Judith State

Judith State is a professional dancer with classical ballet training and a degree in Foreign Languages in both English and Spanish. She won a scholarship to train at the Broadway Dance Centre in New York as well as a WEBdance scholarship for ImpulsTanz Vienna. In 2016, State was cast in a supporting role in acclaimed director Cristi Puiu’s film “Sieranevada,” marking her debut in cinema and the beginning of a new stage in her life. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won her a Gopo Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In 2018, she again collaborated with Cristi Puiu for “Malmkrog” and was cast in the leading role in Marius Olteanu’s debut film, “Monsters,” which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, and for which she was awarded a Gopo Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In 2020, she played the lead in Daniel Sandu’s “The Father Who Moves Mountains” and in Liviu Marghidan’s “Refuge,” quickly followed by Hungarian director Gyuri Kristoff’s dance feature, “Zenith” 2021. Next came the lead in renowned director Cristian Mungiu’s “R.M.N.,” which premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. State is currently working as both a performer/choreographer and an actress, combining these fields with her passion for music and singing. She was chosen as one of the ten European Shooting Stars at the 2023 Berlinale.

At this year’s Transilvania International Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Official Competition Jury member Judith State about her acting career so far and feminism and film.

 

 

What made you want to become an actress?

Judith State: I did not want to become an actress. I’m a dancer. This is what I have been doing since forever. It’s been the preoccupation of my life. And, I still do it. I’m a performer and a choreographer. I dance. It just happened. It was a beautiful accident – as I like to think of it – that one day, Cristi Puiu’s casting director contacted me and asked me if I wanted to come for an audition. That’s how I met Cristi Puiu who gave me a role in Sieranevada in 2015. The film premiered in 2016 and, from then on, I’ve been introduced to the world of cinema, which I totally fell in love with. I’ve been given opportunity after opportunity ever since and I’m very grateful for it. But it was not a choice that I made at some point in my life; it happened and it also happens that I am comfortable in this realm whereas in other aspects of this world I somehow feel like I don’t fit. Here, I really find myself at home.

How does your dancing inform your acting?

J.S.: In many ways. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about it, is that everything happens through the body. I am very aware of it. And, I’m sure that it has a lot to do with my training. I’m very aware of my body; I’m fully conscious of how I feel, whether it’s physical impulses or emotional ones, and that helps me a lot in how I stand, in how I am, in how I move, in how I walk. That’s one thing. Another thing is that my body has muscle memory and I really know what I’m doing, where I’m going and which words I’m doing certain actions on. I don’t have to consciously put an effort into remembering these things. So, I have my trajectory that I set in a scene at the beginning and then I’m not giving it any thought anymore. My body just does these things in a way that I don’t have to focus on it and be nervous about. I don’t give it so much thought.

How do you prepare for your roles?

J.S.: Not so much physically as mentally. From the moment I’m engaged in the process – so already from the casting process – I am mentally with the words, with the script. I’m with the director from the very beginning. The word “preparation” is maybe not so suitable because whenever I think of myself in this context, I noticed that I’m more present than in other aspects of my life, even in dance. So, it always makes me come back to this moment, and it’s always now, now and now. The word “preparation” somehow doesn’t fit because I almost never do things in advance. I’m really just in the moment and that’s the thing that works for me. It has worked every time so far. I also have to have this reciprocated trust with the director I’m working with and I’ve been lucky so far to have had some really, really amazing encounters in film. And yes, when this trust is there, it’s really just about being there and listening and paying attention to the person in front you.

Is there any role that you have played that has changed you or the way you perceive the world completely?

J.S.: I wouldn’t say that it was the role that enabled this transformation, but I know that meeting Cristi Puiu was one of the biggest encounters of my life. It was really perfect timing. I was in the right place at the right time. I was really questioning the world around me a lot and also the world of dance and my position in it. I was also questioning a lot the whys of it all. And, it was then when I met him and I was completely fascinated by his approach to work and to life and his vision. I remember listening to him talk for hours and I could not be tired of it or bored in any way. Neither have I ever felt the need to say something or ask. It was just one of those meetings where I was completely drawn to the person like a moth to a flame. Almost hypnotized. It was a really strong encounter. And, it did change the way I was and the way I was positioning myself towards myself first of all and then towards the people and the world around me. It was really strong and it impacted me immensely.

Do you manage to dissociate yourself from your own persona in order to play someone else?

J.S.:  To be honest, I don’t think I’m ever someone else. I think I’m myself a lot. I hope I am myself a lot. I was telling you about Cristi Puiu and these are some words that he said that really resonated with in the beginning; he says that there is no such thing as a character, that there is only yourself telling your own story through the words of another person. And, I do believe that and I think that it’s convenient for us to say: “I’m playing a character” because we believe that what the character says or does, does not match our vision of the world or what we would do. But I really believe that we contain the entire spectrum of feelings, reactions and impulses and just depending on a certain context or our education, we just express them differently or in a different intensity. But I really think that the big challenge is to put yourself, if not fully, but as much as you can, in what you do. I don’t think there is another way. I don’t believe in creating something and looking at it from afar, from a distance and saying: “This is not me.” This is something I don’t believe in. I think that for life to be there, you have to be there.

Is there any role that you would love to play?

J.S.: I don’t have a dream role, but I know that, looking in retrospect, I think that most of the characters that I have embodied are really close to me. Of course, with smaller or bigger differences in different situations. But I don’t feel like I have traveled far away from my life. And, I feel that there is a lot of violence in me. I feel it many times, especially in situations where I don’t allow myself to express it. I would love to be put in a position to meet a character who has this violence, who is a villain, because I feel that I do have it inside and I would like to externalize it.

What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today? How is it in Romania?

J.S.: I see more and more women filmmakers and more and more cinematographers and I feel that there is a shift. I don’t know if it’s real or forced by all the rules and regulations that we are making. We are supporting this now and we are riding this wave, but the truth is that I do see a lot of women being given a voice but, at the same time, I’m afraid that it could backfire because we have to look at it more and give it more importance. I feel like it’s a sort of discrimination because we are overlooking male productions and not taking that into consideration. I don’t know. I’m happy that it’s happening, of course, and I do believe that there are many strong female voices, as there should be, but I’m not convinced by how well we are managing it.

Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?

J.S.: Family Time by Tia Kouvo. I loved it! I liked her approach and her way of talking about issues. And, there is also the Romanian director, Andreea Borţun. I met her and auditioned for one of her roles. She’s super sharp, super smart. I really, really like her.

What are your next projects?

J.S.: I do have a little shoot over the summer and I’m working on my upcoming dance performance. But filmwise, it’s quiet at the moment.

 

 

Photo credits: Courtesy of the Transilvania International Film Festival.

This interview was conducted in person at the 2023 Transilvania International Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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