Bianca Lucas is a filmmaker and programmer of the “European Shorts” section at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Of Polish and Australian origin, she was raised in Warsaw. She graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2010 with a degree in Media and Communications and specialization in Film Studies. In 2017, she graduated from a three-year filmmaking course at the Film.Factory, Sarajevo Film Academy helmed by Hungarian director Béla Tarr in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her films have been screened at festivals such as International Film Festival Rotterdam, New Horizons International Film Festival, Premiers Plans d’Angers, Winterthur Kurzfilmtage among others. Throughout her studies, she has been mentored by filmmakers such as Carlos Reygadas, Gus Van Sant, Abel Ferrara, Pedro Costa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Guy Maddin, Agnieszka Holland, and many more. She is currently based in Paris.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
You are also a filmmaker, so how did you start programming the “European Shorts” section at the Sarajevo Film Festival?
Bianca Lucas: Originally, I had moved to Sarajevo because I went to a film school there. I was part of the Film Factory, which is Béla Tarr’s film school experiment, and during that time I had a film that was traveling a little bit around the festivals. So in Rotterdam, I met Vanja Kaluđerčić who, at the time, was the programmer of the shorts section of the Sarajevo Film Festival called “New Currents” and she knew I was going to be based in Sarajevo. We had a very similar approach to Cinema and I started helping her with the program and, eventually, when Vanja left her position at Sarajevo, I was asked to replace her, which I did gladly. This was a year ago, so this was my second year programming as the sole programmer of “European Shorts” at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Can you talk about your filmmaking and how you balance both roles within the film industry?
B.L.: My filmmaking has a pace of its own and it is much slower than the programming! I really take my time for every project and make sure I organically mature to where I have the appropriate energy and conviction for it. But actually, to me, both are really complimentary. I learn a lot programming for the Sarajevo Film Festival – I consider it my second film school. Every year, I get inspired, but I also see what doesn’t work, and how comparatively little real tenderness, conviction and risk-taking there is in films given how many of them are being made. That’s good fuel. And I like balancing this more detached – although I rarely manage to stay personally detached from anything I do –, diplomatic hosting of filmmakers I admire with the sleeves-rolled-up, blood sweat and tears of filmmaking. I just shot a film which was completely guerrilla style. My cinematographer, Jozefina Gocman, and me, just two Polish girls slogging through the swamps, her knee-deep in the water with the camera and me holding my protagonist’s gun while he navigated the broken motor boat. I think there was an alligator nearby, too. I think I had been bitten by gnats sixteen times on my face alone. I love the hustle and survivalism of filmmaking, but once that’s done it’s nice to sit back and watch some films. Although I must say, I’ll enter a gnat-and-alligator infested swamp any day for the sake of a film I believe in!
I can only imagine! Now, going back to film programming – what can you say about the “European Shorts” section?
B.L.: “European Shorts” is a section that qualifies for a European Film Award nomination, so the main criteria in formal terms is that the director has to have European citizenship. Now, meritorically, what I try to stand for in this section is to promote filmmakers who are really testing the boundaries of Cinema, who are really testing the definition of Cinema and who are not afraid to take a position. The films might not always be perfect narratively. They may be patchy. They may not have high production value, but the main priority I have is to really feel like the filmmaker has something to say and that style does not necessarily override that. I also try to make sure that within the context of it being a section made up of European filmmakers, that it speaks to issues that are pertinent to Europe today.
Can you talk about the selection process? How do you choose one film over another?
B.L.: We get about a thousand submissions a year for “European Shorts” alone. I make a selection based on the submissions, but also based on films I might like and pick up at other festivals. So there are two ways to get into the section – submission-based and scouting-based. What matters to me when I make the final selection is that there is diversity in the cinematic experience, and that the form or tone chosen to approach a given subject really serves to its statement. It doesn’t mean that the film has to be imposing, but it does mean that I do have to feel like the filmmaker is not afraid to have a position, and to actually play with that position, to maybe also question that position in the film, to be open to doubts, to be open to surprises, so that it also stands a chance to surprise the audience. But ultimately, it’s about vulnerability; it’s about a filmmaker being brave enough to become vulnerable, to expose his/her vulnerability through the film.
In the past year, there has been a lot of discussion about women in film, about the 50/50 by 2020 quota that everyone is aiming at, and the Sarajevo Film Festival has been at the forefront of gender equality in film this year with the signature of the pledge among other stands. In that sense, do you look for this quota in your selection process?
