Darko Lungulov • Director
Here and There
by Bénédicte Prot
After winning two important prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival, Darko Lungulov's first feature, Here and There [+see also:
film profile] – intertwining stories of a Serbian immigrant in the US and a poor US musician bound for Belgrade – has been selected in Variety’s Critics’ Choice: Europe Now section at the upcoming 2009 Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
Cineuropa : How and where did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Darko Lungulov: While growing up in Belgrade in the 80s I was an avid film lover, but at the time we watched a lot of huge US productions, which discouraged me from even thinking of getting into moviemaking. We didn't know of the independent scene then and there was no way of making "small, independent" films in Yugoslavia.
Then I saw [Jim] Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law in a crammed room at our Student Cultural centre. These movies, as well as Sex, Lies and Videotapes, gave me hope. Amazingly enough, one of the co-producers on Here and There also worked with Jarmusch.
The civil war forced me to move to New York. There, while working as a “man with a van,” I saved some money to enrol in the City College of New York. Luckily for me, the Russian Studies course I had initially reluctantly chosen was cut from the programme, which gave me an excuse to finally get into the film and video programme.
What elements, autobiographical and otherwise, inspired you to direct Here and There?
The story is loosely based on my five-year stint as a “man with a van” in New York. While studying, I did errands for people in a van and worked with a beeper. At school, they thought I was a drug dealer.
I entered many people’s lives this way and knew it could be a good base for a story. In 2003, I went back to Serbia and saw the harsh reality of daily life in this “country in transition", which made people long to move away whereas I remembered how I longed to be in Serbia while in the US. The irony inspired me to write Here and There.
How difficult was it to divide the shoot between two places, and how would you compare the working conditions here and there?
It was like making two separate films, one in New York and than another one, four months later, in Belgrade. Two pre-productions, two crews, etc. – very ambitious for a first film. New York was a lot of hard work with no money but huge enthusiasm and dedication from everybody, and it was wonderful to be finally shooting my own film.
The four-month break was useful to reflect on the material and prepare things with DoP Mathias Schoningh. We spent a lot of time looking for locations and discussing the visual style. We also needed to raise funds. Things were calmer in Belgrade, we had more time and the support was better, but it was still low budget and we all worked hard.
The toughest moment by far was when just 12 days before shooting in Belgrade, the US embassy was attacked. Lead actor David Thornton was not sure it was safe to come but eventually he came as planned and we shot for the weeks in the best possible atmosphere. At the end of the shoot, the US and German cast and crew were very sad to leave.
How would you define the kind of cinema you want to make?
Human stories audiences can relate to, stories that make them think, and also feel. Emotion and honest storytelling are my priorities. Making people laugh is also important and being boring is the worst crime.
Will you continue to explore your country from a former New Yorker's perspective in your next film? Yes, in a sense. I try to keep in mind the perspective of an outsider. I think it brings interesting results, that I know my country so well and yet let it surprise me too. My next project, Monument to Michael Jackson, deals with American pop-culture as imported in a culture-in-transition place like Serbia.
What do you expect from your selection at Karlovy Vary?
It is a great honour to be part of such an eminent event. I see it as another opportunity to see how this film communicates with new audiences, I am really curious since so far I have only seen it screened to US and Serbian audiences.
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