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Tiha K Gudac • Director of The Wire

“None of the people in my film are activists; they just had to respond to the crisis they were caught up in”


- The Croatian director takes on yet another makeshift border dividing Europe, showing how important it is to just listen sometimes

Tiha K Gudac  • Director of The Wire
(© Julien Duval)

In Tiha K Gudac’s ZagrebDox entry The Wire [+see also:
film review
interview: Tiha K Gudac
film profile
, the focus is on the fence – erected by the Slovenian government to stop refugees from entering Europe and ruining the beautiful region of Kupa in the process. But the people who live there are not done fighting, even though sometimes they stand on opposite sides.

Cineuropa: Your film is part of a bigger project, dedicated to various European “borders”. How did it come about?
Tiha K Gudac:
It all started with Frederik’s [Nicolai, producer] idea. He was struck by all of these borders, which have so many implications on people’s lives. Now, there are six Borderline stories directed by people who are mostly local [also including Annabel Verbeke’s Four Seasons in a Day [+see also:
film review
film profile
]. Creatively, they are all completely different, and the aim is to distribute them via public broadcasters. I think it’s a huge, huge effort.

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People advertise the region of Kupa as a tourist paradise, which is why having this fence feels so absurd – it just doesn’t fit in there!
That’s what the locals were saying as well. Slovenian and Croatian are two different languages, but people share the same dialect there. Their connections are strong. One of the reasons for this is the geography of the place. It’s in a canyon and is highly inaccessible, and in Croatian, it’s actually called “Devil’s Garden”. They have the longest winters and mild summers – people have to work together in order to survive. One character from my film, Zlatko, is Slovenian, but he lives on Croatian land, which doesn’t have a road, so to get anything, he needs to take his boat to the other side. But now, there is this wire with a lock, so he needs to call the police first. It’s insane.

Social bonds have changed because of that wire. There are so few people left, and it’s making their lives even lonelier. Then again, humans can adapt – animals can’t. The whole biological harmony of the region is now screwed up. First, they couldn’t reach the water and they were going into the wire, which cuts to the bone. Now, they have built some fences, but you can’t tell a bear to go and drink water 100 metres further on. They had to create entry points for the animals, and taking into account that the whole charade is about migrants not entering Europe, now anyone can. One of the protagonists came to my premiere last week and cried. “They are doing it against our will and destroying our lives,” he said. There are wires in other parts of Europe, too: it has become normalised. There is this line in the film that it’s worse now than it was after the Second World War.

Seeing a wire like that, it just does something to your head. People start to wonder: “Should we be more worried?” One family basically goes into the forest to look for refugees.
Any crisis awakens the spirits of the past. People go back to who their ancestors were – some are leaning towards fascism, while others go the opposite way, but it’s always personal. What they are doing is emotional. In this case, the grandfather of this man was killed in the past, and now he wants to protect his family and country from another “invasion”. He thinks there should be more soldiers protecting the border. And until it finally happens, he will take it upon himself.

Did you always want to include the reflections of the refugees as well? To so many people here, they are relegated to something strange that happens in the forest at night.
In this valley, that’s how most people see them. Things happen from time to time, but they don’t really meet them – it’s a phantom threat. There was another border where they were coming from, separating Bosnia and Croatia. I wanted to use the privilege of the camera and not have them appear as those phantoms any more. I felt I had to give these people a face.

When I was talking to the locals a few years ago, or even some politicians, everyone was saying: “There is no chance that migrants would even come here, because of that canyon.” It’s just so difficult to reach. In 2015, when Hungary closed, Croatia was letting people through. When that closed as well, it became harder – we are the first gateway into Europe from that direction. So now, they are choosing a route that’s challenging, true, but it’s also difficult to monitor. They are desperate. For them, there is no going back. But there are people like “Mama”, who just saw these hungry guys gathering around the mosque and started to help. There is a whole group of such women, but others didn’t want to be filmed. They didn’t want the attention – they just want to help their community. None of the people in my film are activists; they just had to respond to the crisis they were suddenly caught up in. They are “civilians” who now have to fight, trying to salvage their normal lives.

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