B.L.: No. In all honesty, no. This year, it just happened to be that half of the selection was made up of female filmmakers and I am extremely glad about it. However, for me, it serves to nothing to distinguish a woman’s work purely because of her gender. I don’t think that it elevates her as a talent. The film is the most important thing. I will not choose a mediocre film over a film that I like better just because the filmmaker is female. Having said that, it’s very important that women get equal funding opportunities, that the social infrastructure in general enables women to have the time and the space to do this work – among many other things, this could be done with more help in childcare for instance. And if that becomes a reality, then in any case, I do believe that more or less fifty percent of the work we’ll be seeing will be by female filmmakers because, why shouldn’t there be? Both men and women are humans before all else and by virtue of being a human alone, being alive, you can have something very strong to say. It’s just about evening up the field to make sure that they maybe get that little extra support to get to do that work. Once the work is done, I don’t look at quotas.
What can you say about this year’s edition of “European Shorts”? What should we look out for?
B.L.: This year’s edition of “European Shorts” features a bigger selection than any other year – thirteen films. That, of course, is tiny compared to most other short film sections at other festivals, but we take pride in “European Shorts” really being a boutique selection of some of the year’s bravest European short films. And I suppose that is the word that I’d like to think characterizes it: brave. Not cute little cause-and-consequence, “perfect” narrations serving as business cards for a feature film, but whole, complicated universes in and of themselves that have a real sense of urgency, that know how much is at stake. Believe me, each of these thirteen films is competent to deliver you with a richer and more complex world than many a feature film! Look out for the newcomers like Adda Elling and Kirill Khachaturov, and for the themes the screenings are divided into!
Can you talk about the newly created House of Shorts at the Sarajevo Film Festival two years ago? How does it speak to the importance and recognition that the festival gives to the short film form?
B.L.: I think that at the Sarajevo Film Festival, we became conscious and have a really big respect for short film being an art in and of itself. But beyond it being an art in and of itself that doesn’t necessarily have to emulate the codes of feature length films, it turns out that there is a market for it and, actually quite thriving, because of the emerging technologies and platforms of the last two decades. Short films are not a warm up for feature films. They’re not a support band for the main act. They are the main act in and of themselves and they deserve a platform that reflects that. But of course, it is also the nature and reality of short film that it will represent emerging talents that might go on to make feature films. Of course, it is also important for us that we establish a long-term relationship with filmmakers that might go on to make feature films. We want to feel that no matter what stage they are at, if we are intrigued by their talent, they have a home at Sarajevo, and once they enter the Sarajevo family, that they will have that extra bit of encouragement. And if you’re at a stage exploring short film, you will have the space that reflects how much we appreciate this particular space that you’re in right now, and if you come back at a different stage, then that’s wonderful as well… But it deserves its own space. It deserves its own dynamics. It deserves its own audience because, like I said, short film is not a lesser event than feature film.
In that regard, what do you think of the situation of short film in general today?
B.L.: I actually think that because of the loosening of our preconceptions of what are acceptable screening formats, I feel that it’s gaining a newfound respect. Perhaps it’s because I’m too much in these circles and, of course, what comes to the fore for me is that we all have and encourage this respect and we are very hopeful and very optimistic. But short film is also fascinating because it’s the area of Cinema in which Fine Arts and Cinema converge the most and that widens the dialogue, I think, and allows for an interdisciplinarity that is fascinating simply because it exposes you to so many worlds and so many ways of representation. And because the length that you have to sustain is shorter and because most of the time, the budgets are not as laden with obligations and responsibilities as in feature length films, filmmakers can have the freedom to take more risks in their filmmaking and their creativity. So, somehow, short film has become not only a testament, but also a reminder of the very essence of Cinema.
What can you say about your hands-on approach to curation and the industry events that you are organizing at the House of Shorts in your efforts to not only showcase shorts but also give them and their filmmakers an entryway to the film industry at large?
B.L.: The Sarajevo Film Festival is a big festival with many different sections, events, commotion… It is important to me that the filmmakers don’t feel lost throughout it, that the human touch is not lost, which is the case with so many huge festivals. Beyond celebrating cinema, letting a cry out into the world and promoting filmmakers that otherwise have little chance to be known of, in my opinion film festivals should be about building communities and starting relationships that can have a real impact on our craft and life. So the ultimate goal of these events is to create a sense of community, debate and conversation. And to do away which a feeling of hierarchy – we all need each other and need to give one another the time of day! Who knows what could be born out of that.
What is a good film according to you?
