Asja Krsmanović was born in Sarajevo in 1988. She studied dramaturgy at the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo. She worked as a playwright for both the theater and the radio and as a screenwriter for television projects. She has been working as the coordinator of the Competition programs for both Feature and Short Film as well as the “In Focus” section at the Sarajevo Film Festival since 2011. Six years later, she started programming the “Competition program – Student Film” of the festival. As assistant director, she has worked on several short films and wrote screenplay for the short film “Kalo,” directed by Nermin Hamzagić.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
The “Competition program – Student Film” section was introduced two years ago. What motivated its introduction?
Asja Krsmanović: The Sarajevo Film Festival has always been focused on discovering new talented filmmakers from the region. Through its competitive and non-competitive sections, in the past twenty-five years, the festival has screened many films made by students within the framework of their studies. When we summed everything up, we realized that one third of the submitted films in the “Competition Program – Short Film” category were made by students. So, we decided it was the right moment to launch a new program reserved only for students. It was also a logical step in rounding off our program activities. As we already have educational and networking platforms for young filmmakers through Talents Sarajevo, the CineLink Industry Days for project development and, finally, Competition Programs for short, feature and documentary films, we decided that the best way to promote students is by promoting their work. So, we opened the category to student documentary, fiction and animated films up to 60 minutes in length. We wanted this platform to be the place of freedom of expression, a safe place to show their first works to our audience and get feedback. As we also wanted young filmmakers to meet each other and learn more about the European and regional industry, we created other contents for them during the festival – masterclasses, networking events and panel discussions. This is a great opportunity for them to learn something new and put their work into perspective.
What impact do you think it can have on the careers of the selected filmmakers?
A.K.: Regional students are not all in the same position. While some schools are very active in promoting their students’ films, others do almost nothing to promote them. It is then up to the students to step up and make their film and try and do something more with it than just pass the exam. The Sarajevo Film Festival is recognized in the region as a major film event and students are very familiar with its values. The fact that we received more than 260 submissions in the first year of the “Competition Program – Student Film” section confirms this. The students recognized that their films will be visible in the world of professional filmmaking and that we can represent a very important platform for their professional development. We were tracking what happened with student films after their premieres in Sarajevo and it seems that most of them had very rich and successful festival lives. It also tells a lot about the quality of the selected films. The film Siege by Hungarian director István Kovács that had its international premiere in Sarajevo, won the Student Academy Award in the Narrative Film category – International Film Schools. This is just one of the examples. Neven Samardžić, who won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Student Film in 2017, was one of the five regional filmmakers who participated in the SEE Factory Sarajevo mon amour project that had its premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight program in Cannes this year. This year only, we have three regional students from the Competition Program participating also in the Talents Sarajevo workshop, so it seems that this idea of discovering young talented authors and supporting them on their way to becoming established filmmakers is on the right path.
What is your opinion of short films?
A.K.: Short Film is a special form of Art. Some young authors just consider it as a necessary step on their way to making a feature film, but it is way more than that. Every form comes out of content. If it takes you three hours to tell a joke, it is no longer a joke. It is the same with a film. If you try to stretch or compact the content to fit the form, then it is not a good film. Making a short film is a complex process with no space for mistakes, because all the mistakes are visible and everything is equally important. Short filmmakers are more relaxed when it comes to experimenting and pushing the limits in terms of visual style and narrative. They are not that limited by the production circumstances and audience expectations, so this small space remains a safe place for the freedom of expression.
How do you see the situation of the short form in the SEE region?
A.K.: It is different in each country, but the situation is not that bad at all. The regional production of short films is increasing every year thanks to the fact that it is not expensive to make one anymore. In terms of quality, the presence of regional films at A-list film festivals and the awards they are winning also confirms it.
And, what is it like in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A.K.: I think we are way behind our neighbors in terms of both quantity and quality. It is very hard for filmmakers in Bosnia to receive any kind of funding and shoot their films. The Bosnian society is not very friendly to our authors and it is a little miracle to even make a film. But maybe the value of our films lies in the fact that they are made despite that.
