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Dane Komljen • Director

“I don’t make films about things that I know”


- After he premiered his first feature, All the Cities of the North, at Locarno, we caught up with Bosnian-born filmmaker Dane Komljen during the Sarajevo Film Festival

Dane Komljen  • Director

An unconventional film that talks about spaces, relationships and utopias - both individual and collective - through the story of three men who inhabit an abandoned set of bungalows somewhere in the former Yugoslavia: this is the premise of All the Cities of the North [+see also:
film review
interview: Dane Komljen
film profile
, the first feature by Bosnian-born filmmaker Dane Komljen, screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival after it premiered at Locarno. We talked to him at the Bosnian gathering.

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Cineuropa: What was the main idea that got the film started?
Dane Komljen:
It all started when I first encountered this abandoned bungalow complex. I found something really special about the place – you have this feeling that you don’t ever want to leave it. You can almost feel it was a place where you could imagine relationships that were no longer possible continuing. I wanted to match up images of my lover and my father, the latter of whom died eight years ago – I sort of imagined their encounter in this place. And I started to fill it with my own fiction.

Was there a structure behind the film?
I don’t make films about things that I know. When there is something I can’t see, I make a film in order to see it. You start to build it from something personal, but then you take it somewhere else. I realised the film is basically about the relationships with men that I've had in my life. When I imagined the characters, I wanted them to be in a relationship that couldn’t be named. That was there from the beginning; it was formulated between the actors and me. So there was a script, and it is in the film, but there is also a lot of stuff that wasn’t in it, born from improvising and playing - we could basically go wherever we wanted at any point. This is also related to the way we inhabited the space that we shot the film in. I really wanted this movie to be like a shelter. It let the film distance itself from the outside world, whatever the outside world was.

This space is so important: you keep referring to buildings that were built, abandoned and then inhabited later on. What drew you to this element?
The notion of a utopia that survived all that upheaval, how it moves from place to place. Even if these constructions are not functioning the way they were intended to, they can be reused as something else. For example, the Lagos project, which was conceived in Yugoslavia, then had people not using it in the originally intended way, but they appropriated it and they were part of it. So it exists; it is not a failure. You can embrace utopia in your own way, not only the intended way.

Why the artistic choice to include texts by Jean-Luc Godard, Simone Weil and Serbian myths?
I wanted the film to be like a walk, so I added element upon element. When this idea of the 20th century’s utopias came along, I wanted to fill it out with ideas of love and freedom. That is the core of the film. But I felt I shouldn’t stop there, because the way that we live is more ancient than that. I decided to include this Serbian epic poem, about a big national hero – using only the beginning, which could be ambiguous. It’s also a way of reusing something that was already there, which makes the film much broader.

There are also some very bold stylistic choices in your film, like breaking the fourth wall…
It is just another element. It is fiction, from the beginning; it starts with an image of an old movie theatre. It doesn’t make it any less true to show what’s behind the camera. It should be open, and I believe that cinema can really embrace whatever there is. It’s about looking relentlessly at everything, and making the film itself part of it. For me it was necessary.

Being such a bold, daring film, was it difficult for you to get it produced?
It took us four years. I’m more used to short films, which are done quicker. This was more time-consuming but also like producing a short film; it's just that it took longer. The first instalment of money we got was from the Hubert Bals Fund, and then it became easier for us to get more. It was a mini-budget film, so it was a bit difficult, but not too much.

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