Can you tell us why you chose that particular title?
It’s a common colloquial saying in Macedonia and depending on context it can come off as either admiring or derogatory – or sometimes both. Since it was also a line of incidental dialogue in the film, it felt like the natural title. The direct translation of the phrase is literally “look at her” – but in English “Would You Look at Her” captures the spirit of it a bit more closely.
Is the protagonist based on someone you know? What was it about her character you wanted to bring out in the film?
I tend to write primarily about female protagonists. Other people routinely describe them as “unlikeable women”, though I personally never understand what makes them “unlikeable”. The protagonist in this film isn’t based on anyone specific but I had a very strong sense of her energy while I was writing the story. It felt like I was writing about someone I know in real life, but I couldn’t specifically think of who it might be. It’s only in retrospect that I recognise a lot of my own personality in her words and mannerisms and overall temperament. And it’s only in the past few days that I’ve realised this is a pattern throughout my work. Considering I’ve made 25 shorts and written scripts for nine features, it’s funny that it took such a long time for me to notice this pattern, ha ha!
Can you tell us more about the ritual?
The ritual in the film is an annual one that takes place on January 19th in a lot of Eastern Orthodox countries in the Balkans – though in Greece I believe it’s a couple of weeks earlier. In almost every town and village, people gather to watch a local priest throw a consecrated cross in a river or a pool. A group of young men dive to retrieve it. Whoever grabs hold of the cross gets the prize of blessings from the priest along with a year’s worth of “good luck and health” for their household. In recent years, the prize pool has expanded to include sponsorships and things like mobile phones, flat screens, etc. Women have only recently started volunteering to dive for the cross and in many municipalities in Macedonia there’s been a pushback against this, and often outright bans. Ironically, life has just imitated art all the way across in Melbourne, Australia (where I currently live). In the local Greek Community this year, a girl captured the cross. It’s wonderful.
Can you tell us about your background as a filmmaker?
I graduated with a Masters from the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. These days, I divide my time between Australia, Macedonia and the UK. I’ve made 25 shorts that have collectively played at over 100 festivals, including Sundance, Raindance, Melbourne, Sydney, London Shorts, Iris Prize, Frameline, Newfest and now of course – excitingly – Clermont-Ferrand as well. I’ve written nine feature scripts and spent several years assisting in television series writers rooms in Melbourne and London. As I mentioned, most of my stories tend to focus on anti-heroines with “difficult” personalities, as well as migrants and queer people. I’ve mainly done drama but I’m about to direct several episodes in a fantasy series so my sensibility is expanding, ha ha!
What sort of freedom would you say the short format allows?
I suppose there’s a little more room to experiment and take risks since the budgets and stakes are nominally lower. But to be honest, I feel like short films actually come with a lot more restrictions than features do, both in terms of a storytelling canvas and – usually – in terms of budget. However I feel like these restrictions are actually a blessing in disguise with the potential to instil incredible skill and discipline in filmmakers.
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
I hope our story reaches people from all across Europe (and beyond!). And I hope it demonstrates there is a lot of fresh, distinctive and very forward-thinking talent in Macedonia both behind and in front of the cameras (as is certainly obvious from Sara Klimoska’s fearless lead performance and Naum Doksevki’s lush cinematography). Please come and meet us for a chat haha.