Blesok no. 22, August-September, 2001
Interview with Ivo Trajkov, film director
''I think… And I Make Films!"
Suzana T. Pavlovska
Suzana Todorovska –Pavloska: … After the LET’S GET CLEAN (1989, mid-length feature film), SORROW FOR SOUTH (1990, TV-show), CANARIAN CONNECTION (1993, long-length feature film and participant at the IFCF “Manaki Brothers” in Bitola, the same year), SHPACHEK BY SHPACHEK (1995, TV-ego serial), COMMON MARRIAGE (1996, documentary), THE TESTIMONY OF THE SECRET WITNESS (1996, documentary), PAST (1997/98, long-length feature film), about his work as a script-writer and director – by his time & experience perspective – today…
Ivo Trajkov: Until now, I’ve worked on four feature films. The fourth, actually, isn’t finished yet. The CANARIAN CONNECTION, practically, is mine second, and in meantime, I did the PAST, the film, which was at the 21st IFCF “Manaki Brothers” in Bitola – out of the competition. Somehow, I move in different directions, particularly towards the so-called “author’s film”, and, what’s of most importance for me, towards the author’s liberty in the filmmaking. And today, in this actual film industry, that’s most difficult to achieve. Primarily because, of course, making a film costs a lot, and when somebody provides the money, it’s understandable that he would like to have his own influence in his investment. That’s normal. On the other hand, the author just can’t allow that – if we speak for the “author’s film”, and not for the commercial film production That’s completely different story. I live in Prague and I don’t have to do things I don’t like, because, I – definitely – do exactly what I like to do. Anyway, that’s so, at least, in this past six years of mine. I managed that very simple: I didn’t work only as a filmmaker – just in order to make films. I did stay in the filmmaking business working as a producer of short/mid-length documentaries – mainly with my colleagues from the film-school. I find a lot meaning in that, too, helping the younger colleagues and those for whom I think that are worth of it, as people and authors, both. The combination of being producer and director allows me – working on the things I like to – to be able to make an existence. I don’t have a house, I don’t drive “Mazda” or something else like that, but I feel so good at heart… Everybody has his opportunity to choose anything, and I did choose something that I think is important for me, because I want to feel well inside. And – I could feel good even if I don’t have anything to eat for three days.
S.T.-P.: What can you say about the beginning of “Ivo Trajkov and the Film”-story, which dates from the end of the 80’s…?
I.T.: I left for Prague to study – somehow – completely accidentally… And in spite the fact that, at that time, Prague was somehow “conservative” and introvert (not as it is today), but it had some challenging “feeling”. Because of the city and that atmosphere, I decided to go there and to try to achieve what I wanted. Frankly, I didn’t expect to be accepted at the Academy, after the exams… But, somehow, it happened at my very first attempt… I don’t know how. And I don’t care. I left to stay, then. Not because I don’t want to “remain Macedonian”, but the opportunities are so “low” in Macedonia, especially for someone like me, for someone who so firmly requires and insists on some things. In Macedonia, it doesn’t “walk easy”. And there are no possibilities. If, in Macedonia, the filmmaking average would be, at least, ten films per year, then may be that one or two of them could be “author’s films”. But, it’s clear that’s not possible when the reality is one or two films in three years. I had luck, and I made my first film during the forth or the fifth year of my studies. It was the start of my – let’s say – career, in spite of the fact that this word: career, is the most disgusting word I know; I would say: life. That’s because everything what I work – is in fact, a part of my life, and it isn’t anything else… Therefrom comes my idea of working only what I like, because – signing under something that doesn’t suits me isn’t the problem, but the problem is: why should I waste so much time in my life on something I don’t want to do? At the beginning I worked on many various projects, but later, I became selective. To achieve all this – is much easier in Czech Republic, because the number of films made there is quite larger, and there is a space for some more extreme films, for some experiments, for some kinds of film I’m interested in. Did I made the right thing or not – I don’t really know, but if I talk about my coming back in Macedonia… I think, for a filmmaker, that shouldn’t be a problem. Wherever he can work what he really wants to, there is his home.
Three or for years I think about it, and I would like to make a Macedonian film, and now is, most probably, the time for that to happen.
