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Dea Gjinovci • Director of Wake Up On Mars

"I didn’t want to make a medical or investigative film; my main aim was to paint the portrait of a family"


- Swiss-Albanian documentary-maker Dea Gjinovci chatted to us about her first documentary feature film, Wake Up On Mars, which is in competition in Tribeca

Dea Gjinovci • Director of Wake Up On Mars

Unveiled in a world premiere within the competition section of the 19th Tribeca Film Festival, an event currently unspooling online for juries and film professionals, the Swiss-French co-production Wake Up On Mars [+see also:
film review
interview: Dea Gjinovci
film profile
is the first full-length work by documentarian Dea Gjinovci.

Cineuropa: How did you come across the "Resignation Syndrome" that you explore in Wake Up On Mars?
Dea Gjinovci
: I read an article in The New Yorker about children in Sweden who were falling into comas after receiving eviction notices: refusals of their requests for asylum. Their reaction was so extreme from a psychological perspective that I found myself captivated and moved by the subject. The journalist in question had interviewed the Demiri family and there was a photo of Ibadeta and Djeneta in their comas. As my father comes from Kosovo and I’m from Albania, I immediately felt a connection with this family: I knew their culture, their heritage, the traumas they’d inherited from the war… I contacted the doctor originally interviewed for the article. She told me that she’d already had a lot of interest from various media sources, notably National Geographic, and that she didn’t really see the point in me making a film because I was a young, independent director. Still, I sent her my first short film, Sans le Kosovo. This film really moved her and, a few days later, she called me back to meet the Demiri family. After talking with them for two hours, there was a real sense of intimacy and trust! I think they needed to talk to someone who spoke the same language as them, who had some understanding of the traumas they’d experienced in Kosovo. I spent ten days with them during my initial scouting work in July 2017, then I went back a few more times over the course of a year and a half to make the film.

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How did the Mars element find its way into the project?
To begin with, I didn’t necessarily think the film would be linked to space or to Mars. But I did feel that, medically speaking, there were so many inexplicable elements to this resignation syndrome that only an artistic or metaphorical expression of the emotions involved could help improve our understanding of what’s really going on inside these girls when they’re in a coma. It was by meeting their little brother Furkan that I developed this idea of Mars, because he’s the one who talked to me about it: he wanted to be an astronaut. For him, it was a way of trying to escape and forget the situation, and also of releasing his deep sense of guilt. Over time, this rocket idea evolved into something more concrete. It was important that Furkan was a vector of hope and that he was given the opportunity to actually do something. Because as a refugee, you’re often given a victim status; you’re waiting, dependent on an authority, on an administrative system that you don’t necessarily understand. This little boy represented something different, and by constructing the rocket, he’s the one who evolves and who does something off his own back to change the situation.

You remain rather allusive around the traumatic events experienced by the Demiris in Kosovo…
I wanted to depict them as memories, and often traumatic memories come back to us as dreams, almost. Sometimes, they’re just key moments which float back up to the surface. In this sense, I tried to get to the essence of what the family had told me. Besides, if I’d gone into detail, I would also have had to tackle political questions as regards what’s going on in Kosovo, and that would have resulted in a whole other film. But it’s also a choice, much like the way I chose to tackle Resignation Syndrome using very few experts and just radio voices to provide a context. I wanted to give an idea of the situation, providing just enough information to be able to follow the family, without explaining things too much. In terms of the Syndrome, for example, there are many theories, but there’s no in-depth research around the topic. And I didn’t want to make a medical or investigative film; my main aim was to paint a portrait of a family. Getting back to the topic of evoking memories of Kosovo, I also wanted to create a universal narrative, with elements linked to systems of oppression, violence and discrimination which can be found all over the world.

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(Translated from French)

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