email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest


Norika Sefa • Director of Looking for Venera

“I didn’t want the film to exploit the poverty of Balkan countries”


- We talked to the Kosovar director, whose feature debut unspooled at International Film Festival Rotterdam and has now been submitted for the Oscars, for which voting is ongoing until 15 December

Norika Sefa • Director of Looking for Venera

Prague-based Kosovar director Norika Sefa presented her first feature, Looking for Venera [+see also:
film review
interview: Norika Sefa
film profile
, in the Tiger Competition of Rotterdam’s IFFR. Her coming-of-age drama was shot in Kosovo with an ensemble cast composed of mostly non-actors. Now, Looking for Venera has been selected as Kosovo’s submission for the Oscars (see the news), for which voting is ongoing until 15 December. In the film, she wanted to show a picture of Kosovo far from exotic stereotypes, and here she tells us about the main challenges in terms of producing the movie and how she worked with her actors.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)
Hot docs EFP inside

About the Academy Awards:

Cineuropa: What did the film change in terms of your career as a filmmaker?
Norika Sefa: Well, from now on, I will forever be the director of Looking for Venera. The rest is the next step. I worked on the script for a few years and felt so ready to make this film. This was a big production, nothing like what I had done before. I soldiered on. Most of the time, I followed my gut instinct; there were many decisions that refused to correspond with the “safe way” of making films, and which created a need for a new approach to production. Now that’s a strategy, and of course my crew, my close collaborators, they know this path now. I know the path. Now, it won’t be about finding out the path any more, but rather about what I am getting out of this way of making films. There are new questions arising. It’s more about expanding on a language I felt so comfortable creating.

How do you feel about your national nomination to represent Kosovo in the Oscars race?
It was a surprise to me. Last year was the most successful year for our film industry. Finally, we had movies that were reaching way beyond the borders. The expectations and the levels of enthusiasm were high. I felt good just being one of these films. Then, there was the Oscars call, there was a jury and the nominations. Then, there was the statement: we’re the candidate! “Because the film has a very unique, appealing approach.” I am glad to know that they didn’t choose to go with something more “comfortable”, but they were looking for something more specific. That’s the spirit! It’s an approach that I hope we will stick to because, as a new country, we need to increase our reach, to try to keep on finding ways to make movies. We need to bring diversity into making films.

Are you currently working on any new projects, and if so, what can you tell us about them?
I am working on a documentary, which is based on family archives. It’s the story of my father and how he used the camera to create and emphasise his own story. I am also writing my next feature film, a fiction. I want to offer a glimpse into local expectations when it comes to the theme of love and the mysteries it holds. It’s a story about good and evil: not necessarily about the confrontation between them, but rather the difficulty of differentiating one from the other.

About Looking for Venera:

How did you develop the story for Looking for Venera? What was your inspiration?
I wanted to tell a story based in Kosovo, but one that wouldn't reproduce the stereotypes for which the country is known abroad. So basically, I didn't want to show some traditional costumes or evoke an exotic feeling. I didn’t want the film to exploit the poverty of Balkan countries. However, tradition itself is the very core of the story, and so is family. I, myself, grew up in a big family, and so this is a topic dear to me. Living for many years abroad, I was nevertheless a bit insecure about what my approach would look like. I wanted the film to have a lot of layers, but with a focus on relationships. Everything from the outside, such as nature, for example, would appear only through the characters. I was curious about what would appear from the development of the characters and how the actors’ interpretation might influence the film.

Was it difficult to get the film funded?
We got some funding from the Kosovo Cinematography Center, but it was not enough. That is why we also needed the co-production with North Macedonia. That was very important, since it made the post-production process possible.

How did you find your two main actresses?
We saw a lot of girls, around 1,000, by visiting different cities. At one point, the girl who would go on to play the role of Venera was singing loudly outside the school, and that was how we found her.

In Kosovo, people have a difficult relationship with the camera. The country and the people are very present in the news, so the press often points cameras at them. It was important that when we started with the film, that we didn't let them think too much about the camera first. We lived in the house where we would be shooting, rehearsing, making the actors feel at ease with their new surroundings. At the beginning, the camera wasn't on. I wanted everything to be kept very grounded.  And to accentuate this, I also asked my own grandmother to play the grandmother in the film.

How did you form the ensemble of the boys?
I was living with my cinematographer in the same place where we would shoot and observed the reactions of the young people there. We approached them afterwards, not mentioning the film in itself or telling them about the exact script at first.

Where did you shoot exactly?
We shot in a small town in Kosovo, at the border with North Macedonia.

You choose to place the camera very close to the protagonists. Why was that important?
Some would say that being close to the characters shows a documentary approach. For me, it was more important to be near the girls and follow their logic. I was adapting to their age, following their curiosity and recreating their reactions, which can go from one extreme to the other. Before the camera was actually on, we worked on their energy, building the reactions and the characters, and then we filmed what followed. I stayed curious about what happened when the camera went on and was excited.

What was the aesthetic concept of the film in general?
The most important thing was that everything could be explained from the point of view of the main character. She is aware of what happens around her, but we don't necessarily see all of it. This concept applies to the surroundings such as nature, but also when it comes to the sound mix. 

What was the most important message you wanted to convey with your film?
I wanted to tell the story of a girl in a traditional and patriarchal society. It doesn’t have to be her that changes; rather, the other people around her can change because of her reaction to them. My wish was that it wouldn’t be so much the protagonists who would develop and change throughout the film, but rather the audience. The viewer goes on a journey and ideally feels the emotions of the characters.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while making this film?
In the first place, it was difficult to find funding for the production. Then, it was a big challenge to avoid everybody in the country learning about the project and trying to influence it. I had to protect the film crew and the actors so that they would not be exploited. I didn't want their energy to be compromised. Such a topic could have easily led to misunderstandings. When we talk about sexuality, there is a tendency for people in Kosovo to think about preconceptions, and I didn't want the characters, and therefore the actors, to be victimised.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

See also

Privacy Policy