"I am interested in intimate subjects that are very personal", Jan Cvitkovi

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Jan Cvitkovia, director of Gravehopping, was born in 1966 in Slovenia. Jan is an archaeologist, writer, actor, and director.  In 2001, Jan wrote and directed his first feature film, Bread and Milk (Kruh in mleko). Bread and Milk won the Lion of the Future, Luigi de Laurentis Award for Best First Film, La Mostra at Venice Film Festival 2001.
His latest feature film, Gravehopping (Odgrobadogroba) has won numerous awards in international film festivals including the Altadis Award for Best new director, San Sebastian, 2005.
The latest award won by Gravehopping is the Cinema Without Borders Critics Award for the Best Film at the Southeast European Film Festival.
Jan has also worked on several other projects including a few award winning TV series.

Cinema Without Borders: At Cinema without Borders, we believe that your film “Gravehopping” is one of the best films of this decade. When is your next feature film?
Jan Cvitkovia: I am preparing the next film, and the working title is “Archeo” We are actually looking for locations and I am organizing the crew. The plan was to show the film this autumn in October but I might have to wait because I’m having trouble financing the film in Slovenia. The government is not on my side at this moment so I will have to find financing abroad. In order to obtain finances, I would have to go to some festivals to meet supporters, and then we’ll start to make it. In the mean time, I just finished a short film, so I keep working. If I don’t succeed in making the film this year I will make it next year for sure.

CWB: How has the change of government affected your work?
Jan: I don’t know exactly. Now we have some kind of a right-wing oriented government, and for some reason they believe that I am not the right person to make films here. I think they would like things to be more political, and more commercial for the country. It seems like I am not the person to do this. They don’t want to finance my films so I have to find my own way to do it.

CWB: How are you attempting to gain funding? I have heard from European filmmakers that European governments do a large amount of funding for filmmakers and they only sponsor filmmakers within their country. How does it work in Europe?
Jan: We have the European Film Fund and that is one way to get part of the money. We also have European co-production so if you want to make a film with foreign money you have to find co-producers from abroad. For example, I am from Slovenia and I can get a part of the money here, and once I have done this I can get co-producers from other European regions. Since I am not able to get money here in Slovenia, other co-producers don’t want to get involved with my projects because they say there is no guarantee in my country for the film to be made. So it is very difficult for me at this moment.

CWB: Don’t you think that European countries should get together and have an organization for film distribution and film production so they could have a way to support their filmmakers?
Jan: Yeah, they actually do have some kind of European fund, but not all European countries have the same kind of film politics. They are not all united in the perception of how to deal with this problem. I believe that, in the future, things will get better. People here are no longer as amused with American films and they are seeing more and more European movies. You can see this in the rising number of those who attend film festivals, and the decrease of those going to the cinema to see American films. We’ll see how things change in the future.

CWB: Do you think the internet will help international and independent filmmakers?
Jan: Yes, for sure. I am sure because now if you do work on a short, low budget film you are able to put it on the internet and anyone can see it. You don’t have problems with distribution or with investing money in marketing, but on the other hand you don’t get money out of it.

CWB: Do you think the success of Romanian films in film festivals could translate into commercial success? How do you think the success of Romanian cinema could help the European cinema?
Jan: Any kind of success attracts investors and people who have the will to invest money and other things into a film. If you are successful in festivals, you attract people who want to invest, and maybe this could bring commercial success in the future. Maybe people who were not interested in investing now will be interested in doing so in the next three or four years.

CWB: Out of all the Eastern European countries why do you think Romania became so successful with great movies one after another?
Jan: It is always like that. The center of creativity is always moving around the globe. We saw Iranian film emerging, as well as Thai, Chinese, and Korean films. The same is happening in Europe. In the past, Italian and French films were very strong. They are not as strong anymore and it seems as though the center of creativity has moved somewhere else. It is a natural flow of energy and creativity. At this moment, Romania is very strong. It’s an eruption of creativity that keeps moving.

CWB: In the world we are living in now, there are a lot of problem—political and social. Do you think filmmakers are obligated to deal with important matters and express them in their films?
Jan: No, I don’t think so. I think it is good that some people do that, but I am not one of them. I am more interested in intimate subjects that are very personal. I am not the person who will use films to deal with political and social issues. It is, of course, a good thing that some people so that.

CWB: I think those topics come about anyway. Even though you are making an intimate film, your characters are still dealing with different issues in their lives. It may come naturally, and if it is part of the film, it is part of the film.
Jan: It could happen of course, but I never plan it.

CWB: You deal with humor in your films. I think you have a special way of telling stories with humor. Is humor part of making all of your films?
Jan: Till now, when I would start making a film, I would always go out to make a comedy. More and more, I would go to film a movie that was less of a comedy but it would always turn out being some kind of a comedy. It’s always some kind of a tragic comedy. Humor is just one of the ways to make life more bearable. That’s why there is humor in my films: To make things more bearable.

CWB: Are there any filmmakers with a sense of humor that you looked up to when you were younger?
Jan: I must say that I never really went to the cinema. I don’t watch films, and I never did. I watch fewer films than the average person. I was more into literature. I always preferred to read books over watching films, so I don’t really have any favorites.

CWB: Have you seen any Woody Allen films?
Jan: Yes, I have but I don’t like them very much.
CWB: Really? Why don’t you like them?
Jan: I think they are boring, but it’s just my opinion.

CWB: You mentioned your interest in literature. Who are your favorite authors?
Jan: My favorite writer is Raymond Carver, and he is an American author. I have a lot of others, but Raymond Carver is my favorite because he can make a touchy story out of nothing. He never wrote a novel—he only wrote short stories. Any of his short stories are more powerful than any film I have ever seen. I also like Charles Bukowski, Nelson Algren and John Irving

CWB: What about classic writers like Chekhov?
Jan: I have read him and other classic writers but I am not really into them. To be honest, I think some of the best writers have come from the Unites States from the second part of the century. I got to discover Flannery O’Conner, who was a phenomenal writer from the U.S.

CWB: What about in East European writers?
Jan: Yeah I know most of them and I used to read them, but they are not powerful enough to satisfy me. Except for some Russians writers like Isaac Babel and Vsevolod Ivanov, but they are not very well-known.

CWB: I know you write all your screenplays; have you ever considered working on a film written by someone else?
Jan: For now, I am not. I enjoy inventing and discovering my own stories. I have never thought of making a film with someone else’s story, but maybe one day I will. For right now, I enjoy inventing my own stories.

CWB: Do you think there is a chance that you could come to the U.S. and make films for Hollywood?
Jan: To be honest, I would do it only for the money. My only condition would be to have total and complete freedom in my writing and filming. I don’t know if that would be the case in Hollywood. I prefer to do my own thing.

CWB: Do you live in a city or a village? I called you once and you said that you were cutting wood.
Jan: I used to live in the city at the capital. Two years ago, I moved out with my family to a small village in western Slovenia close to the Italian border where I am at right now. There is no pub or store but it is cool. Everything is very close so if I want to go to the capital it is only one hour of driving.

CWB: Did you move because you thought that you were closer to your subjects of your film and human life than you were in a city?
Jan: I was never thinking about that, but the truth is that I moved here after I shot “Gravehopping” here. By origin, my grandmother was from here. I like the atmosphere here—it is different than inland. We are quite close to the see, and it is a little bit like Tuscany in Italy. It is a little more peaceful.

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Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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