Marija Milovanović works as a cultural manager and curator in Vienna. She was co-managing director of the Vienna Shorts Agency, founded in 2015 and that focused on the broad presentation and promotion of (short) film. She has been working for VIS Vienna Shorts, Austria’s only Oscar-qualifying short film festival, since 2008. Marija is co-director of the International Competition “Fiction& Documentary” program and is in charge of curating and planning the “Industry Days” at VIS. She also curates various short film programs for national and international institutions and film festivals, as well as for the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Frame[o]ut, the Lentos Art Museum in Linz, L’Alternativa Film Festival in Spain or the Go Short Film Festival in The Netherlands. In addition, she curates the program for the annual Cat Video Festival Vienna, which enjoys great popularity not only in Austria but also elsewhere. She studied “Theatre, Film and Media Science” at the University of Vienna and wrote her diploma thesis on the development and programming of film festivals with a focus on short films. The BKA Scholarship for Cultural Management enabled her to spend half a year in The Netherlands at Some Shorts, where she continued her training in the field of film distribution. In 2018, she co-founded LEMONADE FILMS, an agency for festival strategy and distribution with a focus on Austrian short fiction, documentary and VR films up to thirty minutes.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, where she participated in the “Starting Your Own Company and the Future of Short Film Distribution” panel.
How did you get into film?
Marija Milovanović: I started studying Theater, Film and Media Science in Vienna in 2005. After having already worked in the field of theater for a couple of years, I was looking for a change and new experiences. I have always been interested in film, so the transition to film festivals was somewhat logical. I started with an internship at VIS Vienna Shorts – former VIS Vienna Independent Shorts – and I’ve been working there for the past twelve years. I’ve also worked in different functions for multiple Austrian film festivals like VIENNALE, Crossing Europe, /slash Filmfestival and Diagonale – Festival of Austrian Film.
Can you talk about your work as co-programmer of the International Competition “Fiction& Documentary” program at VIS?
M.M.: Over the years, VIS as a festival has formed and strengthened its profile and so did we, my colleague Doris Bauer and I, with the International Competition “Fiction & Documentary” program. There is often a very thin line between those two genres and, for us, it was always stimulating to observe filmmakers crossing this line and experimenting. We also try to express this creative freedom in our selection and the programming of our competition. The main aim of our work hasn’t changed: finding interesting voices, outstanding stories, innovative forms and more. Watching films is the most time-consuming part of our job! We try as much as possible to scout at festivals; we’re in touch with film institutions from different countries; we receive recommendations from fellow curators and programmers and, of course, we receive a lot of submissions from all over the world. The scouting process has enormously changed over the last couple of years. With the digitalization, not only the number of festivals and submission platforms has increased, but also the number of submissions itself. This year, we received nearly three thousand films, only for our section! Luckily, we’re working with a pre-selection team that is very passionate about short film. For the selection itself, we try to show as much diversity as possible on every level. Of course, we’re happy to find new talents, but we’re also following the careers of the filmmakers whose films have been screened at VIS, and fortunately, most of them also try to stay in touch with us.
This is fantastic! What about the “Industry Days” at VIS? What is your angle on the event in terms of organization? Why is it vital for short film events to have industry segments?
M.M.: When I started travelling more to festivals, I realized that there are so many different approaches to creating a platform for short film. Especially when you compare feature film festivals to short film festivals. I always try to participate in the industry events at festivals, not only because I’m curious to hear what the current topics that are being discussed are, but also because it is important for networking. Sometimes, topics are being repeated, but as there are always new filmmakers and industry people joining the short film world, I don’t find it too problematic. Nevertheless, for VIS we do try to think of new topics and sometimes even new forms to discuss or present them. This year, for example, we had our first speed-dating session at the festival. We did it in the cinema, people switched from row to row, and there was a big timer on the screen. It worked really well and the most important thing, it was fun! My biggest motivation is to create a platform where filmmakers, press and industry can meet and discuss and where short film is in the center of attention. To professionalize the short film world by connecting people. Industry events like panels, pitchings or even get-togethers are a good possibility to talk about your project, to meet other filmmakers or to represent your festival. We don’t have prescribed rules for our industry events at VIS, the schedule and offer changes from year to year, depending on the topics and, of course, the budget.
Can you talk about LEMONADE FILMS? How did that come about? Why?
