Redak­tion „novinki“

Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin
Sprach- und lite­ra­tur­wis­sen­schaft­liche Fakultät
Institut für Slawistik
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin

„Art is about social respon­si­bi­lity” – ein Inter­view mit Teona Strugar Mitevska

Die nord­ma­ze­do­ni­sche Regis­seurin, Dreh­buch­au­torin und Pro­du­zentin Teona Strugar Mit­evska ist über Nacht inter­na­tional bekannt geworden, seitdem ihr Film Gospod postoi, imeto ì e Petrunija (dt. Gott ist tot, ihr Name ist Petrunya) 2019 auf der Ber­li­nale gezeigt wurde, den Preis der Öku­me­ni­schen Jury und den Gilde Film­preis gewann und große Reso­nanz in der Presse erhielt. Dabei stellt dieser Film mit einem unzwei­fel­haft doku­men­ta­risch-rea­lis­ti­schen Anspruch eine ein­fache lokale Bege­ben­heit ins Zen­trum der Hand­lung: Das Auf­be­gehren einer Frau, die sich durch patri­ar­chale Struk­turen ihrer Lebens­per­spek­tiven beraubt sieht und einem spon­tanen Impuls folgt, sich an dem (nor­ma­ler­weise nur Män­nern vor­be­hal­tenen) Epi­pha­nias-Ritual in ihrer Dorf­ge­meinde zu betei­ligen. Über­ra­schen­der­weise gelingt es ihr den ‚Wett­kampf‘ zu gewinnen, womit sie aber in wei­terer Folge bru­tale Kritik und Anfein­dung auf sich zieht. Der kri­ti­sche und zugleich humor­volle Film zeigt voller Empa­thie eine starke Frau, die sich nicht zum Opfer machen lässt.

 

novinki unter­hielt sich mit Teona Mit­evska, deren Kar­riere mit der Aus­bil­dung als Gra­fik­de­si­gnerin und einer zweiten in Film­regie an der Tisch School of the Arts in New York begann, über ihr bis­he­riges Schaffen (u.a. über ihren Film Jas sum od Titov Veles, dt.: Ich komme aus Titov Veles aus dem Jahr 2008) und ihre Moti­va­tion zum Fil­me­ma­chen, über die heu­tige Film­kunst und ‑kultur in Nord­ma­ze­do­nien und über aktu­elle femi­nis­ti­sche Dis­kurse, die uns alle betreffen.

 

Julia Engel­landt: Teona, in an inter­view for the Ber­li­nale 2019 you men­tioned that a real person, who actually did not have a back­ground as a femi­nist acti­vist, inspired your con­cep­tion of the female prot­ago­nist in Gospod postoi, imeto ì e Petrunija. But in your film, there clearly is an emphasis on the character’s femi­nist moti­va­tions. What influ­enced your decision to center your movie around this aspect?

 

Teona Mit­evska: I think femi­nism is some­thing natural. Yes, we put a name to it, but for me femi­nism is about injus­tice. Every human being, who has expe­ri­enced injus­tice, will voice her or his opi­nion regar­ding that. As the film deve­lops, Petrunya gains more con­fi­dence in herself and in her actions. But in the begin­ning her pri­mary moti­va­tion is the need for jus­tice. What else can a woman do, other than to cri­ti­cize the con­di­tions of life in a society, which were created without her par­ti­ci­pa­tion? What else can I as a woman speak about, other than some­thing that con­cerns me deeply every single day? Some­thing that we all strive for: to better our living con­di­tions, to better the con­di­tions of the dis­ad­van­taged mem­bers of society. And the move­ment – femi­nism – is part of this. I would not say that injus­tice is part of femi­nism, I’d say that femi­nism is part of justice.

 

J.E.: Where there any other themes or motives that were important for you to include?

 

T.M.: Patri­archy. Capi­ta­lism. I am not offe­ring a solu­tion here. And I do not think that films can manage to turn down the whole of patri­archy in the next 50 years. But it is some­thing to strive for and some­thing that we still need to fight against. It is very dif­fi­cult to change a system that has been exis­ting for cen­tu­ries. But in fact, we as women are pri­so­ners of this system. That makes patri­archy a big pro­blem for me, and it should be like this for anyone in the world. I could not see myself not stri­ving for a change. Our world is very much uni­fied. Most of our aims are very similar – we all want a change for the better. Cinema, being a very popular art form, can touch many souls on dif­fe­rent edu­ca­tional and emo­tional levels because you are dealing with sen­sa­tions, expe­ri­ence, fee­lings, and you are tel­ling a story. You can convey extre­mely com­plex ideas through film.

