#behindthescreen: Soldiers. Story from Ferentari

This month’s guest for our #behindthescreen article is Ivana Mladenovic, the director of ‘Soldiers. Story from Ferentari”. The movie had its national premiere on the 2nd of February and you can still see it in cinemas. Ivana will tell us a bit about the film’s subject, how was her experience on the set for this film and what kind of feedback she received from the audience until now. Read all about it down below.

What are the story and the ‘route’ of the film, starting with the idea until the final product – Soldiers. Story from Ferentari –, the film which we can see in the cinemas? 

In 2013 I went to Berlin and attended the Nipkow workshop, organized by the Berlin Film Festival because I wanted to develop the story of the singer from Ferentari. Back then, I pictured the film as a combination of fiction and documentary. At the same moment, a friend of mine (Ștefan Iancu) told me that Adi Schiop was writing the book about Ferentari, which seemed to match my style and intentions. Adi sent me the book before it was published and I decided to make a film based on it. I knew that the type of film which I wanted to create required serious work and documentation, so I came back to Romania to be closer to the subject. I started writing the script together with Adi Schiop but I was afraid that no one would want to produce it. Finally, Ada Solomon liked the idea, accepted the collaboration and went all the way in obtaining the funding for this film. The prejudice I had proved to be wrong. The film received funding from the Romanian National Film Centre; immediately after that, we also received funding from the Serbian National Film Centre, a thing that I wasn’t expecting at all. The film preparations were long. There were a lot of steps until the moment we started shooting: a long casting process which took a year and a half, maybe two, researching the neighbourhood, location scouting, casting for the other roles and so on.

I wanted to shoot with people from Ferentari and after I found them, we worked a lot on the text. When they understood that we were really making a film and not something illegal, they were open to collaborate. They also came to HiFilm’s office (the production house) and saw where we worked; we rehearsed there. Most of the people who act in the film prepared several months for this.

How long did the shooting take and how did it go? How would you describe the filming experience on the streets of Ferentari?

Some months before the shooting (even though the filming lasted only for a month or so) we went into the neighbourhood with the Romanian Anti-AIDS Association, one of the few associations which works based on harm reduction principles. These people are ‘angels’ who truly help the most vulnerable people from there. This is how we started: riding the ambulance with them. Then, with my main connection in Ferentari, Mădălina Botoran, with whom I went there to discuss with the people, to search for actors and location, or just to spend time with them. The neighbourhood is full of life. Adi described this ‘vibe’ pretty well. The shooting in Ferentari was very hard; but now when I think about this, I feel that these were the most beautiful and lively moments I’ve ever experienced.

How would you describe your collaboration with Adrian Schiop, the author of the novel on which the film is based?

I have been spending time with Adi since 2013. We worked on the script for 2 years, I got used to him. The working experience regarding Soldiers. Story from Ferentari was pleasant both because Adi wrote the book on which the film is based, but also because I trusted his opinions and tastes.

What are the main differences between Adi’s book and Ivana’s film?

The neighbourhood is more present in the novel. I chose not to focus so much on the district’s problems; these were always secondary, the focus being on the story of Adi and Alberto.

The film presents us a neighbourhood which is lacking the biases of the viewer or, rather, the biases of the camera; a neighbourhood in which life unfolds naturally, at its own pace, and its problems never become the main element of the film. How did you manage to stay objective in making this presentation and avoid focusing on the problems of the district and community?

Even though the story takes place in one of the poorest districts of Bucharest, Ferentari, the Soldiers don’t live in its specific poverty. The environment rather highlights the differences in power and cultural politics between Adi and Alberto. I wanted to show that being poor isn’t a source of magic. Being poor or economically dependent generates a low self-esteem, a fact which again leads to marginalization. This is why I obsessively insisted on the relationship between the two, to disclose the poverty’s acts and its psychology through Alberto: how he is infantilized by being a servant in the house of cousin Borcan, his legitimate desire to become financially independent at any cost, the addiction of gambling which is also based on his hope of getting out of poverty etc.

Was there a sequence so complex that it needed dozens of takes to achieve it?

There are some sequences, especially intimacy ones, which we weren’t able to do, even though there were in the script. We worked with amateurs but the workflow was almost the same as working with professional actors. Sure, this also happened because doing this kind of scenes was very hard for Digudai Pavel Vasile (Alberto). But, I don’t regret it. I was coerced by some things that the actors could not do. But these things turned into a tenderness that seems to be pointing out what the film and their relationship are really about.

Was there something that you, as the director, really wanted for this film, but could not achieve?

I wanted Dan Drăghici, my favourite singer from the neighbourhood, to be in the film; it wasn’t possible because of various reasons.

Soldiers. Story from Ferentari is a bold docufiction which approaches some themes that are not very common for us. What was the feedback since it started to be in cinemas and festivals, until now? 

I think the film was well received; at least this is how I perceived it. Maybe for some people, the film was too harsh but I don’t understand why. Well, there are also people who see the film as tender, delicate and sometimes funny, and this pleases me. But I always find it hard to understand people who are mad about films that expose the reality and consider the filmmakers as responsible for the various problems of the society.

Briefly, how would you like people to understand your film?

The soul of the film and the heart-warming sequences feature Adi and Alberto in the park or just chilling in the apartment or walking around and smiling. I don’t think there are specific rules based on which people should watch the movie. I think that there is as much love as the audience is willing to see.

an interview by Romina Banu

English translation by Andreea Andrei


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