Emilija Gašić • Director of 78 Days
“I appreciate it when films are watchable – when I want to revisit them and they don’t break my heart too much”
by Marta Bałaga
- The Serbian director takes a trip back to 1999, but the question is: what’s reality and what’s fiction?
In her debut feature, 78 Days [+see also:
interview: Emilija Gašić
film profile], screening in IFFR’s Bright Future strand, Emilija Gašić returns to 1999, when No Doubt and Garbage were plastered all over teens’ walls and NATO bombed Serbia. Left with their mother, three sisters pick up a camera, documenting their happy childhood. But the sirens keep going off.
Cineuropa: You talk about some painful topics, yet this film feels oddly nostalgic. Having grown up in the 1990s, I recognise so much of what you are showing.
Emilija Gašić: I grew up in the 1990s as well. We always have this need to look back at our childhood. Since I hit my thirties, I’ve felt it even more. I also liked the whole culture back then: VHS tapes, this old technology. Sometimes I feel I don’t even belong to this era [laughs]. I have this idea that when you talk about difficult things, it’s better to make the kind of film that one can, and wants to, go back to. In our life, not everything is dark, but nor is everything comical.
It’s so easy to reject films just based on their synopsis. People go: “I am already sad, so why would I do this to myself?” But yours is so funny sometimes.
The idea was simple: we won’t show everything that’s happening, because they are not filming all the time. Things become “normal” as times goes by. They get used to them, and back then, we got used to them, too, which is weird. As a child, this is your coping mechanism: if you always took things seriously, you wouldn’t be able to survive.
We all had cameras like these, but they were often used for “official” events, like holidays or birthdays. There was something staged about these kinds of recordings. Your characters are more creative with it.
Yes, the camera becomes another sister. I wanted to show that despite everything, there are still other things you focus on as a child or a teenager. You are growing up, even though there is this horrible situation in your country that you can’t do anything about.
I drew a lot of inspiration from my own tapes. When you are bored and you have a camera – and we didn’t have that much to do – you use it even more. Before, as you said, they were just for the big events. When I was going through this material, I noticed a performative element. Now, I think it’s lost – everyone is filming something on their phone. Before, when the camera was on you, you felt you had to do something.
And they do! They also bicker and fight. It’s very much a story about sisters.
I always wanted to talk about three sisters, ever since I started writing. I have two older ones, so I am very familiar with this dynamic. I haven’t seen many stories, especially coming from Serbia, that deal with sisterhood in this way. With the actors, we had a month-long rehearsal, and they were able to get to know each other before. What I learnt from my time at NYU was that really young children shouldn’t read the screenplay before. They can become so good that it just becomes mechanical.
It’s a cliché to say that something plays with documentary and fiction, but your film could really surprise viewers. These boundaries are completely invisible.
I am big on authenticity, so I was very “OCD” about making sure this world felt believable. Even about their accents, although international audiences won’t notice that. It was all to “confuse” the audience, to make them think these are actual tapes and you are travelling back in time. When I did a screentest in New York, where I’m based, I didn’t share a lot. And yes, many people thought it was a documentary. They thought these were my tapes, that I was this little girl. It’s all made up.
Do you think you would like to continue playing with genre rules, establishing your own, or was it a one-off? A perfect way to capture all of these memories but also to retain more control?
I’m not sure. I’ve wanted to make this film for more than ten years, ever since I digitised my tapes. I could tell there was a movie in there somewhere; I just had to find it. I guess I don’t usually think about cinema in a standard way.
You experiment, but it’s a very watchable film. Usually, it’s one or the other.
It’s hard to combine it. I am happy you think so because I guess every filmmaker wants that: to make an arthouse film that could be crowd-pleasing. Don’t get me wrong: as a student, I loved Tarkovsky. I made films with long shots [laughs]. But as I get older, I do appreciate it when films are watchable, as you said – when I want to revisit them and they don’t break my heart too much.
Come and See is a great example of a movie I love but can’t go back to. I know this period of time, I have lived through it, and I didn’t want another man-centric story. The combat, the soldiers – we have seen it. But what happens when women are waiting at home? When kids are growing up? I haven’t seen my generation’s experience on screen, and it all came from that.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.