 

J.E.: What forms of occup­a­tion are tra­di­tio­nally linked to women in North Macedonia?

 

T.M.: Iro­ning and coo­king; it’s ridi­cu­lous. But we are forced to keep up with this kind of tra­di­tions. During the ritual of swim­ming after the cross (what you can see in the movie) women must only observe the men and applaud… I was rea­ding an inter­view with our prime minister a few days ago and was outraged. He said, “My daughter stu­dies medi­cine in Sofia. I was against it because stu­dying medi­cine takes six years. That is too much. It’s not good for a woman. A woman should be a mother.” What is even worse, none of the smart and strong Mace­do­nian women have com­mented on this. He is the leader of this country. How dare he say some­thing like that? His daughter is pro­bably smarter than him.

 

J.E.: Where do you see the impor­t­ance of incor­po­ra­ting real-life events in your work?

 

T.M.: Rea­lity is more fan­tastical than anything you can ima­gine. It is incredible, of course, the capa­bi­li­ties of human crea­ti­vity. But what hap­pens in real life can also resemble fic­tion. Filmma­kers and sto­ry­tel­lers, or artists in general, always try to be on the same level with society, to respond to the envi­ron­ment we live in, to the pro­blems that the world is preoc­cu­pied with. There are pro­blems that con­cern us all, some­times to a greater extent than what we are con­scious of. And as an artist it is very important to inves­ti­gate these pro­blems. You could call them uni­versal. They are extre­mely important for star­ting a dis­cus­sion and for brin­ging society forward.

 

J.E.: A couple of your ear­lier movies faced an immense back­lash from the North Mace­do­nian government, and there were debates about cen­so­ring. How was Petrunya received? 

 

T.M.: Petrunya went okay. But it remains a film that pres­ents a cer­tain aspect of the country’s cul­ture that does not necessa­rily cor­re­spond with how people want to see them­selves. All my films are being viewed as con­tro­ver­sial, and I can under­stand why. But we live in a country where people are afraid to talk. There is no real freedom of expres­sion. Basi­cally, there are cer­tain gui­de­lines of what people are sup­posed to think and people just follow that. As I say this about my country, my sto­mach trem­bles. How can one pro­duce anything of value when the basis for your decisions is fear? Of course, freedom of expres­sion is being dis­cussed, but on a very super­fi­cial level. We don’t fully under­stand what it means. The divi­sion bet­ween the church, the state, and the artist exists. But the demo­cratic idea, to have the right to voice your opi­nion without caring about what other people think or feel, is still very far away from us. They wanted to put me on a black­list. What does that even mean? Are we living in Sta­li­nist Russia? Nobody stood up and said anything, because of fear. People are just accep­ting it. And that is the worst part.

 

J.E.: You also worked as a gra­phic desi­gner and as a painter. What influ­enced your decision to pursue a career in filmmaking?

 

T.M.: When I was six years old, I was a child actor in former Yugo­s­lavia. I took part in a couple of com­mer­cials. When I was about 12 years old, I said: “Fuck it.” I did not want to be told what to do. So, I started a cinema club. But it was quite frus­tra­ting for me because I was the youn­gest and a female in a group of older men. And I was never being taken seriously. There is this assump­tion about women that they should not touch cameras, tech­no­logy or wha­tever. That is my life story: con­stant frus­tra­tion and dealing with restric­tions that your envi­ron­ment has put on you. Very similar to Petrunya actually. When I started working in the fine arts, I tried lots of dif­fe­rent things. But my desire has always been to make cinema myself, to be a film director. It took me a long time to have the cou­rage to do so. The restric­tions that we put on our­selves can be unders­tood as auto-cen­sor­ship. It has to do with con­fi­dence as well. Espe­cially women are often being told what they can and can’t do. It took me a long time to give myself the per­mis­sion to do what I wanted to do. So, after I finished uni­ver­sity, I started working in adver­ti­sing and only then did I say to myself: “Now I can direct.”

 

J.E.: How do you think your filmma­king has changed over the years?

 

T.M.: I am less stuck-up. My ideas were very limited about what I thought cinema was. Today I know that ever­ything can be cinema. And this freedom can be quite chal­len­ging. Film is basi­cally just a medium that expresses emo­tion. The more freedom you have in terms of using that medium, the more beau­tiful it gets. And it doesn’t necessa­rily have to work all the time. It’s important to chal­lenge yourself and try to do the undo­able. There are many great films today, espe­cially in Europe. But it’s not enough to just make a good film. You must pro­pose some­thing more. It must be a great idea with an excel­lent form. To achieve this can be really chal­len­ging, but this is what is important to me.

