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CPH:DOX 2022

Nataša Urban • Director of The Eclipse

"My film asks questions about how we deal with the pain in the world"


- We talked with the filmmaker about her documentary, which uses different film formats and her father's journals to retrace the events of Serbia's recent past

Nataša Urban • Director of The Eclipse

Nataša Urban's The Eclipse [+see also:
film review
interview: Nataša Urban
film profile
has just won the DOX:Award at CPH:DOX, the festival's top honour. She tells us how she made this very personal and political film.

Cineuropa: Why did you feel compelled to tell this story such a long time after you left Serbia? 
Nataša Urban: It wasn’t something I planned at all. I was in a period of deep grieving over the tragic passing of someone I loved very much. I guess that, under the pressure of this immense grief, the cocoon holding my memories and traumas, which I had buried deep inside, cracked, and they all started pouring out. I couldn’t control it. So, I decided to go for it. I started the process of facing the demons from the past. It was a painful but very important process and it resulted in this film. It asks questions about how we deal with the pain in the world.

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How did you decide to structure the film based on your father's journals and key events from Serbia's recent past?
I found incredible beauty in my father's mountaineering logbooks, details he had captured over the last 30-plus years. He took notes of every wild boar or rabbit he had encountered, of every “mysterious” leaf he had found or every hiking trail “bifurcation.” I traced the dates from the history of the 1990s wars in my father's logbooks to counterpoint the madness that was around us.

I framed the film with two scenes of total solar eclipses, one from 1961, another from 1999. This motif is an important metaphor in the film. People hiding from the lunar shadow in 1999 in Serbia represent a nation's unclean conscience about the consequences of its political choices. Even now, the war crimes, atrocities, and genocide perpetrated in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo are treated with silence at best, and denial at worst.

The second metaphor is connected to the cyclical nature of eclipses as natural phenomena. I use it to remind us that the past and history are repeating – much like the wars from my point of a view when I was a girl. I was 22 when the 1999 total eclipse happened. By then, my country had waged four wars.

How did you conceive the visual approach? 
Establishing a unique visual grammar for the film was very important to me, and I worked on it from the early stages of the filmmaking process. It was shot entirely on celluloid, most of it on 16mm by the incredibly talented DOP Ivan Marković. As a visual counterpoint to these slick images, there is Super 8 footage, which I shot myself. Conceptually, 16mm represents the present, while Super 8 is the past. As a kind of a portrait of my memory, Super 8 material is very subjective and dreamy. I wanted to play with different aspects of memory such as forgetting, suppressing, changing one's mind, or remembering, so I often employed 40 or 50-year-old film stock. It was then hand-processed in a variety of film developers (including coffee- and vegetable-based developers) to achieve different looks.

Tell us a bit about the sound design and music – how did you work with the composers and sound designer? 
To me, there was never an alternative to Svenn Jakobsen as the sound designer, nor with composers Bill Gould and Jared Blum. Not only because they are brilliant at what they do, but because they were absolutely right for this particular film. It was important to me that the sound design reflect the visual dichotomy between what’s real and what’s in my head.

I started working with Gould (best known as the bassist of Faith No More, a band I adore, so that's another very personal connection) and Blum, a conceptual musician who specialises in experimental forms of soundtrack, very early on. We agreed that we didn’t want anything overpowering that would push emotions onto the viewers. I gave them some very general directions, and let them do what they felt was right for the film. They work with analogue electronic music so that fit the visual approach. I think the music lifts the film to another level. And now they are planning to release an album with this music.

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