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Maja Weiss - Director

Films without borders

Maja Weiss - Director

Amongst the themes dealt with by Maja Weiss, a brave filmmaker and one of the few Slovenian directors to have had success elsewhere in Europe, there is, mainly, borders, the relationship between a mother and her son, sex, laicity and Catholicism. Her 2002 feature Varuh Meje (‘custom officer’) was selected at many festivals and got several prizes, such as the Manfred Salzgeber award, won that year during the Berlinale as 'most innovative film'. Recently, the festival Crossing Europe, organised in Linz, dedicated a special section to her and her husband, the German filmmaker and musician Peter Braatz. The Novo Mesto-born director has made only one fiction feature but we owe her several full-length documentaries (such as Trieste on the Border, a 1997 work starring Boris Pacor, Fulvio Tomizza, and Claudio Magris) and many short and medium-length films, besides her work for the television.
Her next film, Installations of Love, which is still being written at the moment, will talk about love. However, the theme which has been most central in all of her films, from Cesta Bratstva in Enotnosti (the road to brotherhood and fraternising) to Varuh Meje, is that of borders.

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Is this choice related to the recent history of your country?
In a way, my work is about the influence of History on my own life. In November 1998, when I shot Cesta Bratstva in Enotnosti, I made it a kind of road movie starting in Slovenia and heading towards Macedonia. The idea actually came to me a few years before; this was something I felt I had to do, for this road and these places were all part of my country when I was young. By filming a trip punctuated by several encounters, I tried narrating the History of ex-Yugoslavia seen from the inside by someone who was born there, not an outsider.

And how did the idea of Varuh Meje come?
I grew up near this river, the Kolpa, which now separates Slovenia from Croatia. I used to go for swims in this river before it became a border. Now the Schengen area is really a separate area, that is, the European Union is very separate from the rest of the world. Now, the place where I used to live is full of policemen, which makes it quite a strange place, a touristic area inhabited by police officers. Young people, on the contrary, tend to leave this province to go to Ljubljana or other big cities where they can find jobs. This phenomenon obviously represents a big change for our countries. I also wanted the script to deal with other themes, such as xenophobia, sex (what you can do and what you cannot), and linguistic phenomena. Zoran Hocevar and I wrote this film together, and we are also collaborating on my next one, Installations of Love, which I hope I can shoot next year. Hocevar is a sixty-year-old writer, but we are from the same country and have many convictions in common. It took four years to have enough money to shoot Varuh Meje, and its success was a great surprise for me —over a million spectators watched it on TV when Arte-Germany broadcast it.

What will Installations of Love be about? Will it deal with borders too?
My new film will be about love and art. I think I will shoot it in Ljubljana, but I hope it will nonetheless be financed by Germany and Austria. The main character is a forty-five-year-old woman from the upper class who realises something is missing in her life. She takes off, in quest of a former sweetheart, with the help of her student-daughter. She also has a passion for art —middle-class art, that is, the kind of things which look pretty hanging on a wall. It is a comedy suffused with bitterness where amusing situations mingle with tragedy.

Do you think that all films in ex-Yugoslavia still relate a lot to the war and its consequences?
When you shoot in ex-Yugoslavia, it is hard to avoid commenting the reality, that is, the post-war context. Even foreign directors who come and shoot here feel that urge, although they are also more in touch with modern trends. I reckon that it will take a decade for Slovenia to open up to new topics. Our country, maybe because of it relative remoteness, is only starting to deal with subjects which have nothing to do with the war. We make about 2 or 3 proper features a year, despite our great potential in terms of topics. Now, digital technologies make it easier to shoot, but using them entails converting the film into the appropriate format for distributors. Sterk and Cvitkovic have just finished their movie, a much-awaited project.

How would you describe the situation of Slovenia production-wise?
Recently, I was elected president of the Slovenian filmmakers' society, a role based mostly on enthusiasm. The State only gives two million euros a year to our sector, which makes cinema the least supported art. However, a new law is in the making which will make it possible to use some of the profits to support productions. It is now up to the Parliament to draft a good law and give more money to the film industry. It implies that our politicians must decide whether they want more Slovenian films or not. We cannot make historical movies because we simply cannot afford it. Unlike Italie, where many films have dealt with mass graves, we cannot tell our version of History for lack of money.

Still, Slovenia seems to attract more and more foreign filmmakers...
It does, and will probably keep doing so over the years, for Slovenia has many different settings to offer, most of which are ideal locations. Besides, Ljubljana has had very good studios for two years now.

Nicola Falcinella - Osservatorio sui Balcani

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