CIRCLE Interviews: Meet Sara Stijović, CIRCLE 2020 Participant
Updated: Jan 29
Sara Stijović graduated as a valedictorian of her class in FTV directing, and is currently pursuing a specialist year for Documentary Film. She is developing her first feature film - Gina.
Gina is the first ever Montenegrin, and last year's only European film selected for
La Fabrique Cinéma de l’Institut français 2020 as part of the 73rd Cannes Film Festival. As well, developing Gina, Sara has been selected for CIRCLE - Women Doc Accelerator 2020.
Q: Please introduce yourself and your project briefly.
A: Sara. A single child. Twenty-three years old. Film director. Has the goal of telling the story of Đorđina Đina Markuš - Montenegrin girl who got imprisoned and sent to a gulag called “The Naked island” where she spent three years of her youth. A girl telling other girl’s story. “Đina”.
Sara Stijović, photo from private archive
Q: Why this film? What is your most important motivation?
A: Imagine a 22-year-old girl weeping while reading memoirs written by another young girl decades ago who became an incredible grown woman. In that moment, I knew I want to give my best in telling her story. I just knew. Later on, I have come to understanding how important on a wider scale is to tell Đina’s story - but it all started from an emotional level.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in making this film?
A: I believe the biggest challenge in making this film is my young age, but that’s also what makes the process really fun and exciting. Even though the topic of the film comes from the past, the film deals with the present time, and more importantly it is oriented towards audience consisted mostly out of young people - people who can and should change things.
Q: What would be the most frustrating/troubling part of filmmaking (as a woman)?
A: I am not really sure - maybe just simple but powerful prejudices some people have. Those prejudice can never stop me from doing what I love, that’s for sure, so I just let them be. An open-mind, kind heart and good education keeps a person safe from those people and thoughts.
Q: And the most rewarding one?
A: The most rewarding one is simply just telling stories - stories about people: some of them are female, some of them are male. At the end of the day, if the story is told well, it shouldn’t matter what sex the characters/ directors/ editors/ composers… are.
Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work as a filmmaker?
A: Even though the pandemic had stopped me from going to Cannes, Leipzig, etc, and meeting in person people I was really looking forward to see, it also gave me time. So, I cannot complain much. I was given time to create, to rest, to research some more, to grow… After that period of time, period of incubation, I knew which ideas were the most valuable and which ones weren’t. Regarding other projects of mine, pandemic just made it more complicated to finalise things - it was and is tiring but not impossible.
Q: What inspires you the most in your creative journeys?
A: The unknown. In that way, the journey of making every new film creates a learning experience - I learn new things, explore spheres I do not know enough about. I have come to understanding each film of mine is a new way of exploring the topic of freedom - sometimes it’s physical freedom, sometimes it’s about the possibility to be free even though you are physically trapped, sometimes it’s about the freedom of choice, or the freedom to speak you mind, and some other time is about the freedom to let ourselves make mistakes…
Q: Can you compare your experience at CIRCLE with other similar platforms that you have been part of?
A: The two biggest and most recognisable platforms I was a part of were La Fabrique Cinema and CIRCLE. I feel very lucky because both programs happened for the same project and in a continuous time spam, so I just kept learning and the project kept developing. While La Fabrique gave us a complete insight into the industry and placed us in the middle of the European market, CIRCLE gave me mentorship by the best professionals in order to creatively develop my project in the direction most truthful to both the story and me. Combined, these two programs gave me the best of both worlds.
Q: What were the most important benefits from being part of CIRCLE program?
A: Kindness of the people, creative influence, support, encouragement, given mentorship, love in the circle, and so much more! I would do it all over again if I could!
Q: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
A: Goodness… I think I need to see more female directors’ films before choosing any favourites.
Q: Do you have a favorite documentary film? Why is it one of your favorites?
Not really - or not yet. I feel I am still just on the edge of the creative-documentaries mountain and have hundreds of films to watch before strongly committing to the most favourite one.
Q: What is the most important thing for you as a spectator? What do you search/expect to find in films?
A: I am a fan of films where every pore of the film is a pore of director’s skin - you feel director’s presence, but in a subtle, precise, deep way. He/she is holding your hand and taking you through the rain forest of the film. He/she doesn’t push you around, nor yells at you, nor tells you what you can and cannot see. When a spectator, I am a child exploring the rain forest - I want to see the leaves as well as the bugs, I want the freedom to walk freely, I want someone help me not miss out on anything… That’s who the director should be as I believe - the person helping you see the best part of the story, walk the best kilometres of the rain forest.
Q: What advice do you have for other (female) directors?
A: Take care and love all the stages of your womanhood - it is the most powerful thing you have. There is an entire language laying under it - explore it, play with it, adore it, use it to tell stories.
Photo of Đina Markuš from private archive