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Teona Strugar Mitevska • Director

“Filmmaking is a mathematical exercise that results in a profound truth”


- As her When the Day Had No Name screens at Sofia, Macedonian filmmaker Teona Strugar Mitevska tells us more about her new movie

Teona Strugar Mitevska  • Director
(© Joze Suhadolnik)

Macedonian filmmaker Teona Strugar Mitevska tells Cineuropa about her fourth feature film, When the Day Had No Name [+see also:
film review
interview: Teona Strugar Mitevska
film profile
, which world-premiered at the Berlinale and is currently screening out of competition at the Sofia International Film Festival.

Cineuropa: The film is inspired by a real-life event from 2012, when four Macedonian teenagers were found dead as a result of a clash with local Albanians. How did you then decide to tell a wider story about the state of society?
Teona Strugar Mitevska:
I asked myself, “Who deserves such a death? Can the loss of innocent lives ever be justified?” This led me to the core of the problem: the existing environment of imposed masculinity as a societal code of behaviour, and violence as a product of the deviation of society. As we developed the story, it became increasingly evident that what I wanted to speak of was not necessarily the boys themselves, but the environment they live in and are forced to accept, despite what their natural instinct is telling them.

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Although the boys' way of thinking and their actions are a product of society, they seem to have their own – it turns out – much darker world.
There are two factors here. First of all, you have the small-town mentality, mixed with a lack of vision of one’s self: where are we as a society, and where would we like to go? The transition from communism to liberalism made us more self-centred, and when you mix this with some very traditional macho views, you get an environment where, simply, the strongest wins, and there is no room to question this.

The second factor is the relationship with the EU. A few years ago, I had the chance to speak to Doris Pack, and she told me something that has stayed with me: by delaying the candidature of Macedonia as a member of the EU, the EU has indirectly contributed to the rise of nationalism, which in turn makes it harder for the country to become a member. 

The boys are both the product and the victims of both of these factors. I am not sure if their world is darker than the general one, or whether this is a result of years of instilling the wrong values in them. What is the solution to this vicious circle? Either things will get darker until they blow up completely, as in the film, or a revolution will take place, where the whole of society will stand up and decide to make a real change.

In this film, you show great dedication to detail and setting for particular scenes, but especially to the music and sound design.
Everything that surrounds us affects who we are, and it is the same with cinema. Using certain elements to intensify an emotion and an experience is the best way to break through to the psyche of the spectator. I love the challenge of it – for me, it is almost a mathematical exercise that results in what the soul of the film is, the profound truth that the film delivers.

Regarding the music and sound, I always wanted to make a film where I'd use them as an integral element of the cinematic form, as opposed to underlining something that's already there. I had a great sound team, who gave me the possibility to explore sound like never before, so it became an element and a representation of the boys' uneasiness, uncertainty and self-doubt. Sound mixer Thomas Gauder, sound editor Ingrid Simon and composer Jean Paul Dessy worked together intensively from the picture editing to the final mix of the film, and this took the project to a whole other level.

You co-wrote the script with Elma Tataragić; how did the two of you work together?
Our collaboration came about by chance, the result of an off-hand suggestion by [actress and producer] Labina Mitevska to try and see how it would work, but only now do I realise the value of it. To be honest, I have never been a great scriptwriter; I can write an interesting scene and have a good idea, but I have very little understanding of dramaturgy, how to develop a story, and how to point out important elements to develop a character. So basically, we found each other and we complement one another, and it works in the most miraculous way.

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