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10. Why do you do documentaries?
It is to me a way of looking for the answer how to live and what to live for. A way of living in a more curious and more emotional way. The camera gives me a chance to visit places and ask questions I normally wouldn’t, out of lack of courage.
La Chana is the portrait of the self-taught Gypsy dancer, Antonia Santiago Amado, an amazing flamenco dancer and with it the personal story of a now elderly woman. Excellent editing with archival dance scenes and highlights of her career (here with Peter Sellers in The Bobo). Full of humour and passion, a great scene where she talks about Dali, how he attended her performances bringing along his “cat”, his leopard, which was upset by her tap-dancing and roared!
Lucija Stotevic the director and producer of the film originally comes from Croatia, but moved to Austria when she was 6. While studying architecture in Edinburgh, she discovered she loved film more, so she moved to the Czech Republic to study film for one very intensive year. After that, she moved to Barcelona, Spain, and started to work for production companies and independently doing video journalism for newspapers like The Guardian. La Chana was the reason why she set up her own production company. She produced and directed this feature-length documentary against all the financial obstacles for a newcomer. The film has participated in a series of workshops, such as EsoDoc and Rough Cut Boutique. Four years later, La Chana was premiering at Idfa Panorama and was also nominated for the best female-directed film. While this interview was taking place in her co-working space in Barcelona, her seven-month-old daughter was one floor above, playing in the baby facility provided by this co-working space.
Is it common in Spain to have a baby facility if you are a working woman? No, it’s a completely new thing; we are pioneers and trying it out. I was like, “This is perfect” because, she is depending on me, but I need to work. My poor baby is seven months old and has been to five countries in seven months.
So, you were pregnant while doing the film? During the editing process, my belly was just growing. So, I was thinking, if she doesn't have a sense of rhythm, I will be surprised. She is getting so much flamenco, she’d better have a good sense of rhythm.
Do you think your background in architecture influences this way of reacting and thinking? This structure you have, is it coming from there? There are overlaps between film and architecture. For example, in the working process, in both film and architecture, you work on different aspects and still always have an overall picture the whole time, too. It’s also a echnical and creative mix, and I think there are a lot of crossovers, which is actually why I got into film. I did my final project on editing theory in film and architecture and was looking at how these two things can influence each other in the creative process, in the way you think about montage and architecture and construction, and the way you think about montage and constructing through sequences in storytelling. There is similarity. During that period, I became much more interested in film than architecture, so my boyfriend at the time told me, ‘You seem so much more into the film aspect, why don't you just go to film school?’ and I thought that actually was not such a bad idea.
How did you meet La Chana?
I met her through my teacher, Beatriz del Pozo. La Chana is her ‘maestro’. Beatriz always talks about La Chana, about her rhythms, about her beats, about how she had fallen into the shadows and she shouldn't have because she is an amazing, wonderful artist and does things nobody else had done. She put some videos on for me when I was at her house, of La Chana dancing and I was just dumbstruck. I think the one that really struck me was the one where La Chana was dancing in The Bobo [the Peter Sellers film], where she is nineteen years old and looks like she is forty – the passion and the pain and the suffering – she was like a sorceress!
Beatriz suggested that we meet so we went to her home, and she prepared an amazing paella for us. She was very open with me from the beginning in terms of what happened to her, she just told me everything. There was so much story here, and this character was amazing. She could carry a film as an individual character – nothing else was necessary. I proposed we start working together, and the first thing she told me was, ‘OK, come to the party on Saturday. I am having my whole family here, but only you can come, you can’t bring any men with you, no camera guys, and if my family ask you, tell them that you are a student of mine.’ She was very careful, and what worried her the most was her own environment, and how they were going to react if they knew she was doing this film. But then, little by little, she became much more open about this.
It does come across in the film that she has this worry about how others will think of things and that she was always between these two things, what do others think and what is my own soul telling me. Exactly, very much so. It has always been a struggle for her, this combination of ‘this is me, this is what I want, what I am feeling and this is what I am supposed to be doing.
How did you deal with all these layers of her character, all these directions the film could take?
