Interview - Lux Prize - Mila Turajlić

Interview with Mila Turajlić

By Iassen Atanassov

Mila Turajlić is a young and creative Serbian filmmaker bestly known for her documentary movies Cinema Komunistoand The Other Side of Everything. The second one was chosen among many other European films to be part of the LUX Prize finalists this year, and was screened during the 75th Venice Film Festival. The film shows the story of Mila’s mother, Srbijanka Turajlić, focusing on her personal and political fights against the different regimes that ruled over Serbia during the past decades, as well as her dedication to her country. The film has received many awards all around the world, including the 2017 IDFA award for Best Feature-Lenght documentary. While she was in Venice I was lucky to have the chance to meet her for a quick interview.

Can you imagine fighting for something during your whole life, without leaving your country, like your mother did?

It is very, very hard for me to think that when I am her age I will be like that. I think that everybody in our coutry has a decision to face - wether to see the world and search for opportunities or to stay in their own country and deal with its problems. I haven’t actually decided yet, but I am facing this choice and it is really hard. It is even harder when you have someone in front of you who has made such an honorable choice. In some ways she is giving me a legacy and I am like: “No, I don’t want it”. I don’t think that she ever questioned her desicion. Whatever happens she stays and whatever happens she fights. 

How long was the shooting process for the movie?

5 years of intense shooting. I worked on this film from 2012 to 2017, but some footage is from 2005. This was going to be my first movie and I started working on it in 2005. A few months later I realised that I didn’t know how to make it. I wasn’t old enough, I wasn’t mature enough. So I dropped it and made another film. When I finished with that one I came back to The Other Side of Everything. Actually, when she is cleaning the silver in the film it is from two different years put together in on scene, because she does this once a year.

How would you explain this kind of "Balkan syndrome” concerning politics? Why do we always choose the same people we are complaining about? We make revolutions and then nothing changes.

I think it has to do with the process of falling in love with a politician. Someone appears as the “Messiah” and people believe in him. I also thought that it was a thing from the Balkans, but then I realised that it isn’t happening only there. Not at all. It is much bigger than that. I visited a lot of countries with my film and I saw that we are not the only ones going through this at some point of our history. The media can create so much hysteria towards a person in order to make people love him and see him as a hero. On the other hand, politicians really know how to lie and we fall for this every time. It is a very troubling thing.

Do you believe the situation will ever be good? Could we eventually live happy and in peace? 

Do you remember the scene where my mother is telling me that I should continue her fight for this idea and find solutions? She is talking to all of us actually. The unpleasant thing is that we are the ones that should make this world a better place. Our generation has the responsibility now, even if we don’t want to take it. 

Do you remember how was the situation when you were a child or did your mother tried to hide all of this from you in order to protect you? 

We were very mature. When there was no more food left, me and my sister clearly knew what was going on. We learned from our mother about being very transperant and open about what we were doing, particularly when resisting a regime. She would always have conversations on the phone in front of us, because when you start hiding something you put yourself in danger. I knew very much what was going on but I don’t think I realised when I was a child how unique it was what she was doing. It was only when I reached this age, around the age my mother was at that time, that I am begining to think: “What were you doing? Where did you get the idea?”. 

Did you have any issues while mixing job with family? Wasn’t it strange for you? How did you manage?

At the beginning it was awkward for both of us. She didn’t really think that I was ever going to finish this film, and I never really told her that she was going to be the main character. The truth is that you have to be very patient. I filmed her for 5 years, and one of the reasons it took me so long is because my mother is a professor. She is used to giving lectures, so she was talking to me like I was a journalist instead of her daughter. It took me a long time to make her understand, and I got quite angry some times. Then I started thinking: “Okay, I need to direct the context in between”. So I tried a lot of different things. I tried showing her the archive, to set her in a different mood, but it didn’t really work. You have to be super patient, because you have to go through the phase when she thinks that she is giving an interview. Then she gets tired and the real conversation begins. The only way to make people relaxed in front of the camera is to give them time.

Were there any parts of the film that became too emotional to include in the final cut? 

The hardest scene for me, that is actually in the film, is when we are both crying. I filmed it by accident. We were in a conversation, the camera kept rolling and then we had this “moment”. I only saw it in the rush afterwards. At the beginning I thought it was too intimate, but because of how it was filmed - you don’t see her face - I thought I could use it. When we watched the final cut without the scene I knew that it was necessary. If it hadn’t been filmed discretely, I would have never put that scene on the film. 

Have you ever had any fights with your mother about politics because of the generation gap?

I grew up following her life so we have very simillar views, but I loved using all these moments when you see her fighting with her friends. I really like this idea that you have friends from your childhood who have completely different beliefs and thinking and still be friends and playing cards. I thought that this was something really important to show. 

Where does your dissapointment come from?

We had a very good chance, we were protesting for so many years and then we had this revolution. We ‘achieved’ what we wanted and then woke up the next morning and realised that it is actually very easy to be a protestor, being against something. But when you finally have the power to build, what do you build? That is where my disappointment comes from. We had the chance and we didn’t know what to do with it. I am very reluctant to be a protestor now because nothing really changes, even if it works. 

Why do you think your mother is more optimistic than you? 

I think it has to do with her personality. Sometimes I think that she is very naiv. She was a student in 1968 and she grew up in this movement that really believed in its power to change the world. But yes, it is funny how even today she remains more optimistic than me. 

What drives you forward?

The older I am the more I realise that I am very lucky. I do what I love. And there are actually not so may people who can say that. The fact that I managed to indentified what my passion was and then had the luck to make it my job, that moves me forward. Knowing that I am doing what makes me happy. And that is very rare.