Did the success of Going Our Way come as a surprise?
A small surprise. During the process of creation, you get a feeling whether you are going to make it or not. In this case, everyone involved already felt we were dealing with a hit film when we were in pre-production.
A commercially successful Slovenian film is far from common. Many directors do quality stuff, but the financial burden overwhelms cultural considerations. Do producers like you more because of your record of commercial success?
My producer hopefully does. He has a good feeling for both artistic and commercial components, and has proven that a couple of times before with Idle Running and Porno Film. The commercial equation is simple: ticket price multiplied by the visitors. With some 200,000 viewers it is clear we are not talking big bucks, but we have managed to crawl past breakeven point and hope to earn some extra money in the future thanks to DVD sales and TV rights. The fact remains that the costs of making a Slovenian film are insignificant compared to those involved in making a Hollywood feature.
How do other directors see your success? Does anyone mention commercialisation?
No because [the success] is not about some inexpensive, underrated thing but a quality youth film. Everyone is happy for me – the feedback has been entirely positive. Perhaps someone envies me but that is a normal, healthy thing.
Are there any recent Slovenian movies which you think have been unfairly neglected by audiences?
I think a film like Circus Fantasticus deserved a bigger audience, even though it is a very atypical film – very visual and silent. It’s too bad that its distribution was limited to the network of art cinemas, where you cannot harvest big audience numbers. Generally I consider Slovenian films successful. In 20 years of independence we have produced a number of films that can compete with the top Hollywood blockbusters in terms of Slovenian viewers.
Many argue that the leading role of Jurij Zrnec, Slovenia’s most popular comedian, played a big part in the success of Going Our Way. Do you think the film would have been as successful without him?
We have many good actors, comedians as well, but he is outstanding and unique. I wrote the script with him in mind. We agreed to work together on this project in the very early stages. He could of course be replaced by someone else. I’m aware that the number of people who have seen the film owes much to him, but not to him only – the kids became very popular too.
The film might have been a massive hit with its audience but it didn’t become a critics’ darling… Does that bother you?
The critics aren’t darlings of mine neither so, no, I’m not bothered by that. We have grown these attitudes long ago but it does still hurt a little, mostly because the reviews can be sloppy and miss the essence. The critics were actually wrong – some predicted a commercial flop!
What is the outlook for this film abroad? Might it be shown at international festivals? Be distributed abroad?
The global promotion is under the jurisdiction of the National Film Centre. But generally the distribution philosophy in each country means that, beside Hollywood blockbusters, the country’s own domestic films go into its cinemas. In the same manner it is unlikely that a good foreign youth film would be seen in Slovenian cinemas – the Danes are famous for exceptional youth films but you can occasionally only see them, during the daytime on public TV. That’s why I don’t see some huge international fluidity for my film.
Actors in your films are mostly young amateurs. Your debut Jebiga also had an interesting cast: no known actors, the actors sort of play themselves. Is there a difference between working with amateurs and working with professionals?
A professional is better prepared and knows the difficulty of entire process. She or he has experience and a certain craftiness which can help build a role. A professional needs fewer instructions. He or she is used to repetition and can get better through it, while an amateur slowly loses energy and you need to get the best out him or her as quickly as possible.
Some claim that the Ljubljana Film, Theatre and TV Academy may not be the best training for film actors, who find it hard to switch between the stage and the camera…
I think it’s a rather incompetent statement. It’s a case specific phenomenon – there are stage actors who have made exceptional performances on film and manage both media and then there are some exceptional stage performers who never make it to the big screen. This is a problem of a director as well. They all might initially be a bit stiff and until they fully embrace the ways of a camera close up: the logic of less is more. Some do it with more feeling, others with less. Script is also a factor – if I do a theatrical text, which sounds theatrical, the effect on film would be just like that.
Youth film appears to be your speciality. What is it that appeals about this area and how do your explain your success in it?
There’s not much thinking about who the target audience is. I simply make it the way I like it, and apparently I don’t underestimate the young viewer, so the film turns out to be comprehensible for them and doesn’t reflect my age of 48. There must be something about my sincerity and humour. Actually these films appeal to the older generation as well.
Slovene film classics are almost exclusively youth films: Kekec, Vesna, Hang on Doggy… Is it all about timeless topics or is there another element?
If you like something in your childhood, it will follow you for the rest of your life. And many memories are linked to the cinema. First you go with your parents, then all of a sudden the time comes to go with friends instead, then with a girlfriend, then you are taking your child or grandchild to watch a film. The young audience is actually a pretty wide one, it is not so specialised. They are not interesting in viewing a particular filmmaker’s obsession or a problem. In general they are grateful for a relaxed, humorous film.
Take the black and white classic Kekec – archaic as it seems it still attracts new viewers.
Perhaps there’s the language factor. Most of the production we see daily is in English. Progress has been made with synchronising animated features, but still… The characters in Kekec seem domestic, so is the landscape. There’s also that special momentum with the iconic alpine scenery, the landmarks that are actually national symbols.
Time for a remake of Kekec?
Filmmakers are considering these ideas, but I see no point in going back in time. I did that in a way by isolating people from the urban environment, sending them to the nature via the scouts but retaining modern gadgets. I don’t know why we should go back a century to revive some shepherd traditions.
What comes next?
Soon after the premiere we announced a sequel to Going Our Way. It is a promise to our audience. Hopefully the project gets confirmed by the Film Centre soon so we can begin auditions.