There were many directions the film could have taken, as there were many elements to deal with: her art, the social circumstances, the abuse. But I think going into general topics would have been a mistake. So, it was very important that we just stick to the core, and let her lead it, and just look more how these different things influenced her, rather than what they are. And La Chana’s core is her dance, her art. That’s why there is a narrative told through the transformation of the way you perceive her dance in the film. When you watch the early part of the film and you discover who she was, you see her dancing and you think, ‘Wow, amazing dancer,’ but it’s only when you find out those different obstacles that she had, that her dances take on other meanings, other layers. You understand all that emotional charge then. That was very important to me, that we go to where her core is – her music, her rhythm, her dance – and to do that we should understand her pain and her suffering and her environment, and her tragedy, and stay close to that.
I could see the passion of La Chana but I could also feel your passion in doing this film. I am sure you had difficulties in many ways to make it. How did you balance these two roles – director and producer?
I think the way the documentary world is today, if I look at it from the producers’ perspective, most people would have just put this film into the drawer looking at it in terms of financing and what was possible to raise, unfortunately. That was one of my worries initially, because we started this film exactly when the crisis hit, so we had the problem that the arts were the first thing to get cut – production companies were closing left, right and centre. Everybody was telling me, ‘We love the film, we love the idea but we don't know if we are going to survive one more year, and it will be very difficult to get funding for your film.’ We had a lot of interest also at the international level, but this was complicated, because of the fact that it is character-driven, a human-interest story, but of a character who is not so well-known outside of Spain – I mean she is not so well known inside of Spain either, except to the older generation. Only Spanish is spoken, and it was very hard to find co-producers who could do anything. In the end, I established a production company in order to be able to produce it, and then we eventually started getting interest from a direct audience. We ended up raising a huge part, more than 50% of our budget, from individuals. Otherwise, it would have been impossible. It was funded by women mostly. Women wanted to watch this film.
In a film like La Chana it is important that you are a woman. Do you think that the fact that you were a woman filmmaker made her trust you and open up to tell her story? Was it important that you were a woman?
I think so. She grew up in such a macho society that I think there are certain things that she would certainly not share with a man. It made it easier for her to relate to me and open up to me. Initially, one of the things I was worried about is that I am a foreigner and I think that played as an advantage for me because, especially in the beginning, she didn't feel threatened by me. She thought ‘the girl with the funny accent’, you know (laughing). That, in some way, helped her to relax.
You are not only stubborn, but very smart, too. I wanted to ask you a bit more about flamenco?
I am interested from an intellectual point of view but you can’t be shy and perform in flamenco. I absolutely adore it and I loved learning it, but I wouldn't describe myself as a flamenco dancer. In order to be really good, you need to be really raw and really let everything come out; show everything that you are. In flamenco for it to work you have to let all that fall, and I am too private of a person to do that.
In the film, you talk about the aging process, the loss of acceptance, but also the reinvention. You manage to do this very smoothly. I wanted to hear more about that coming from you, what are your thoughts about aging and reinvention?
What La Chana shows us in a very nice way is that you have to accept the passing of time and that you can do something with it; you don’t have to just sit there and do nothing anymore. She demonstrates it so beautifully, that you can’t let your passions die even if you are physically getting older. You have to find a way to change them into a format that you can still enjoy.
Through the film, you helped her do this also, to go back.
We kind of inspired her to go back on stage, which she loves; she loves the attention, she loves the audience, but she also loves being filmed. She is living with memories but quite isolated. Now, I think we won’t be able to stop her anymore (laughing) – she wants to go everywhere and is going to be the great diva again, and she will do anything.
What was her reaction when she saw the film?
She always said she prayed for us (the film team), but when I showed her the film in January she told me she stopped praying for me. Over a nine-month period.
She hated it; she had a really hard time with it, which was normal. I mean, I was expecting her to react, but she reacted very strongly. It might sound sadistic and horrible, but i thought, ‘OK, this is a good sign’. Because if she loved it from the beginning, it means we didn’t really go under the surface. It had to affect her; it wouldn't be normal if it didn’t affect her because it’s her life. There is a psychological process she never went through. It was extremely difficult, and she was very angry at me, but by the time we showed her a final version, after many months had passed, she had had time to process it and now stands behind it.
