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BERLINALE 2021 Generation

Igor Drljača • Director of The White Fortress

"I had to continually refine the narrative as the country was becoming even less hospitable to its young people"


- BERLINALE 2021: The Bosnian director tells us about his work with professional and first-time actors in his latest film, a realistic portrait of contemporary Sarajevo

Igor Drljača  • Director of The White Fortress

In his latest film, The White Fortress [+see also:
film review
interview: Igor Drljača
film profile
, which had its world premiere in Berlinale's Generation 14plus section, Bosnian director Igor Drljača paints a picture of the world the Bosnian youth lives in.

Cineuropa: How did you turn this story into a script, and more particularly, how did you decide to go the unexpected and refreshing way, from crime drama to teenage romance?
Igor Drljača:
When I set out to make this film, I didn’t want to be bound by one genre, and when you develop a film for so long, you also need to keep it interesting.

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While I like to use certain obstructions when I create my films, I don’t like genre constraints, and genre should in part come out of the story in a more organic way. The obstruction I use the most when making my films is to not feature any physical violence on screen. I find it more potent and haunting when we see the effect of that violence, instead of its enactment.

I always wanted to tell a story about young people in Sarajevo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina at large, especially the generation born after the war. They will inherit the country, the ones who stay that is, but there are almost no films made about the challenges they face.

The characters feel very alive and realistic. Faruk's arc is especially interesting. Maybe you can tell us how you developed it?
I like mixing professional actors and non-actors in my work. The interplay between the two approaches has allowed for more organic world-building, as well as for more nuanced and authentic dialogue.

I’ve been eagerly watching Pavle Čemerikić become the most impressive young actor of his generation in the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian speaking region. Ever since seeing him in a heartbreaking supporting role in No One’s Child [+see also:
film review
film profile
, I was in awe that someone so young knew how to live inside a character. From a very young age, he knew how to internalise the angst, the hope and the dreams of all his characters. 

Besides Čemerikić, you have a mix of young and experienced actors. How did you pick them and work with them?
While most of the actors auditioned, the few actors I offered parts to included Ermin Bravo. In his case, having him play a villain was something I had in mind when writing the role in the film. He has an intensity about him that I always felt would be effective for a villain, even though I don’t recall ever seeing him play one. This casting against type is something I always consider when thinking about an actor for a role.

Sumeja Dardagan was someone we discovered during an open call, after seeing hundreds of auditions for the role. She had never been in a film before, but she immediately stood out as someone who intuitively knew how to minimise her gestures for the camera, and add authenticity to her dialogues. It’s a miracle whenever something like this happens.

Kerim Čutuna is a student at the Sarajevo Film Academy, and is among a growing group of talented young actors in Sarajevo. Working with all of these young actors has been a gift, and the region is richer for having so many talented young actors emerging at the same time.

Your social picture of today's Sarajevo is extremely realistic, including your focus on non-central parts of the city. How did you develop it?
Young people in Sarajevo are fighting for a piece of a future that has been promised but which has not yet arrived.

I documented Alipašino, Dobrinja and the surrounding area in my films before, especially in the short Woman in Purple, a spiritual cousin to this film. I grew up in those areas of the city and felt it was more representative of the real Sarajevo than the sparsely populated historical centre of the city, with its more easily identifiable landmarks and tourist offerings.

Woman in Purple was the first film I shot in Bosnia since I left Sarajevo during the war, and it provided the necessary experience and confidence to develop The White Fortress. The first draft of The White Fortress existed at the beginning of 2013, and as it took a long time to finance it, I had to continually refine the narrative, as the country was becoming even less hospitable to its young people.  

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