What can you tell us about the House of Shorts, another novelty introduced at the festival in 2017? How has it helped boost the visibility of short films at the festival in particular and on the festival circuit and among the audience in general?
A.K.: The House of Shorts was established with the goal to gather all the short filmmakers and film lovers in one place to watch films and talk about them in the relaxed atmosphere of the ex-Kriterion Cinema. Since more than half of the films we screen at the festival are short films, it was the right time to make them a home of their own – the House of Shorts. This venue is the meeting point for all the short filmmakers, festival programmers, distributors as well as the regular audience. It is easier to connect thanks to the House of Shorts and all the contents we provide there: panel discussions, masterclasses and networking events. This year, beside the regular screenings of the films in Competition, and other screenings in non-competitive sections, we are also hosting the Masterclass: “In Conversation with Nadav Lapid,” a speed-dating session, a panel discussion with international festival representatives, and one with international short film distributors.
Luckily, female directors in Bosnian cinema are very well represented, especially when we are pondering on it in the context of social processes in our society.
What can you say about the “Competition program – Student Film” section?
A.K.: Selecting student films entails discovering new, talented, young directors, and witnessing the start of their creative growth and the ways in which they develop their own style and start addressing universal themes from the unique standpoint of their generation. This year, the “Competition Program – Student Film” presents fourteen titles produced by students from regional film schools as part of their learning process. The selection includes three animated works, one documentary, and ten fiction films. Five of these are world premieres, two are international premieres, and the remaining seven are regional premieres in Sarajevo. Just as we are attempting, through this selection, to anticipate the future of cinema in the region, a significant number of future directors whose films are screening deal with topics that reflect their auteurs’ desire to anticipate their own future, and the changes brought about by growing up, maturing, and, inevitably, dying. Regardless of whether they are intimate coming-of-age dramas or explicitly socially engaged endeavors, all the selections center on families and the tanglement of family relations their protagonists are struggling to make sense of.
Can you talk about the selection process? How do you choose one film over another?
A.K.: I think that the position of the curator in today’s world is very important. In the mass of different content and generated choices that are given to us by different algorithms in digital platforms, it is very hard to discover something new and widen our horizons. The curator is the person who chooses content – we cannot make something up, we cannot produce something that it is not already there. But we can select from the mass of content the pieces we find most valuable and shape the selection to show the polyphony of voices of different authors and different views on life and art. Sometimes, these voices collide and the beauty comes out of their conflict; sometimes, we are recognizing our own voices coming from the distant being of another, but the beauty in curating the short films is in the dialogue you can make between them by putting it in your selection. As a curator, you are talking directly to your audience, you are able to put the spotlight on some films and recommend them as one person to another and it is kind of an intimate act. The curator is not an algorithm, he or she is a person with their own emotional, intellectual and aesthetical preferences, the same as the viewer is. And you can never underestimate the power that human dialogue has in this case. In the process of the selection, I try to pick films that make me feel or think about things from a different perspective.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film in the past year and a half. What is your opinion on the matter? How is it like in Bosnia & Herzegovina?
A.K.: Luckily, female directors in Bosnian cinema are very well represented, especially when we are pondering on it in the context of social processes in our society. The industry is still predominantly male, but it is also changing slowly.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And film by a female filmmaker?
A.K.: I appreciate the work of many female filmmakers such as Nadine Labaki, Sofia Coppola, Andrea Arnold, Jessica Hausner… I also appreciate a lot the works of Bosnian and regional directors like Aida Begić – Zubčević, Jasmila Žbanić, Maja Miloš, Teona Strugar Mitevska and many others. It is very hard to pick one film, but if it has to be one, it would probably be On body and Soul by Ildikó Enyedi.
What does the future hold for the “Competition program – Student Film” section?
A.K.: We will see. Maybe it is too early to make assumptions after the third edition of the program, but I hope to see how these young authors grow and become a new force in European and world cinema. I also hope that the regional schools will get more involved in promoting their student films and that the Sarajevo Film Festival will be the generator of this change.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.