Ioana Uricaru • Director
"It's very important that a viewer connects with my work first and foremost on a personal level"
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Romanian filmmaker Ioana Uricaru decrypts Lemonade, a first feature exploring the darker side of the American dream
After directing a short film in Cristian Mungiu’s Tales from the Golden Age [+see also:
film profile] omnibus title, Romanian-born, US-based director Ioana Uricaru steps into the limelight with her first feature, Lemonade [+see also:
interview: Ioana Uricaru
film profile], a harsh and effective commentary on immigration and the famous American dream that is now screening in the Panorama at the Berlinale. Here is what she has to say about her multi-continental co-production.
Cineuropa: First of all, why Lemonade?
Ioana Uricaru: My first few years in the USA were very difficult, and I would have been lost without my landlady, Tracey, who became a dear friend of mine. At some point, we were talking about hardship, as she also had a very, very difficult life, and she said: “You have to make lemonade.” Then she explained the meaning of this popular American expression: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It stuck with me as a somewhat naive, somewhat bittersweet metaphor of positive thinking and the American can-do attitude. I've been left with a lingering and as yet unresolved curiosity about whether it's truly possible to make lemonade out of any bitter ingredients you're being handed.
Do you expect your film to spark a debate? Would you like it to?
I would be very happy if the film stirred its audience enough so that people would want to talk about it. The themes of the film – immigration and belonging, power relationships, gender relationships – are very much in the midst of public debate in the USA and elsewhere, so Lemonade will probably fit into this framework and hopefully bring an interesting perspective. For me, it's very important that a viewer connects with my work first and foremost on a personal level.
What was the most difficult thing about making Lemonade from your point of view, as writer and director?
Keeping the faith through many years of uncertainty and through the times when I seriously doubted this movie would ever happen. And speaking in four different languages on set with our very international crew – which was difficult, but also very energising.
Would you say it is more difficult for women to make a first feature?
It's insanely difficult to make a first feature anywhere, but perhaps more so in the USA because there's absolutely no support for filmmaking – no sizeable grants, foundations, scholarships, government or state agencies, no way of financing your film other than going out into the world and finding the millions you need. The ways in which you finance a small, independent film – such as Lemonade – are vastly different in the two models: in the USA, it's important what genre you're working with and which famous actor has signed up to be in it. In Europe, these criteria are almost irrelevant, but it matters if you have a brilliant script and a previous festival portfolio.
As for being a woman, filmmaking is one of those fields where the statistics show that women are very much in a small minority – in the USA much more so than in Europe. When I went through film school in Romania, I was the only woman on the directing track during my four years – and the first one admitted to it in many, many years. Things have changed a bit – there are now two of us, Adina Pintilie and myself, with Romanian debut films at the Berlinale. But I would say I was lucky.
I didn't feel that being a woman was an obstacle in making this first film; the producers and the crew I worked with were happy and excited to be on board the ship that I was steering, and they trusted me. There was only one person out of almost 100 people involved who I think was not 100% comfortable working with a woman director. But I know that this is not the case with many, many women trying to pursue this career – and in my experience, it's definitely harder in the USA than in Europe. That said, I have experienced plenty of sexism myself… I don't know if you're familiar with that website “Shit People Say to Women Directors”? It's a site where women filmmakers post anonymously about things that have happened to them at work. I wrote a couple of posts myself.
Are you developing a new story? Can you tell us what it is about?
I have two or three ideas: one is set at the end of World War II, and is again about examining America and Americanness as an ideal and as a reality.
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