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Miroslav Momčilović • Director

"Content can't be slave to form"


- Serbian director Miroslav Momčilović speaks about Death of a Man in the Balkans, which won the Independent Camera Award in Karlovy Vary

Miroslav Momčilović • Director

Serbian writer-director Miroslav Momčilović speaks about his third feature film Death of a Man in the Balkans [+see also:
film profile
, which won the Independent Camera Award in Karlovy Vary, and played to enthusiastic response at Sarajevo's 3000-seat Open Air Cinema.

Cineuropa: What probably interests our readers the most is how you shot the film. Was it really just one shot?
Miroslav Momčilović: The film was made in nine shots. We had some scenes filmed in one shot that lasted 30 minutes, but later, I felt it was stupid to give up on some excellent segments just in order to have a single-shot film.

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Why did you decide you wanted it to look like one shot?
It wasn't my intention to have a film made in one shot just for the sake of it, because I don't think it's a good idea for content to be slave to form. The important thing was the basic concept of a webcam, which stays on after the titular character kills himself and shows what happens 80 minutes later in his home. I wanted the real time and the film time to be identical. Also here, we have an interesting situation regarding the composition of shots: in four steps, you move from a wide angle shot to a close-up, when a character comes from the back of the room and approaches the camera. So basically, that's editing during the shooting. This brings a special dynamic to the film.

Did the fact that you had a very small budget influence this decision?
No, the fact that the film takes place in one room is the consequence of the small budget. I didn't want to wait five years for a public funding competition to be opened in Serbia, as we haven't had one in over a year and no one knows when the next one will be announced. The whole budget of the film was Euro 12,000. But the actors played for percentage of income, which practically meant they were losing money - they are all established actors who work actively, they are not kids who would jump at any opportunity to play in a film. So making this film for a month and a half meant they sure missed some roles they would be paid for.

All the actors in the film are famous in the region of former Yugoslavia, but they basically have no close-ups in the film. Was that a problem for them?
Yes, it was a problem. They liked the script and understood the single-shot concept, but, of course, they would have liked to have some close-ups. So we even considered putting up three fake cameras which wouldn't be shooting, but would help the actors relax, or even having hidden cameras they wouldn't know about. But this film was based on friendship, and such an experiment wouldn't be fair to the actors. Therefore we rehearsed every day for over a month, as in addition to forming the shots properly, we had to establish trust and get them to feel natural in these circumstances, because, once you get used to a certain work method, it's hard to get out of it.

It's logical that the audiences in Sarajevo reacted positively to the way you depict Balkan mentality, but what about those in Karlovy Vary?
I was at first surprised at the press screening in Karlovy Vary, where we had journalists and critics from all over the world, besides, obviously, the Czech ones. They reacted phenomenally to the film, and I realized that this kind of thing happens everywhere. Sure, the Balkan mentality has its specifics, but we are all humans after all.

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