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FEBIOFEST BRATISLAVA 2024 Bratislava Industry Days

Soňa G Lutherová • Director of Sláva

“I was taken aback by Sláva’s authenticity and vulnerability, and how openly she revealed her sensitivities”

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- The Slovak filmmaker unpicks her latest project, exploring themes of personal happiness, gender identity, and the nuanced balance between personal and professional life

Soňa G Lutherová  • Director of Sláva
(© Tomáš Benedikovič)

The Slovak-Czech project Sláva by Soňa G Lutherová emerged as the winner of the 2024 Cineuropa Work in Progress Award (see the news) at the recent Febiofest Bratislava Industry Days (see the report). We sat down with the director to discuss her documentary in progress, about Slovak opera director Sláva Daubnerová, which is slated for a 2028 premiere. Lutherová talked about personal happiness, gender identity, and the nuanced balance between personal and professional life.

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Cineuropa: Does your new project share any similarities with your feature debut, A Happy Man [+see also:
film review
interview: Soňa G Lutherová
film profile
]
?
Soňa G Lutherová:
Yes and no. Of course, the themes of transgender identity and transition are very powerful, and draw attention to themselves. Yet, in both instances, it's really about seeking personal happiness, a sense of fulfilment and a meaningful life. I believe all of these themes are strong, and perhaps this stems from my own personal and professional focus on what I address in life.

Sláva promises a non-linear narrative structure, focusing on themes, contexts and temporal shifts. How did you approach the storytelling?
The documentary will alternate between themes and contexts, including having a different temporal layer. A Happy Man was made in a more straightforward manner, which the actual subject of transformation warranted. But in this case, I'd like to really follow the sub-themes that I perceive, thus presenting certain contrasts. On one hand, private life and intimacy, where the person is most exposed, and then, professional life. Sláva Daubnerová works very closely with the theme of femininity in her works, which is very personal and revealing. She used to be an actress, and the uniqueness of her work was that she not only directed, but also performed, usually in monodramas, again exploring that strong theme of searching for femininity. It's about the relationship between women and society, or the individual and society, because it's not always just about the female experience, although that is a very strong element.

What fascinates me is her position in an international context as an utterly singular figure. Yet, here's someone who has broken several “glass ceilings”. Still, she delves into the question of femininity within her work, paying the price as a high-achieving individual who, in certain areas of her life, might not fully realise her desires. So, it's about balancing personal and professional lives, about what we must sacrifice to lead a meaningful life. I believe these are questions that many grapple with today, not just Sláva.

How will you balance the portrayal of her artistic achievements with her inner struggles and vulnerabilities?
The realisation of what new challenges she might face in her internal struggles with who she is definitely presents a conundrum, and I'm curious about how this will unfold. We've worked together for just one day so far, at a time when she was deeply immersed in the preparations for Melancholia – The Opera [based on Lars von Trier’s film]. I had reservations about the extent to which her role as an actress and director might lend her a certain detachment, considering her ability to stylise and represent herself in the film. However, my concerns were unfounded. I was taken aback by her authenticity and vulnerability, and how openly she revealed her sensitivities. My ambition is to portray her as a multifaceted being, which will be my goal in how we construct the film and strike a balance between the various materials we work with.

Will there be someone else speaking in the film, or will it mostly feature Sláva?
Indeed, we must acknowledge that a significant portion of the film will delve into her professional life, thus introducing a variety of individuals from the opera world, including singers, a conductor, scenographers and choreographers. However, I'm more focused on capturing live interaction and showcasing contrasts through both sound and a sort of audiovisual, tactile experience. There will undoubtedly be a difference in the dynamics and possibly the intensity across different scenes.

Your film won’t be a conventional time-lapse documentary portrait. What are its other distinguishing aspects?
The audio recordings that Sláva is making stand out as one crucial dimension. They represent not just personal reflection, but also a stronger, perhaps more introspective, angle. This could be seen as breaking the fourth wall or offering a reflection on the process itself. We'll also play a certain game with the audience through audio messages we are exchanging, which will then further explore the theme of authenticity and self-stylisation.

Your film crew has a high ratio of female professionals. Is this a statement?
This isn't a deliberate political statement. We have a male cinematographer, Noro Hudec, and editor, Peter Harum, both of whom have worked with me since A Happy Man. We felt the need to enhance the creative team with a female element, and music seemed an apt path. Music is crucial in dramas, serving as a powerful, open element that directly appeals to our emotions – more so than visuals. Introducing the female element through this creative role offers co-production possibilities, ensuring the production is supported not just financially, but also by individuals genuinely invested in the project.

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