M.M.: Sure, gladly! After working for so many years as a programmer and also being in touch with many Austrian filmmakers, I’ve realized that there is a need for professional short film distribution. In order to gain more experience and knowledge in this field, I applied for the scholarship for Cultural Management of the Federal Chancellery and got it. This enabled me to work for six months with Wouter Jansen from Some Shorts. Back in Austria, I was very motivated to put into action what I had learned. Together with my colleague Julia Fabrick, with whom I’ve also run the Vienna Shorts Agency, we decided to create something completely new and that’s how we founded LEMONADE FILMS, an agency for festival strategy and distribution for Austrian short fiction, documentary and VR films. Through VR, we are broadening our scope and are also in touch with galleries and museums. To give an example, one of our projects consists of multiple parts, it can be exhibited, screened in a dome and experienced as VR. We’ve always been interested in expanded cinema and this is why we’re really happy to also work with this format. We’ve already been getting a lot of requests from filmmakers, so it’s great to notice that there was a need for LEMONADE FILMS and the future looks promising.
I think it is important to evaluate structures, clichés and prejudices which have been established for centuries. Not only for women in film, but in general.
Can you talk about your curation work at other short film festivals?
M.M.: It is always a pleasure to be invited to curate a program for an occasion or a concrete topic. The process of research and the discovery of films, which are maybe not part of the festival circuit anymore, is always great. My last curated programs have mainly been related to cats. As you know, I’m curating the Cat Video Festival Vienna since a couple of years now. I love watching cat videos, in all possible formats and genres! Short films, music videos and of course the funny home videos. My hobby became a job. But I’m not doing this programming alone, I’m working together with Will Braden, the director of the Catvideofest and the filmmaker behind the “Henri, le chat noir” videos. We had screenings in Austria, The Netherlands, the UK, Sweden and Mexico just to name of few of the countries. It’s interesting that after all these years, I’m still feeling like a nerd when I talk about it, although it’s actually serious work and often quite stressful. Sometimes, we’re dealing with up to ninety videos in one program!
How do you see the short form today?
M.M.: I’m always enthusiastic to observe the development of the short form – it never gets boring! Nevertheless, the form itself is treated poorly – at least compared to feature films. I do wish that short film would get more possibilities and attention. There is not really a business built around it and sometimes not even funding for productions. Student filmmakers are making their first short films while only being taught with feature film examples and are left to their selves when it comes to the promotion or distribution of their films. I am aware of the fact that it will always be difficult to sell short films, but considering the development of the online formats and other mobile screening possibilities, there should be a reconsideration in the business model for short film. I also think that it is important that film festivals are realizing that screening fees are totally warranted also for short films. I know that the problem of this circuit starts with the funding or budgets which individual festivals have, but I would appreciate it if there was an awareness in the planning and programming. This is not the case everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. Luckily, there are exemplary film festivals out there!
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today?
M.M.: I think it is important to evaluate structures, clichés and prejudices which have been established for centuries. Not only for women in film, but in general. Hierarchical, non-transparent organized systems with only male authorities should be questioned and female leadership discussed. I personally don’t want any privileges because I’m a woman; I want to be taken seriously for my skills and I definitely want equal pay for my work. I find it very problematic to hear statements like: “We tried, but there were no qualified female candidates for this position,” or “There are just not enough good films by female filmmakers.” This is simply not true – that is my personal experience. I do hope that a positive change will happen in the field of film with more equality and respect. I think it is important for woman to have possibilities to exchange each other’s experiences and to network. Luckily, I’m working in a very balanced environment at VIS and LEMONADE FILMS. In both cases, female employees and co-workers are in leading positions.
Who is your favorite (short) female filmmaker and what is your favorite (short) film by a female filmmaker?
M.M.: This is a difficult question! It changes constantly, but these are some names that come to mind now: the filmic language of Jacqueline Lentzou and Konstantina Kotzamani is inspiring and beautiful. I think the work of Jennifer Reeder, especially in A Million Miles Away, has changed my taste in the reading of film language. Min Börda by Niki Lindroth von Bahr is one of my personal musical highlights of the past years and the sharp eye of director Corina Schwingruber Ilić in ALL INCLUSIVE is outstanding. Those are only a couple of which I can think of now, but the list is never-ending!
What is a good film, according to you?
M.M.: I really appreciate it when a film is triggering thoughts and emotions, both good and bad. I’m always impressed when filmmakers are taking artistically risky choices, which doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a classic narrative film and story. I actually don’t want to mention the criteria why a film is good because they’re not valid for every project in the same way.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.