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Nebojša Slijepčević • Director

‘For small national cinema, documentary is the most important form’

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- After taking Croatian festivals by storm, Gangster of Love had international première at Karlovy Vary

Nebojša Slijepčević • Director

Nebojša Slijepčević's first feature film Gangster of Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
took Croatian festivals by storm, winning the Audience Prize at ZagrebDox. Now, it will have its international premiere in the Documentary Competition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The director tells Cineuropa about making the film and the future of the documentary scene in Croatia.

Cineuropa: How did you find out about Gangster, and what made you decide to make a film about him? Nebojša Slijepčević: My producer Vanja Jambrović found out about him. Gangster was a minor celebrity in his region: he was one of the characters that filled pages in newspapers during the summer silly season. At the time, I was preparing a documentary on arranged marriages, and we went to meet him as a part of the research. He charmed us immediately – he had an unforgettable appearance, an unusual occupation and was a great story teller. It was obvious that he would make a great film character, but only when I met some of his clients was I convinced that there was enough material for a feature film. I saw an opportunity to tell a bigger story about my country by following one unusual character doing his job.

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Why did you focus on the story about Maya? Were there other women at the time who were looking for husbands, or did it just happen that Maya was there when you were shooting?
Actually, we waited for someone like Maya to come along for more than a year. We knew that we needed someone who seemed like an easy case to solve, but who turns out to be much tougher. We wanted a woman, good looking, young and a foreigner, and Maya ticked all the boxes. What I didn’t foresee – and it became maybe the strongest point of the film – is the fact that her son would become such a problem.

How long did the preparations and shooting take and what were the biggest challenges? 
The shoot spread out over more than two years. We would rent an apartment in Imotski, and we would move over there for the whole summer, and then we would repeat the same process the following year. We had very small budget and couldn’t afford a crew, so I decided to do the camerawork by myself. There was a lot of waiting, a lot. I would just hang around with Gangster for days, and – as it always is – the scene would happen at the most unlikely time. The best scenes in the film happened on the days when I did not expect to shoot anything, but the decision to always carry my camera with me saved the film. Recording sound was the tricky part.

There were many challenges – production-wise, it was hell to finance, it took us ages to convince commissioning editors that this was not ‘just another matchmaking film’. In the end we presold the film to many European TV stations, including ARTE. My producer Vanja achieved the miracle.

For me as a film-maker, there were so many challenges; I am still not sure how I got out of it all alive: this was my first feature film, and I took on too many roles – director, cinematographer, editor... I had no previous experience with such a lengthy form and until the last moment I couldn’t tell if the film would keep the pace.

Now that Croatia is joining EU, how do you see the future of the Croatian documentary scene? 
The Croatian documentary scene is flourishing at the moment, but there is still very little production money around. All the financing institutions still consider documentary film as a lesser form compared to fiction. My opinion is completely the opposite: in a small, national cinema, the documentary is the most important film form. It can offer the local audience exactly what it expects from a local film – an authentic, actual, important story.

I predict that in the future Croatian documentaries will have at least the same box office as Croatian fiction, and I plan to prove it with Gangster of Love. I believe that when we hit the cinemas this autumn we will beat most of the Croatian fiction features at the box office.

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