Evi Romen studied Editing and Cinematography at the Vienna Film Academy and has worked as a film editor and writer for over twenty years. She received several awards for her short stories and the Diagonale Award for Best Editing for Wolfgang Murnberger’s “My Best Enemy” (2011) as well as the Austrian Film Award for Best Editing for Michael Sturminger’s “Casanova Variations” (2014). She is the co-writer of the series “M – A, City Hunts a Murderer,” which premiered at the Berlinale Series and was broadcast in 2019. In 2017, the original script for “Why Not You” won the Carl Mayer Award.
Tara Karajica talks to Evi Romen about her debut feature, the aforementioned “Why Not You,” the story of Mario, a restless young dancer from a conservative village whose best friend is killed in a deadly terrorist attack, that is screening in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, as well as women in film today and what she is up to next.
How did you get into filmmaking? Can you talk about making the switch from editing to directing?
Evi Romen: When I was young, I wanted to became a novel writer, then a photographer, and then a musician. As I couldn’t decide, I put all the talents together and studied Film at the Vienna Film School. After a short time there, I found out that the real union of my talents is film editing. And I was right, because I found jobs immediately and I had been working as an editor for more than thirty years. But after all that, I took my time and power for my own creativity, and I really wanted to go back to film school, to go back to this young woman I once was, trying out whatever came to her mind in arts. So, on my fiftieth birthday, I decided to start over and make a movie. So from than on, I felt very young again and I enjoy and explore the power of this creative challenge.
How did Why Not You? come about?
E.R.: I was visiting the small alpine village in South Tyrol, Alto Adige, where I come from, when I heard about the attacks around Bataclan in Paris, and on the radio, they said there is also a young gay man from our region among the victims – this made me think if it could be one of our community, who could it be, and why was he there and who with…
Why Not You? is a portrait of small communities with old traditions, with the safety for residents who are wary of non-conformists and anyone who is different, which makes life difficult for LGBTQ people and Muslims. It also deals therefore with homophobia, addiction, PTSD, religious extremism. Can you delve a little more into this?
E.R.: Well, I chose these topics because nowadays we are confronted with them – everywhere, even in the small village, you can’t close your eyes anymore, but some people sill try to. I wanted to make a modern “Heimatfilm” (homeland movie), a German/Austrian/Swiss genre of the fifties/sixties which went out of fashion. I was thinking about what a writer would deal with nowadays in such a genre – I mean homeland, mountains, hunters, poachers, farmers, smugglers, blood, God, ground, fate… All this is not of interest nowadays, but archaic topics still exist, only in a different costume. So, in my story, it comes for example to a “get together” of Catholic and Muslim religion, like it is now, or a cable car driver instead of a smuggler; hunters and poachers become sexuality and drugs; blood will unfortunately be always present in this world, and ground is still the thing we are all looking for – you see, I only switched old topics to modern ones.
Your protagonist is lost, and has a strong feeling of not belonging. Can you talk about that and him?
E.R.: Well, I think characters like Mario exist in every community; there is always one outsider, one on the edge of the abyss, one who is struggling with archaic rules, one who wants to escape. In Mario’s case, he dreams of a life no one understands, not even himself. There are only some diffuse wishes of being a star, being someone else, coming out of his provincial life by having a big talent, living the opposite of what is shown by the people of the community, of the village.
The village is a character in and of itself. Can you comment on that?
E.R.: Well, if you have a story of a rebel, you need to show what he is rebelling against; in this case, it is a small alpine community, where everyone knows everybody, everyone judges everybody, where ambiguity is the common language, where bravery has only to be shown in the nature, but not in interpersonal relationships and where rules of how to behave, especially in situations that were set up hundreds of years ago.
Can you talk about the shooting process?
E.R.: Well, it was a nightmare but we survived. Actually, we had a lot of problems with the budget, the organization and we were shooting in two countries, and had a lot of locations, but not enough shooting time to really cover everything I had prepared. But, in the end, it turned out that improvising and solving problems, the feeling that everything could collapse in a second gave me a lot of creative energy and trust.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does this inform your filmmaking?
E.R.: Actually I don’t know if I’m a feminist, maybe I’m not, maybe I have always been… I’m asking myself this question a lot these past few years. To be honest, I didn’t care that much about this topic in my personal life, because for me it didn’t matter that much. I was raised in an absolutely liberal family environment, even if it was in Catholic Italy. My female ancestors faught together with their husbands against Napoleon (with a pitchfork in their hand) and later against Hitler and Mussolini, so I have a very strong female lineage. I have both male and female siblings and my parents didn’t give us the feeling that something is not possible because of gender issues. Later on, when I left my small provincial community, when I went into arts, when I started studying Photography at film school, I found out that some men, but also some women behave very strangely and rudely to me on this topic. For example, camera rehearsals were finished before the two women who were in this class could do their work, or teachers made jokes about my body, my strength, they discussed if I’d be able to deal with the large studio cameras and so on… I really wondered, but at the same time, I also asked myself why women stopped every conversation with men by assuming sexism. I wondered if this was, their only weapon… After watching this for a while, I decided that I was born as a woman – at least in this life – and other women may need my help, my self-evidence, my naïve courage, my power to survive in a man’s world and I really hope that this is the last time I have to say “man’s world” – I think the future is human!
What subjects interest you and that you would like to tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your films?
E.R.: Loneliness, failing, the abyss, the tragedy and comedy of life, wrecks and flowers… and I only hope that audiences don’t feel bored after watching my films.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
E.R.: Lina Wertmüller and Amore e anarchia.
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two and a half years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in Austria?
E.R.: I’m really sad that in the end, in Austria like everywhere else, we need a quota regulation to have equal rights. I thought we were much further than this, but if is helpful, if it encourages women, then let’s go for it!
What are you working on next?
E.R.: My next film is titled Happyland, and I deal again with the elements of “Heimatfilm,” with the homeland, with leaving behind and returning, with roots and diffuse longing, but this time, the main character is a woman in her best years, returning from London to her place of origin, a small village on the riverside.
Photo credits: Ingo Petramer.
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