B.L.: You know, I ask this myself all the time. Sometimes, my reply varies; it’s not always the same. But I think a good film is a film that takes risks; it’s a film in which the filmmaker makes himself/herself vulnerable because, if he or she taps into their vulnerability, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their weaknesses, even their pettiness, then there’s a chance that they’re going to make something really strong because, quite simply, it will be about something they know well, and it’s going to be sincere. Céline, the French writer once said: “Writing is about putting your skin on the table.” I really believe this goes for Cinema as well. And I think this is the cornerstone of what I believe to be a good film- because once you feel in your conscience that you’re making something honest, that’s the base off of which you can adapt the style or the medium. Sincere doesn’t mean it has to be realistic; it doesn’t have to be naturalistic. But then, you have a real chance to make a consistent piece of work where whatever style you decide to explore speaks to something deeper.
Going back to women in film, what is your opinion on what is happening with women in film today? Where do you position yourself in this conversation?
B.L.: It’s true that I think that we really need to start moving away from identity politics and start looking at the work that is being created because I do not see that amplifying and inflaming a dialogue that is solely based on identity politics will lead to stronger work or to better communication. I think that striving for balance has become really boring in our society today; that we really want inflammatory dialogue, we really want inflammatory extremes no matter which end it is on, because it’s more thrilling and feels more meaningful or exciting than to strive for balance. But I think we need to go back to talking about striving for balance. What that means. For me, what that means is that men need women, women need men. We all need one another. We need to appreciate one another. We need equal opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that we need to be the same and we need to be very careful not to ghettoize either side. If we start ghettoizing male filmmakers as privileged men who are taking up all the space or if we start ghettoizing women as persons of merit by virtue of being women, this will not lead to any advantage on either side, I think. We have come a very long way and, sometimes, I think we forget to stop and say: “OK. We’ve done a pretty great job in the last fifty years.” Women have taken on an incredible load particularly in the last fifty or sixty years and it is amazing how much opportunity and doors we have opened in such a short amount of time. But now, if we have opened some doors and are in the process of opening others, it should hopefully lead to a balance, and not to identity politics-based divisiveness. We need to acknowledge that women have not always had equal opportunity, that’s for sure. But I think we need to be very weary of judging work by filtering it through gender politics. This is shooting ourselves in the foot. As a filmmaker, I don’t know that I would ever be completely satisfied with being celebrated for being a “female filmmaker” or getting a prize for Best Female Filmmaker, for example. I would find that quite offensive. We need to find a way to have a dialogue, to strive for balance, to talk hard and not be afraid to have a position, but without being inflammatory or pledging our lives and work to tribalistic allegiances, which is always dangerous, not matter which side you’re on. Otherwise, we just all become ideologues, figure heads for ideologies with no respect for real life, for the important details that frame individual lives and conditions. I am a woman and that will inevitably shape my experience. But I don’t want my gender to be the key denominator for the merit of either my filmmaking or programming work, and I do not wish that on any other hard-working woman out there. They deserve to have their work and art considered in unconditional terms. That’s the whole issue, right?
Right! So, in that sense, what’s your favorite short film by a female filmmaker?
B.L.: I think it would be easier to reduce it to my favorite short film of the year by a female filmmaker. Last year, that would have been The Song by Tiphaine Raffier. I think it speaks volumes of social dynamics. It’s extremely intelligent. It’s extremely witty. It’s playful. It’s well-directed. And I really look forward to her future work. The Song is the first short film I’ve seen of hers. This year’s favorite short by a female director… I’d say it’s Playhouse by Adda Elling. Again, it’s playful and beautifully made, but speaks to the psychology of the power struggle inherent in relationships.
Or, favorite short female filmmaker?
B.L.: I wouldn’t say that I follow one particular short female filmmaker, that I have a consistent admiration for every work that one particular female filmmaker has done. It’s sooner the case that I have a few particular short films that I was really touched by and are engraved in my memory.
What does the future hold for the “European Shorts” section at the Sarajevo Film Festival?
B.L.: I hope it features laughter, tears, anger, disgust, empathy, love… And, ultimately, I hope that by the end of every screening people leave feeling less alone, less ostracized because someone has managed to express in their films what we often feel but cannot put into words. And I hope that audiences leave feeling that it’s okay to speak about every dark corner of the human nature. As long as we keep talking, there’s a chance that we will not let our suppressed frustrations, fears, anger, hijack our lives and decisions… In this sense, I really do believe, and always will, that Cinema can change the world, even if it’s just one person at a time. And that never depends on the runtime of the film.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.