 

J.E.: How do you think your expe­ri­ence as a desi­gner and painter influ­ences your ways of filmmaking?

 

T.M.: I come from the visual world, so in all my films every frame must be like a pain­ting. Coming from this back­ground and fee­ling com­for­table about visua­li­zing things was some­thing I always relied on. It was some­thing that I knew how to do. And then I would build upon that, all my sto­ries and my cha­rac­ters. Today I’m con­scious about the fact that my pur­suit of this har­mony, what I look for within a frame, can also be impr­i­so­ning. This pur­suit of per­fec­tion can be limi­ting, if it does not fit the dra­ma­turgy of the film. There is a fine balance that one must work around. Cinema is a visual form, but what is the point of the visual form, if it does not serve the expe­ri­ence the cha­rac­ters feel in that moment? I am tal­king about this because it has been my big­gest struggle. To put my visual expec­ta­tions back and put them in the func­tion of the cha­racter or the dra­ma­turgy. Once I got over that, I started loo­king at the entire film as a pain­ting. Also, I think the inte­res­ting part is what is not har­mo­nious, beau­tiful or balanced. These kinds of ideas are part of how we define our­selves as humans. There is always space for dif­fe­rence, for pro­po­sing dif­fe­rent kinds of beauty and of reality.

 

J.E.: What was it like for you as an artist to work during the pan­demic? Did you see it as a pro­duc­tive moment or was it rather limi­ting your creativity?

 

T.M.: During the pan­demic I went through a per­sonal tur­moil – not with cinema, but with my family. And that pro­cess cla­ri­fied a lot of things for me. It has been a clean­sing expe­ri­ence on a per­sonal level, and the­re­fore it has been also beau­tiful. Prio­ri­ties have become clearer. I also finished one film that I have never shown to any­body because it is so per­sonal. But during the pro­duc­tion of that film, which is more like a diary, I released myself from the idea of what cinema is. I don’t know if it is of any value for any­body else, but that doesn’t matter. It is important for my per­sonal deve­lo­p­ment. It freed me from many rules and con­s­tric­tions about how I thought I needed to make cinema.

 

J.E.: How would you describe your cur­rent posi­tion in Mace­do­nian film cul­ture? What would you like to con­tri­bute in the future?

 

T.M.: I just hope my films touch people on an emo­tional level. That is one of the most important goals for a filmmaker. It is however not so important to me if you like my film or not. What I care about is that 15 years later, there is still an image, a moment, some­thing that has touched you and some­thing you still remember. It is important for artists and sci­en­tists alike – ever­ything is inter­re­lated; we sort of feed off one ano­ther and we move the society for­ward. The most important thing is that you don’t do some­thing for your per­sonal gra­ti­fi­ca­tion only. Art is not about that but about social respon­si­bi­lity. Des­pite all the con­tro­versy around my films I think that I am influ­en­cing many young film makers – male as well as female – in a posi­tive way, showing them a way how to do things dif­fer­ently and to be brave in art. We have reached a point where it is not so dif­fi­cult to make a well-packaged film pro­duc­tion-wise. But that is not enough. Cinema is about explo­ring the form, pushing its bounda­ries. And for this you need a good edu­ca­tion in filmma­king. You need an encou­ra­ging atmo­s­phere. But here, where people are afraid, ever­ything is very tra­di­tional. I hope that by pro­po­sing the type of films I do, I’m able to open cer­tain doors in people’s minds.

 

J.E.: Since this inter­view addresses a German spea­king audi­ence with little to no know­ledge of Mace­do­nian film, could you recom­mend ano­ther young film director?

 

T.M.: Just yes­terday the first Mace­do­nian film ever was accepted in Cannes. We have never had a film there. And it’s a female film maker. It’s a short film by Marija Apčevska. It’s called Severen Pol (North Pole) and we are very proud of it.

 

J.E.: Just one last ques­tion: Are you plan­ning on jum­ping after the cross one day?

 

T.M.: No, I don’t like cold water. It’s not my thing. But if there was a tra­di­tion like clim­bing a rock, I would totally do it.

_

 

Das Inter­view wurde von Julia Engel­landt am 17.06.2021 geführt.