S.T.-P.: About the film PAST, about its subtlety, intimacy and cruelty at the same time; about the film in which there is not much words, but mainly inner silence, emotions and deep human pain… About the film “experiment”…
I.T.: Some people, who like me as an author, do object that I’m different in every single project. I say to them that my work is my life, and I do change – in my life! With every new film, I’m few years older. I just can’t make the similar films. Not that I’m more mature. Just older! But, I know one thing for sure – that what’s of the most importance for me, is to tell my own testimony about this world, in a way I see things, something that I’m concerned about, or something I don’t approve, or something I don’t agree with… It’s important to me to get back, in a way, to the so-called – let’s say: more “philosophical” cinematography. I have a few reasons: as first, I think that the world cinematography, mainly, moves towards the commercial film. That has a positive meaning, also, and I think that there are more than 500 film directors who can make films of that kind better than me, so why should I repeat that what they are doing, imitate them, or to try to reach for something that I primarily think it’s unreachable. For example, such commercial films, with no objections made, are produced by Hollywood. Anyway, I’m interested in something else – the kind of films, which were made in the 60’s, were in world’s, and especially European cinematography. That’s the socially, or in some other way “engaged” film. Film that intends to say something, film that has an idea or a thought, which has to be said. Anyway, I’m aware that the film can’t give the answers – that stand about the film is abandoned by everybody long time ago. During our lives, we can’t find the answers and the 90-minutes long film itself – even less. But, what we can do, is to – again and again – to ask the questions, and to hope that someone is bound to hear them. So I made a strange decision and I convinced myself that, in fact, I doesn’t matter if my films will be seen by 100.000 people, or a million, or just five. What’s important, is whether two of those five, maybe, will hold on to it – what I meant to say and whether they will, at least once in their further living, recall that film.
S.T.-P.: About the film (film art) and the money…
I.T.: Somehow, the role of the art vanished – suddenly, I don’t know where the art is! Why film shouldn’t be art? Of course, today we still have many good films that can be called as an art. But, as for me, there is nothing else but constant attempts to talk about the contemporary world, and to ask the questions. I wish me further success with these films. You can imagine how difficult it is to make such films as I make, to find funds for the production, and maintaining the author’s freedom at the same time, because if I lose that, I’ll lose that, I lose half of what I intended to say. That is a regular, large and constant conflict within me – always. But, as for now, and until now, I’m doing OK. So I finished the making of the particular film last year, but the post-production isn’t finished yet – because of the money problems, of course. I have some fund offers, but I wouldn’t take it, because some terms were made that I can not accept. It is an author’s project, and it wouldn’t be that if I accept those terms. Here lays the great deal of my problems. But, I think, so if the film “rests” for ten years? I consider my themes as universal and eternal. I have no need to make a film about the war in Kosovo, or something like that, if I don’t find some universal, human dimension. What’s important is to maintain my personal author’s integrity. That, probably, has no real meaning for the recipient. But every recipient is what he is. So am I. I believe that my films has its own audience, which likes that kind of films. It’s not very large audience, maybe, but that’s OK. If the film is intended for only ten in Macedonia, so be it, why cut them out with no film? The money is the only reason. And who makes film for money? It doesn’t make sense. Look at me with my film PAST. I worked on this film for three years. What amount can pay all that I invested as an author in those three years? I’m a great individual type, maybe extreme, but I’m not of those who say: It must be destroyed! No, I say: Let it be! The same I say for the Hollywood production – I have a right of a choice, so if I don’t like Hollywood films, I don’t have to watch them, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t exist. In contrary!
S.T.-P.: About the latest film project – Macedonian-Czech co-production DEAF HOUSE…
I.T.: I think it would be a great film. As for now, there are no obstacles to start the preparations for the shooting, although I will ask for longer time for that as it is usual for Macedonia, and the production should begin in 2001. Film is based on the novel „The Great Water (Golemata voda)“ by Zhivko Chingo – a specific, and from my viewpoint – excellent novel, quite difficult for adaptation in film language. All of us who work on this film – Macedonian and Czech side, both, are bound to make a European film. And to make such film, some attitudes and stands should be changed, and some people should understand a lot, but I think there will be no (real) problem. Our mentality isn’t exactly of the “workaholic” type. So mine, too. Only, I found myself in different environment, so I gained different habits. So came this co-production, and I’m especially very glad that the Macedonian Ministry of Culture decided to do it. As for the budget: about 35% of the budget will be provided by Czech side and the rest we hope to be financed by the Macedonian side. In case we “get short”, there are other producers interested in the film that can get into this co-production, I have even now a few European producers who are ready to “get in”. You know, the sides always negotiate about a lot of things, like where the shooting will take place, who will be the in the cast, etc. In this case, the Czech side made a very generous move: they let the film DEAF HOUSE to be pure Macedonian film placed and filmed in Macedonia, with Macedonian actors, in Macedonian language. And the Czech partner’s interest? Me. Simply, they’ve chosen me as an author, as someone they want to “push” forward, in order to continue to make films. Not to exaggerate, but to them, the project itself isn’t even that important, for them, what’s important, is that I am working on it. The project comes next in line of their priorities. On one hand, that’s good. It’s a challenge – on the other hand. Also, it is an opportunity to open the doors for the others here in Macedonia, for the world and the European film-market. I know there are many good projects in Macedonia. Why shouldn’t be more co-productions? I took this project mainly because it was so specific; because – I’m afraid of too much simplicity.
