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COTTBUS 2018

Vladimir Blazevski • Director of Year of the Monkey

"Making a film with four co-production countries has its challenges but is a model which is vital"

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- We spoke to Macedonian director Vladimir Blazevski as his movie Year of the Monkey was presented at the Film Festival Cottbus

Vladimir Blazevski  • Director of Year of the Monkey

Macedonian director Vladimir Blazevski (Punk's Not Dead) is presenting his second feature, Year of the Monkey [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Vladimir Blazevski
film profile
]
, at the Film Festival Cottbus. In it, he offers the audience a charming social satire about a chimpanzee that runs away from a zoo to wander the country, earning people’s sympathy. It's a story of rebellion, courage and also friendship.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea for the film come about?
Vladimir Blazevski: The initial impulse for the story came from a real-life event that took place in Belgrade Zoo many years ago. There was a chimp called Sammy who managed to escape from his cage twice in just a couple of days. After the second getaway, he became sort of an urban hero. Thousands of people gathered in front of a city rooftop where he resisted the efforts of guards, firemen and other officials who were trying to capture him. The crowd cheered him on to stand his ground. I can’t recall how the “fugitive” was eventually caught, but I remember that most of the people from the crowd were unhappy after that. A small monument was raised to honour the brave monkey at the entrance to the zoo when Sammy died a few years later. Of course, everything else in my film is fiction.

How did you prepare yourself in order to build the character of the chimpanzee?
I read a lot of articles about chimps, I talked to real zookeepers, I stretched my imagination... And I decided that the chimpanzee would become more and more manlike as the story went on. So I wanted him to gradually transform into a real “character”.

How did you find your actors?
As usual, we did a lot of trial recordings. I didn’t chase brilliant (theatre) actors; my aim was to find the closest incarnations of my “dream” characters. For the main female role, Wilma, I couldn’t find the actress in Macedonia, however. So I asked famous Croatian actress Maria Kohn to do this, and I am very happy about this choice. Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see our film – she passed away on the very day of an important screening at one of the festivals, three months ago.

What was your intention with the ending? Why did you end with Syrian refugees?
Well, I didn’t intend to use the refugees as a “hot topic”. I just wanted to include my protagonists in a group of desperate runaways, not knowing precisely where they were going. I needed some kind of an open ending, plus the final fairy-tale touch, in order to suggest to the viewer that he or she should reconsider his impressions of the story up to that point.

The film is a co-production involving four countries. What were the biggest challenges in this regard, and did you have to make compromises?
This was indeed a huge co-production model, so of course I had to make compromises. Quite a lot of the activities in the directing profession are about making useful compromises because with any decision you make during the process, you gain something and you lose something. So you have to be able to measure the benefits for the story and for the film as a whole. Before the shoot, when the financing process was over, we even had a fifth country on board – Greece. But we realised that we just couldn’t afford to accept the support from the Greek Film Centre because of a number of regulations (concerning the spending of the money received) that we saw as being bad for our production. In spite of all the problems, I consider this co-production model to be vital, especially for small European countries.

What is your own personal link to Darwin? What conclusions can you draw that are relevant to our modern society?
There is a lot of inspiring stuff in Darwinism – survival of the fittest, the struggle for existence, competitiveness... Most of it is quite applicable to this social climate of brutal neo-liberalism, particularly in so-called “transition” countries. Our job as filmmakers thrives on the world’s imperfections, so I think the ideas of Social Darwinism are a gold mine for film drama.

What is the status of comedies in Macedonia? Is there a tradition of them?
In the Macedonian film tradition, comedies are pretty rare. Even the status of this particular genre is low. Basically, Macedonian art in general prefers “serious topics”.

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