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A director's perspective

A Q&A with Eminent Scholar in Film Rajko Grlic
Feb 10, 2010
By Amy Wells

Running Friday, Feb. 12, through Thursday, Feb. 18, the Athena Cinema on Court Street and Arts for Ohio will present the Cinematheque monthly film series with a selection of critically acclaimed and award-winning films by Rajko Grlic, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Film and Ohio University faculty member. 

The highly acclaimed director has shown his films all over the world, including at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Cinematheque is sponsored by the Arts for Ohio initiative and aims to expose the Ohio University and Athens communities to a variety of classics, documentaries and international titles.

Admission to all films in this special Cinematheque series is free. Visit the Cinematheque Web site for the screening schedule.

How did you get interested in filmmaking?

I was 14 and I got a small Bell & Howell camera under the Christmas tree. The rest is my life. It was very simple.

How was this retrospective Cinematheque series created and what are you looking forward to most with this series of your films?

I have been here for many years, at this university and a few times we have screened some of my films, including my last three. So it was my pleasure to accept Ruth (Bradley) when she said, 'let's have one week of Cinematheque dedicated to your films.' I have more films than will fit in one week, so we have selected nine features.

What are the major themes of your work? What inspires you?

It's very different from film to film. When you spend 40-something years making films, it's almost impossible to put into one sentence. I'm a storyteller and I tell the stories about the place, the time and the people I know best, which is this part of Southeastern Europe. You know when you are going on your way and you put a stone on the side just to remember which portion of the way you passed. My films are those small stones on the side of the road for myself and for the people who live there.

What do you want people to take away from your films?

I'm the person who is offering the story. In films, there always exist three elements. First, the director, it's not just me but hundreds of people who are behind each film, but I am the leader of those telling the story. Second, the film and the third, and sometimes most important element, is the audience. So, as in every market, you are offering your lot of goods and they decide what they want to take, what layer in the film they want to capture and what they want to take with them leaving the theater. This dark room, those two hours, that's my case. I'm telling the story and then they have options to take whatever they want out of this.

What do you enjoy more, directing, writing or producing?

I started as a scriptwriter, but I'm a director. When you are the director it's all the roles at the same time. I enjoy it because you are telling stories three times in the film, as you will find explained in every book for beginners. You are telling a story on the paper writing the script. You are telling the story shooting the film and then you are telling the story by editing the film. I'm considering all three as the director's job.

Sometimes it's impossible to create some films without being involved in the money and producing, especially independent films, as they are not financed by one source. Often in Europe, you are going to many different countries because they are so small. It's a quite complicated process and sometimes as a director you have to jump in to help. Otherwise, I will never be a producer because I'm too sentimental to directors to be the cruel and brutal producer, which you need to be when you are producing.

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable moment in your career?

It's a lot. I could spend days and days telling the stories because it's interaction. Each film is more or less three or four years from the idea to the print in the theater, and you are interacting with a few hundred people, maybe a thousand people, so it's a million stories and a very active life. It's not just coming to the office everyday from 8 to 5, it's an unpredictable life and you never know where you will be next month or what you will be doing. It's a million stories so I will not go to just one. For Cinematheque, I will introduce each film and tell little stories just to prepare audiences for the time and the people that each film is talking about.

What advice would you have for students interested in a career in the film industry?

Don't make boring films. And enjoy it. I think that is the key to everything because filmmaking is a long process. Sometimes it's an extremely painful process. It's 16 hours a day for a few years to make a film, so if you are not enjoying the process a lot then don't ever start. That's the only reasonable advice.

In 2006, you took a group of graduate students to the set of "Border Post." Can you tell me about that experience and why you felt it was important for the students?

This is the description of my job here that I'm teaching but at the same time I'm making films. It started with the CD-ROM where more than 40 students were involved over five years. For my last three features, I took students to Germany in 2000, the Macedonia/Greece border in 2006 and Croatia last year for my most recent film. As I am trying to be involved in their films, I'm also trying to involve them in my films. I'm trying to prepare them. I give them the script to read and tell tragic stories about how the production is going up and down those three years, suddenly everything's good and then the next morning everything is falling apart. I am trying to include them in the real life of filmmaking through my films and show them how long and painful, but at the same time joyous, it is to make the films. It's about the interaction, which I think is why I'm here and what the Eminent Scholar position is about.

You've taught or lectured at more than 30 universities. What do you see that makes Ohio University distinctive?

I spent my first five years here producing the CD-ROM "How to Make a Movie,"* which won a lot of awards and brought some money to Ohio University. During those five years, I began to feel very comfortable here. I like this university. I like the size. I like the pace of this small, quiet town because my other life is hectic and not so peaceful. It's a combining of those two extremes that I'm enjoying a lot.

It's a very nice film school with the proper size. It's not a few thousand students, so it makes the whole process of teaching very personal and that is the only way to teach someone about film. I don't believe that art can be taught or that you can give the rules. But if somehow you can develop dialogue with those coming into this field, then you are probably helping them.

What is your current project?

I finished a film two months ago and right now I am one of two directors producing a half an hour of program for TV, a documentary titled "10 Years After." In 2000, I made, with my co-director, the documentary "Croatia 2000" about the election and the huge change from the right-wing government in Croatia to a more normal political situation. It was very dramatic and the film was very successful. It was the first Croatian documentary ever screened regularly in the multiplexes and had big box office success. Now it's been exactly 10 years and at the same time it's been 10 years of this president, who after serving two terms, is leaving the office. It's the first time in the history of Croatia that the president is leaving office normally, which means he didn't die or was forced out of office, so it's the first really huge democratic step. We decided to film the last few weeks of his presidency and following the election for the new president. It will be screened on Feb. 20, the day he leaves office.


* Following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site


Published: Feb 10, 2010 1:56 PM

Rajko Grlic

Rajko Grlic

Photo courtesy of: College of Fine Arts 

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