S.T.-P.: About your engagements in Czech Republic…
I.T.: In the summer of 2000, I stayed month and a half in Macedonia in order to work on the joint script-making for DEAF HOUSE; and then I returned to Prague, and than again I came back in Macedonia – for the 21st IFCF “Manaki Brothers” in Bitola. But, I have many engagements and obligations to fulfill: the film PAST, although is two and a half years old, lives constantly, goes on Festivals. So, there are, occasionally, some kind people who invites me at the Festivals, a thing I rare do, I don’t like Festivals, because they are so boring for me. You know, as an author, when the film is finished, I’m done with it. But for everyone else and for the film itself also – it begins to live when and only when I’m done with it. Today, to me, it looks like the PAST is made by someone else. About my new projects, I have a serial of 26 documentary episodes, 60-minutes each. Fortunately, I’m in the role of producer. The third project that is waiting for me is the editing and post-production of the film I mentioned above, the film with the very simple title: THE MOVIE (FILM), that I filmed last year, and in which film worked only five of us (including the actors). This film is the most experimental shooting I had until now. And, mainly I always do the choice of the crew I work with. Some people do object to the fact that I change my crew constantly, because in show business is one unwritten rule that you don’t change the wining team. I don’t do that. All of my projects are different, and I think that the different people should make it. For example, I don’t think that the D.O.P. of PAST is the best choice for DEAF HOUSE, because this film should look different. In this film that will be little different in that sense, because I have an old friend, cameraman, who lives in Los Angeles, and shoots there for seven-eight years and gained to work even in A-production films, so I think this is our last chance to make a film together. He is Suki Medenchevic, Macedonian by mother. Wanted to work together so much, but he prefers different kind of films and different kind of making his existence, unlike me, who don’t like that American style, or America. But I hope that we’ll get him to work on this film…
… Whatever I work is specific. I don’t like to do one thing twice. I always try to find some new possibilities, new visions, new forms and something different in each new project I work on. I don’t think of myself as some great director, filmmaker of great routine. From that certain point of view I’m very bad director. But it’s always good when there is someone who opens a new ways. I stand for “coexistence”. Radical – yes, I am, but not by the cost of destroying the other things!
S.T.-P.: … And if happens to shoot film for Hollywood?
I.T.: That can’t happen, because there are many factors that inflict. The story can be OK, but the author can’t remain completely himself. Even among the most famous and great directors, there are so few who have a right on the “final cut”, which means – the final version of the edited film. He can shoot the film, but if the producer doesn’t like it, he can simply re-edit the film, or he makes a new shooting for the end of it, etc. If the film is meant for the audience, well, OK. But I don’t make such movies. And, considering my way of looking at things and all of my specifics, the possibilities to shoot a film in Hollywood are close to none.
I.T.: The Czech film is very specific – mainly in two aspects: as first, there is a quite large number of films per year (for such a small country). About twenty films in one year, which is some kind of overproduction (in comparison with Belgium, for example, where only three or four films are produced per year). And also other, much stronger cinematographies make less films per year. So it is actually a success of the Czech cinematography, especially considering the fact that the State doesn’t participate at all, or the Czech Cinematography Fund participates, but with minimum funds. All of the films are produced mainly in private sector, which is like a miracle, in some way. On the other hand, because of State’s minor involvement, the main of the funds are the producer-money; and the producers always demand, and believe, that their money (investments, namely) will return with interests. That also means that at least 15 of 20 films that are produced per year – are comedies.
For some more refined tastes, there are the art-cinemas, which aren’t much in number, and they are intended for less audience. The problem isn’t in the lack of different films (with their own poetics), but the problem is in the fact that nobody wants to show them in their repertoire. Or, more accurate, even when they are showing, nobody goes to see them. It is not profitable, not even to “flat the score”, so these small art-cinemas are needed, the film theaters where this kind of an audience could come to see something different, something they like. It is questionable is their number sufficient, and if the distributors able to buy a large number of that kind of films. As I said before, there are no much art-cinemas in Czech Republic, in comparison, for example, with Hungary: when I was invited with my film PAST at the Festival in Budapest, I found out that there are 18 art-cinemas, and you can see, in one day, 18 art-films. In Czech Republic, that matter stands “in half way”. As all over the world, 99% of the distributor’s offer are American films, and there is no chance for some other kind of film to “enter”. Sometimes, some good Czech comedy would “stand up” side by side with them, although that happens once in two-three years. Even the Sasha Gideon’s film RETURN OF THE IDIOT, in Czech Republic has a treatment of a comedy.
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski