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"We need a hero who fights for humanist values"

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Hanna Slak • Director

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- We met up with Slovenian director Hanna Slak at the Arras Film Festival to talk about the film The Miner and her new project Burned

Hanna Slak • Director
(© Aris Ramos)

In attendance in competition at the 18th Arras Film Festival with The Miner [+see also:
film review
interview: Hanna Slak
film profile
]
, Slovenian director Hanna Slak also successfully pitched her project, Burned, to the Arras Days Development Fund.

Cineuropa: How did you come across the various events that inspired you to create The Miner?
Hanna Slak : In 2009, I was living in New York when I learned from the press that a miner had discovered a mass grave from the Second World War. I was really shocked by a photograph I saw of this pile of skeletons, but had no intention of knowing any more about it. But then a year later I stumbled across a report written by an excellent Slovenian war journalist on the 15th anniversary of the Srebenica genocide. Each year, a commemoration is held and the most recently recovered and identified victims are buried. It was at that event that the journalist met the miner, who had come to bury his brother, and wrote an article about him and his distinctive destiny. I was struck by the fact that the life of the miner had been affected by three of the most disturbing events in recent history: the Srebrenica genocide, followed by the so-called "effacement" which saw many people deprived of a nationality for decades during the break-up of Yugoslavia – people who were not given Slovenian nationality but had also lost their homes in the former republics – and then finally the fact that it was precisely this miner who was sent into the mine to discover what would inevitably become the largest and darkest collective Slovenian trauma. What moved me, is that this miner had a deep faith in humanity. He was a sort of humanist who would not compromise on responsibility. I felt the need to make a film about his life because we need this kind of hero fighting for humanist values in our cynical post-modern society, in which our role models are capitalism and Hollywood stars. So I met him and realised that he was not considered a hero at all. He and his family had been left in complete isolation, he suffered from post-traumatic stress, they were harassed by people on the streets as were their children at school. My first mission was to help them regain their dignity. I started writing the screenplay after doing a lot of research, while helping Mehmedalija write her autobiography and find a publisher. Surprisingly, the book was a huge success, which strengthened my motivation to make the film. But I‘ve obviously transformed this story into fiction and made the necessary changes to the dramaturgy of the film.

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What were your main thoughts in terms of the mise-en-scène?
I thought that the style of the director of photography, Matthias Pilz, with his understated camera that gets very intimate, warm and physical with the characters, could potentially suit the setting of a mine very well. Because there’s a risk of things becoming too stylised when filming in a mine. Instead, I wanted us to get very close to the miner, to feel his loneliness, but also the physical strength of his intentions. The film is very simple and natural in its visual language, but it’s only really an impression, as filming in a mine is far from easy in terms of lighting. Without forgetting the fantastic work of the chief set decorator, as we had to reconstruct a mine within a mine and the result is a realism that authentic miners found very convincing.

Tell us about the new project, Burned, that you pitched at Arras Days?
It's a project that I started to develop before I got into The Miner. So I went back to it with some new ideas. The main topic is how fear and suspicion can bring the most intimate relationships – and by extension society – to the brink of destruction. It is the story of a mother and her son, but also that of two strangers who arrive on an island, in a different world, sort of like refugees from the city who arrive in a small community bringing their problems and trauma with them.

(Translated from French)

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