You envisioned the film “Bikini Moon” a long time ago. What was your initial inspiration for this quite unusual and striking story which takes place in the streets of NYC of our days?
To me, the game is the most important. My starting point is always the formal aspect, and then I am interested to see whether the form will be a shattered narration as in “The Dust”, or a union of three simple films as in “Before Rain”, or a mockumentary as in this new film. Thus, there is always a game at the beginning, some sort of an experiment. After that, there comes a human being, and in this case it is this woman, who suffers from a bipolar disorder and the posttraumatic syndrome, and she is fighting to win back her daughter - however, at the beginning, we are not sure whether her daughter is real or made up. So, the form comes first, a human being comes second, and then comes the story - and that is the easier part. It has always been easy for me to come up with a story. This time, it is a social drama of the contemporary America and at the same time a personal psychological drama.
You shot the film in the mockumentary style, but the film seems truly authentic from the first moment on. Can you reveal the secret of your mastery and how you accomplish this sort of effect?
All it takes is a lot of planning, a thorough reflection about how a real documentary film crew would work who would not always have full control of the film set. How would one shoot a frame when the conditions were not ideal? We invested a lot of effort to make it look intentionally imperfect, as in reality. Then, there are some scenes deliberately missing - which would have been obligatory in a fiction film. However, when you do a documentary, sometimes things happen while you are absent. The trick was to plan that imperfection. Sounds a little bit like an absurdity - we planned it meticulously how to make everything look spontaneous. Besides, it is in our job description to manipulate. The point is that we use a lie to tell a greater truth.
How did you find the phenomenal Condola Rashad to cast her in the principal role and how did the two of you collaborate in creating a character of a homeless woman with mental issues, but also incredibly charismatic?
That was the main issue, how to make her instable, and to make you fall in love with her - to make her be the person that you would follow in real life, that you would want to be with, that you would care about - otherwise there would be no film. I always work with a casting director, and in this case it was Avy Kaufman who has worked on some 150 films and who knows New York City based actors by heart. I mentioned in a conversation that I need an actress who knew the trade, regardless of how she looked. The character of Bikini was not written for an African American actress at all, but Condola was the best of all candidates. And then we did rehearsals, we interviewed social workers, also people who served in Iraq. We found out that more American soldiers died at their own hands, committing a suicide after the war, compared to the number of those who lost lives in war.
A completely opposite character of Kate, a well-intentioned well off white citizen, is portrayed by Sarah Goldberg. The film investigates the relationship towards the other, someone different, and it does so from both angles. Can these two worlds have achieve a true understanding?
I always hope so, but in the end, it usually turns out that it is not possible, and that each person is always at a loss. Kate keeps trying to give something to the others, but in the end it turns out that she receives the most, and she does so in a slightly perfidious way. It could be said that it is a metaphor of the real conditions in the society, and that the film is socially engaged in that sense, even though it was not my intention.
You left the ending open. What is, in your opinion, the key emotion of this film, what is the domineering emotional undertone?
A personal quest for warmth and truth. That is the feeling. I think that, in the end, Bikini succeeds in finding that feeling, but in a very unexpected and awkward way.
Some people call you a director-philosopher. Do you agree with that?
Well, I did want to study philosophy before I became a filmmaker. Of course, film is a much more pragmatic matter, but if it tends to be an art form it must possess either emotional or philosophical quality in order to justify its existence.
While you await the North American premiere, early in March, your film was already screened last autumn at the festival in Sao Paolo. What were the reactions of the audience and critics there?
Outstanding. I was truly pleased because the Brazilian people understood all the subtleties, all the nuances. I deliberately wanted to have the world premiere there, because all my films were screened in Brazil and I wanted to keep that nice tradition.
You had a stellar start to your career - with a Golden Lion and an Academy Award nomination for your debut film “Before Rain.” However, “Bikini Moon” is only your fifth fiction film in nearly quarter of a century. Are the reasons of artistic or of financial nature?
The artistic needs are reflected in the financial structure of the film. Therefore, if one wants to make a strange film, it takes many years to close the financial construction. And if someone agrees to create “ready to wear,” he can shoot a film each year. This is the main reason, and the second one is that I make films “by hand.” I write and I choose locations and I work with the composer, which is why the physical process of preparation of the film takes several years. It is not intentional, but I do not know how to work any other way. I had many offers to work in Hollywood, especially after the success of “Before Rain,”, and I started to develop certain films only to realize that it was not for me, because in the end it is not a true author’s film if everyone can interfere with the process of its creation.
Your film “Mothers” won at the 39th FEST, in the competition program “Europe Outside Europe.” What are your connections with our popular festival?
Well, I grew up at FEST. I remember Arsen (Dedić) singing to Milena (Dravić): I have got good news for you, there is FEST going on in our town… It was a true holiday for me and all my friends when, as a high school student, I could watch the reruns of FEST films in Skopje or the Chronicles of FEST on television. It was one of the strongest currents in my film education.
Now, you are President of the Main Competition Program Jury at the 46th FEST. As a spectator, what do you expect from a film?
Actually, I seldom watch films. I prefer the NBA league, because there you do not know how it ends. Up till now I have not seen anything from the FEST selection and I am very intrigued. As a spectator, I look for the same things which interest me as an author - to be moved by a film, to be surprised, tricked in a positive sense of the word. It is not just Hollywood film production which is full of clichés; unfortunately author films have also become predictable.
Are you familiar with the recent production in the region?
I do not follow it closely, so I do not know what kind of films are being made in the ex-YU region. The last film that I absolutely loved was “The Trap” (by Srdan Golubović), but that was also quite some time ago.