Interview by Zaradasht Ahmed, director Nowhere to Hide IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary, to Dimitra Kouzi.
How did you get involved with this story?
Zaradasht Ahmed: The idea started in Afghanistan, back in 2008. The mainstream media was not telling the whole truth about the American and Coalition invasion of Afghanistan and its fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban, so together with Dr. Husum (a human rights activist and war surgeon), we worked to recruit local medics and journalists to document first-hand information from areas where most of the media did not have access. We initially wanted to make a film on this “new war”. We called the project “the new war machine”. We focused on exploring the type of war: what it is; is it different; is it between countries (a frontal war); or is it transborder warfare without fronts. Two years later, in 2010, we moved the concept to Iraq. I was sure that this “new war” would emerge in cities there. That was our main intention. We started with that idea, but gradually we ended up with a character-based, very intense film about Nori. In this case, it was the situation that drove me to change the direction of the film, and not the other way round.
How did you meet Nori?
Nori was one of the twelve medics we trained in Iraq. He singled himself out by being very interested in documenting and filming in the areas called “no-go zones”; places organisations, doctors and journalists do not have access to. He did not know much about filming to start with, but he was interested, and he had the will. That is how it started. Nori comes from one of these “no-go zones” – a town called Jalawla, in Diayala Province in central Iraq.
Your origin is Kurdish and you live in Norway. How did you get there?
We eventually moved our “base” to Sulaymaniyah in Northern Iraq, where I originally come from. Diyala Province is three and a half hours from where I lived, and it is my mother’s home town. The medical organisation led by Dr. Husum and the local Kurdish doctor, Dr. Modhafar, was based in Sulaymaniyah, so it was natural that we ended up there. In addition, Sulaymaniyah is a safe base to work from.
You don't live in Sulaymaniyah anymore. How many years have you been living in Norway?
I have lived in Norway for 22 years.
Do you feel privileged because of that, or do you feel in as if you are still in exile? What is your relation to your home country?
After getting Norwegian citizenship I can move freely, and that makes me feel privileged. I have been living in exile since the early 1990s, soon to be 26 years now, so it is difficult to compare my situation to Nori’s. Nori has been forced to leave his home and has been placed in an IDP camp (a camp for Internally Displaced People), and it is important not to mix the terms “Internally Displaced People” with “people in exile”. I chose to leave because of the political situation in my country; Nori was forced. Therefore, my interest in following Nori’s story is not due to our similarities, to be honest. My other film, Fata Morgana, was about exile and the desire to seek a better life elsewhere.
You worked on this film for five long years.
I like long-term documentaries. I like to spend years on my films, on my subjects, on my characters because I believe that film is storytelling. It is also about some unique moments that we call the moments of truth. These moments won’t happen unless you spend a lot of time with your characters, you have to get behind many layers to reach the heart of what the feeling is; and the truth is often found under all these layers.
How much is your original footage in the film, and how much is Nori’s footage? When it comes to the footage, the entire shooting of the film has been a complicated process spanning over five years. We started with collecting material from several sources. Following the dramaturgy of the film, you could break it up simply like this: The first act is shot mainly by me, but when Nori starts to be trapped in Jalawla, he is on his own, and the first-hand accounts from the fall of the town, the collapse of the hospital through the fleeing all the way to the IDP camp was shot by Nori. Towards the end of the film, the scenes of returning to the hospital and the entire final act are mainly shot by me again.
How much material did you have? 300–400 hours.
How did you manage to make this storyline emerge out of all this material?
It is really difficult to answer that question. It is the result of team work. By being open to the changes, allowing me to go further, to focus more on Nori and his personal point of view. We went from a story with questions such as: “Is it possible to live in a war without fronts, without a visible army of only faceless solders?” to a personal story of one man and his family trying to survive a highly brutal warfare, told in a dramatic film. That was a major change for us. One of the toughest challenges making the film was not the material itself, but the need to pursue that material further, because once you start following a character you have to put all your effort into him, and you need to build the scenes that will enable you to create that storyline. In the middle of this process, Nori’s town became a living hell; suddenly ISIS came and the hospital was being bombed, he was targeted and had to flee with his family. At this point we could not leave him there, we had to keep following. I found myself sitting for days and nights in Iraq because I had no access into the area, as it was controlled by ISIS. So I was calling, directing, helping, cheering him up and constantly talking to him, because he felt really down during that phase.
