. The flow of illegal immigrants is not as intense as it used to be, but it is still quite popular in the world. Some things also happened in Afghanistan and Iraq that reminds us that the theme is still ever so popular.
Trying to answer the question about my inspiration found in the Slovenian film, I wouldn't agree. I have never excessively inspired by films from the past. I am interested in the film I am making at the moment, and whether it is a quality film, or not.
I think I detected a minor nostalgia from the 1970s, with all those lorries and buildings...
This is unfortunately true; Slovenia is not just Ljubljana. Slovenia is also Tolmin from Kruh in mleko, Slovenia is also Krško from Rezervni deli, Slovenia is also the people who are unemployed, dissatisfied. The people who do not want to run and don't run, but have a bitter feeling of an unsatisfactory life. This is the visual structure of Rezervni deli which implicates that time has stood still. There are towns like these at the Slovenian periphery, where people have experienced exactly that. This has resulted in local migrations, people leave the smaller towns for the bigger towns and cities. The past years have also left their mark on architecture.
How was your work different working with the two directors—Damjan Kozole and Jan Cvitkovič?
These two projects were so different that the co-operation cannot even be compared. Namely, Kruh in mleko (Bread and Milk, 2002) was meant to be a small film, which then grew into feature length done with a very small budget. Rezervni deli on the other hand is a film done for a reasonable budget, a film that was very demanding and a film dealing with a serious issue. Both the directors showed, in their own way, exceptional professionalism and thoroughness in their work. The latter dealt with a more serious issue and so demanded from the director a lot more in terms of work with the actors and the technical crew. I must say that I am pleased with the co-operation I had with both of them.
Have you ever asked for any European funding? Do you find that they do not pay that much attention to aesthetics as they do to the theme of the film?
Unfortunately the people dealing with European funding do not pay attention to aesthetics or the storyline, because those funds are allocated on the basis of a treatment or synopsis and not the screenplay. They are more interested in how you have geographically brought together the producers. You need two or three European countries involved with, for example, Euroimages. So it is quite possible that a film may satisfy their technical criteria and is not quality film.
In spite of the fact that you are a winner of prestigious awards, you have not changed at all. You always leave a good impression; can you reveal us a professional secret?
There is no secret to reveal. I take this as a compliment. Apart from all the bonuses we get, we need to know whether it is not insignificant within some sort of world framework, though small. It is important for us, as well as positive following some sort of development. The diversification must be ongoing as it is the only way to focus the attention to as small a cinematography as ours. Still, this presentation of ours in Berlin may not seem very important for some big countries, but for as small a country as ours, it is extraordinary.
If you could change anything in the film production within the region how would you improve its efficiency and speed issues?
What all the states in southeast Europe should understand is that they will always be in a subordinate position in relation to Western Europe. I feel that will be a good starting point for more intense co-operation. We need to unite our small financial resources so that we are more open to co-productions; we shouldn't gravitate towards the West for finances where we are not going to be interesting with our local projects. And with the positive financial resources we will be able to achieve more natural products. This is one aspect that the local cinematography workers should look at.
What projects are you working on now?
We are finishing three films and we are preparing another co-production. One of the films I am doing is with Janez Burger—who did V leru—and is called "Rusevine" (The Ruins). We are finishing up a film called "Pod njenim oknom" (Under Her Window) with Metod Pevec, who did Carmen seven years ago and the co-production is with Srđan Koljević entitled "Sivi kamion crvene
boje" (Red Coloured Grey Truck), a Serbian-Slovene-German co-production. Work starts on it in a month, a month and a half.
What is your view on relationship between film and the internet? Are you familiar with Kinoeye?
The Internet is a great device not just for art but also for everything in general. And as for Kinoeye and CER [which Kinoeye was previously a part of], I found out I think by accident about three years ago when I registered, and I am getting the latest issues all the time now.
Has it helped you in any way?
Igor Pop Trajkov
Printer-friendly version of this article
Translated by Vera Ralph