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CIRCLE interviews: Meet Milica Đenić, CIRCLE 2022 participant

Milica Đenić was born in Belgrade. She graduated in film and television directing from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. In 2011 she was a DAAD scholarship holder at the Braunschweig University of the Arts. Milica is the director of several short fiction and documentary films that have been screened at international film festivals. Her short documentary "Guilty" received a special mention at ZagrebDox. She is a cinematographer on two documentaries and director on several music videos. She also worked in the editorial team of the VoD platform and on several TV projects. "Tale of the Plum Spirit" is Milica's first feature-length film as a director.

Q: Please introduce yourself and your project briefly.

I am Milica Đenić, a Berlin-based filmmaker currently working on my debut feature-length documentary, "Tale of the Plum Spirit". This project is a personal journey to a remote mountain village in Serbia, which I initially visited to learn the art of rakija distillation for a day. But an unexpected encounter with my great-uncle Žika drew me back again and again. Following the relationship that develops through humorous clashes between Žika and me, this documentary deals with the loneliness of each of us, but also with family dynamics, traditions and societal expectations, capturing my reconnection with a society that I had always rejected.

Still from TALES OF THE PLUM SPIRIT, directed by Milica Đenić

Q: What is your film about? What inspired you to start making it?

An ageing bachelor from a decaying mountain village in Serbia tries to persuade his great-niece from Berlin to find a husband and escape his fate. From the humorous clash of two completely opposite worldviews emerges a story of loneliness and the burden of unfulfilled social expectations.

During my visit to the remote village of Tvrdići in Serbia, I was constantly bombarded with questions about when I was going to get married. These inquiries didn't bother me too much. But when  Žika, my great-uncle, asked me the same question, I felt compelled to respond and inquire about his own marital status. His distant gaze, the silence that followed and the look on his face, as if his whole world had collapsed, made me want to go back and unravel the mysteries behind that distant gaze. This unexpected connection drove me to explore the deeper layers of his life and, unconsciously, my own search for answers about loneliness and companionship. As we stubbornly argue about loneliness and marriage, the village becomes a showcase for the absurdity of Balkan conflicts, the complexity of political and historical circumstances, but also leads to my reconnection with family history and a society I had rejected all my life. 

Q: How has this film challenged you as a filmmaker?

The most challenging part of this project is having to treat myself as a character. Creating a narrative that delves into my own personality requires a level of openness and self-discovery that goes beyond normal filmmaking. Questioning and presenting myself as a character within the story adds a layer of complexity to the filmmaking process.

Q: How would you describe your approach to filmmaking?

I approach filmmaking as a personal and artistic challenge, prioritizing honesty and a focus on people and their stories. I particularly appreciate the power of the close-up, seeking strong characters that can carry the narrative. 

Q: What made you apply for CIRCLE?

I applied for CIRCLE based on a strong recommendation from a participant who had attended the program in the previous year. After hearing about her incredible experience, I was inspired and motivated to submit my application.

Q: Can you compare your experience at CIRCLE with other similar platforms that you have been part of?

Compared to other programmes I have been part of, my experience with CIRCLE was significantly more intense. One particular aspect that set CIRCLE apart was the creation of a safe space exclusively for women and non-binary filmmakers. This environment allowed us to freely express our passion for our projects, as well as our fears and insecurities. CIRCLE's particular focus on creating a supportive community led to the formation of strong bonds and friendships between participants. Unlike some other platforms where competition can prevail, the atmosphere at CIRCLE encouraged collaboration and mutual support between participants, contributing to a more empowering experience.

Q: How has participating in CIRCLE helped you and/or your project?

Participating in CIRCLE helped me to crystallise and articulate my ideas, particularly in terms of the visual approach to my film and my main character. The resonace of many participants and mentors encouraged me to include my personal story in the film and give it another universal level. The guidance and support I received through CIRCLE has significantly increased the clarity and depth of my project.

Q: As a woman working in the industry, have you faced any barriers or issues related to your gender?

I haven't encountered specific barriers directly related to my gender as a woman in the industry, but I have faced challenges related to defying traditional gender roles that others may have expected of me as a filmmaker. These expectations and deviations from conventional roles have presented their own set of problems.

Q: What would you change in the way women are treated in the film industry?

Ensuring equal opportunities and representation, promoting greater roles for women both in front of and behind the camera. It's crucial to create an environment that values freedom of expression for all genders, moving away from patriarchal roles and removing thematic restrictions and/or expectations for female filmmakers and women in the film industry as a whole.

Q: Which women directors have helped to shape your worldview and filmmaking approach? Why? Agnes Varda, with her groundbreaking films that seamlessly blend documentary and fiction, has significantly shaped my worldview and approach to filmmaking. Her innovative storytelling techniques and emphasis on authentic human experience, honesty and a human-centred focus. Varda's work inspires me to explore unconventional storytelling methods and challenge traditional norms within the realm of filmmaking, as seen in her diverse filmography, which presents a unique cinematic perspective on complex human experiences.

Q: Do you have a favourite documentary film? Why is it one of your favorites?

The Act of Killing is one of my favourite documentaries because of its unconventional and thought-provoking approach to storytelling. The film takes a unique turn by allowing the perpetrators to re-enact their roles in the atrocities. This unconventional method provides a chilling insight into the psychology of power, guilt and historical accountability. Joshua Oppenheimer's bold and innovative filmmaking fascinates me, particularly in the way he portrays pure evil without asking forgiveness for the protagonists. It challenges traditional documentary norms, making it a compelling and unforgettable exploration of human nature and the consequences of unchecked power.

Q: What is the most important thing for you as a spectator? What do you search/expect to find in films?

As a viewer, the most important elements in films for me are a compelling story, well-developed and strong characters, and an innovative stylistic approach. I look for stories that captivate and resonate, characters that are rich and relatable, and filmmaking that pushes boundaries and introduces fresh perspectives.

Q:  What advice do you have for other filmmakers?

My advice to other filmmakers is to be persistent, honest and courageous in believing in your ideas. It's important not to give up when faced with challenges, because the filmmaking process can be painful, long, but incredibly rewarding. The journey may be hard, but it's an essential part of creating a meaningful and powerful film.

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