After a sold out premiere at IDFA read an interview with Olga Delane, the director of Siberian Love on love and marriage
Click to Watch the trailer
What was your motivation to make this film?
I was immediately interested in Ljuba. I noticed that although she had a hard life she never complained. She did not struggle to change that and at the same time she seemed very happy and satisfied with her life. I was fascinated in her attitude towards life. She can do so many things, she is so talented. She can weave, saw, embroider; She sings, dances, bakes, cooks; she is as wise as in the Thousand and One Nights. It was clear to me while observing her that her power did not lie in ‘equality’ as we know it in the West, but in the fact that she was the complementary element in a relationship. So, I became interested in her relationship, and I started the film with her.
Then I decided to observe these people in the village, to get answers. Are they right? How do they go about things? How are they shaped by the traditional social conditions in their environment? How do they live and love? How do the interpret ‘happiness’?
What are the general characteristics of a Russian woman?
A Russian woman loves to show herself, to be feminine, to be adored by men, to be a woman is very important. Dressed luxuriously, in trim. A woman always has a fascinating secret. The ‘classical’ role. A Russian woman can’t deal easily with the ‘feminine’ side of man. I love to be a Russian in Germany. As a Russian woman I will always be excused. ‘She is foreign, a Russian, and on top of that an artist.’
Russian men are protectors. They will do anything to please their women. In Russia, a man takes full responsibility for the happiness of a woman. He will offer you everything. Will even replace your worn shoelaces. He will travel 800 km a day to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for you. On the other hand, they are not so courteous, and generally do not speak so much.
What misconceptions are there between East and West – Russians and Europeans?
How can we have an opinion without knowing each other 100%?
In your opinion, why are there so many people nowadays who are alone, unwilling to make a commitment?
It is because of too much freedom and too many choices. At 30, we are still ‘children’, unable to be responsible for ourselves. We cannot take the responsibility for somebody else, for a relationship. We are eager to stay in our comfort zone in every way. And we grow unused to dealing with the difficulties in a real-life relationship. You can’t expect your partner to be there just to make you happy.
What about feminism? Why are you about to answer immediately, ‘No, I am not a feminist!’
Because I am not! I was born in today’s Russia. There, there are specified roles, starting when you are at Kindergarten. I love to be a woman. I love to cook for my man, to wash his socks and sometimes even to iron. I love it when I feel the man’s power in a relationship, and when a man takes it upon himself to make me happy, while that makes him self-confident. This to me is a healthy relationship. In no way am I dependent on a man, or stripped off of my rights as a woman. On the contrary, I evolve as a woman, and my happiness is also transmitted to him. Yet, I can be happy by myself; I can fend for myself. Is there anything more beautiful? God has made us so different for a reason. I’m sure he had something in mind, and I do not underestimate that in any way.
Do you believe in love?
Of course I do! Without love there is no life!
What about marriage?
It is a magical ritual. But you do not have to believe in that. What we need today is spiritual power. Tradition provides roots for a harmonious coexistence.
What is the biggest cliché about women directors?
Once, I heard this comment when I went to a shooting wearing a tight cigarette skirt. A German woman told me, ‘Olga, you can’t go on a set dressed like this. You are a filmmaker now!’ That is perhaps a cliché.
Would you have any special advice to give to female directors?Actually, no. I know one thing. Women have great power in them. If they activate this power, they can make a fantastic experience. I wish that many women have this experience. The world will immediately change – everybody stands to benefit, especially women directors.
Name your favourite woman-directed film and why you love it.
For a few years now, I have been observing the highly talented Ekaterina Eremenko. I am a friend of hers, and that is why I speak about her. She has intensity and power that can seldom be found in a man. At work, she is like a tank, and at the same time she is a lady, a mother. That’s a beautiful combination for a modern woman, who always stays feminine.
What does a woman need to be happy and fulfilled? After 20 years of living in Berlin, the film director Olga goes back to her roots in a small Siberian village, where she is confronted with traditional views of relationships, life and love.
Dimitra Kouzi: Olga, where are you from?
Olga Delane: People consider me a Russian in Germany and a German in Russia. My great great grandmother’s name was Wilhelmine; she moved from Germany to Russia 200 years ago. The fact is that I am a German-Russian who moved back to Germany 20 years ago. I grew up under the Soviet culture, so I am a ‘Soviet’, too, even though the USSR is no longer. I was lucky to move to Germany with my parents when I was only 16 years old. Ultimately, I can feel at home everywhere. This is a great privilege.
What is your film about?
On the one hand, it is an opportunity for viewers to discover a place such as Siberia, which for most people is a remote, extreme and exotic place. How do people live in Siberia? You can experience that in the film. Viewers can feel very close to the people who live there. Get to know them. On the other hand, this is a film about relationships – human relationships between men and women, family relationships. This is the basic storyline for the film. I live in a country (Germany) in which there are many opportunities in all aspects of life. As a free person, I am tempted to try them all, to experience, to evolve. On the other hand, the pace of life prevents us from experiencing all that we want, and to evolve as human beings, to taste this life and learn from our choices. In this incredible and inexhaustible freedom, there is less and less room for family, relationships, children. We are a generation that cannot develop relationships.
How did you find the village?
A few years ago, in 2009, my father took me to the village and introduced me to relatives and friends. It is a Cossack village; once there lived 700 families, now there are only 50, mainly working on land and animal-farming. It’s a small scale. Here, people can dream that they will win one million, but they cannot ‘conceive’ a sum of one billion. When I first visited, word got around that I was an American journalist. If you carry a camera, you are a journalist for them.
Would you ‘survive’ in that village?
I haven’t tried. I know I need to be in constant motion: do projects, have plans; I have to do something all the time. I guess I would be very anxious, sooner or later, or even aggressive. I have the feeling that people there do not develop. Everything stays the same. Undoubtedly, when you arrive at a place like that, a village where time has stopped, devoid of big-city ‘temptations’, there is no pressure to have a ‘career; there is no advertising, no internet – there is no telephone line sometimes. You are then forced to deal with the inhabitants of this place, and with your own, Western lifestyle.
What about the women?
The basis of a woman’s life in the village is caring, working and children. She is safe. We in our world are far away from that. We have much higher expectations, but in the meantime we lost track in dealing with this freedom.
What was your biggest challenge (technically and/or emotionally)?My first shock was when one of my leading characters refused to be in the film. A German woman who got married to a Siberian hunter. I had to travel two days by train and two days by boat to reach her. I lived in her village (population 57) for two weeks because there was no boat for me to leave. On the other hand, this enabled me to work very well. One month after filming, she decided she did not wish to participate in the film and prohibited me from using the material.
What was even harder was when, one night before leaving for Siberia, something happened to our cameraman and he had to cancel his trip. We only had 10 hours to find a replacement. It could not be someone from Germany, as we would have to get them a visa, and we could not afford new extra-expensive tickets to Siberia. A thriller. In the end, we found a solution. We found a young talented and motivated cameraman in Siberia who, in addition, had his own equipment. There were emotional difficulties, too. When one of my leading characters died.
Did this experience change you?
Yes, for me my protagonists are a symbol of endurance and strength. Despite their hard life they manage not to complain, but go through life as it comes. When I have problems, I immediately think of them and calm down. And what was for me only a suspicion before filming, that we need to keep our egos outside of a relationship, was confirmed. Yet, this is a huge process of working with ourselves.
Take us into your editing room. What decisions did you have to make while editing the film?
First of all, to decide to start editing! I have not been to film school. And I had only one prior experience. But for that previous film there were no financiers who had requirements. We just did what we liked. For Siberian Love, everybody had expectations already about where the story should go. And we had tons of material after four years of shooting. We had filmed using three different cameras in different qualities, and we had six families as protagonists. My editor, Phillip Gromov, with his passion, helped me a lot to manage all this enormous work. It is not important what you prefer, but how you will make a good film.
Click to Watch the trailer
Electronic Press Kit including interview with both Directors:
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The Director Maite Alberti (Chile)
The Director Giedrė Žickytė (Lithuania)