This video was found in our archives, translated into Romanian and published in Jurnal National (click here).
If you want to see the video without reading all this text, go to the end of this article (scroll down).
The Story Behind the Video:
The ending of the year (2011) seems to be a month of nostalgia, particularly in Romania where the media are wallowing in a sea of memories based on unanswered questions about the 1989 revolution. Searching for answers gives editors pages of material (the biblical phrase “old wine in new bottles” springs to mind) and characters like Petre Roman, Romania’s first post revolutionary PM, get wheeled onto TV chat shows to discuss their memories of Communism.
I try and avoid nostalgia but when I recently came across this old video I made in 2005 it awoke a series of strong memories. Based on interviews with three of Romania’s best film directors, this little film puts Romania into a context (revolution, NATO membership) that makes it easy for Americans and others who know nothing about this country to comprehend (scroll down to watch the video).
The biggest feature film ever made in Romania — Cold Mountain — had just been completed and there was a buzz in the air that Romania was the new El Dorado of film making. Western producers could come and produce low budget horror flicks and straight-to-video thrillers for next to nothing. The prices were low, the people were friendly, everyone spoke good English and things seemed to function despite the outward appearance of chaos. Although it has never really developed this potential by going high tech, as Prague has done, Romania is still considered a useful location for anonymous low-budget productions (TV films in particular).
My brother and I had been involved in Cold Mountain and afterwards one of their production team asked us to set up a company so that we could bring in more big budget Hollywood blockbusters. I remember him saying “we will need a fancy city centre office and a limousine we can drive onto the runway when the bigshots come in from Hollywood.” For a few glorious weeks I believed in the illusion.
Obviously it didn’t work or I would be rich and famous by now (or, more likely, bankrupt). Within a few months my brother and the Cold Mountain hotshot had gone west to make some real money. But I was left with a production company which I am proud to say is still going, thanks to the fact that we quickly re-profiled to make the low budget observational documentaries that we were familiar with. And thanks to my business partner Iulia Marusca who has doggedly stayed with me since then (as has our filmmaker Laurentiu Calciu and our wonder-boy editor, designer, photographer, MTB guru all round good-guy Horia Marusca).
One of the few promotional activities I did back in 2005 was to produce this video. My idea was to ride that wave of Cold Mountain enthusiasm and tell Hollywood that not only is Romania a cheap film making location but there are some great Romanian filmmakers out there too. So we interviewed three of them and put it into a context that would be clear to the most uninterested executive in Hollywood.
None of the three directors interviewed here were then known outside of Romania. Mungiu hadn’t yet wowed Cannes with 4,3,2 and Puiu didn’t have much international impact with his film Marfa si Bani (which I still consider one of the best Romanian films ever made). Radu Muntean was still making TV commercials and the film shown here (Furia) was his first. But they were (and are) all brilliant and I wanted to tell the world that here is some raw talent that is just waiting for your money. I’m glad to say that all of them have done well internationally — no thanks to me I might add — and now Romania is known for its film directors. The question now is can they sustain the “new wave” of Romanian films? What’s coming next?
In order to put these guys into context I inserted some scenes from the revolution, thanks to Laurentiu Calciu, a quote from the Cold Mountain producer and a statement from George Bush when he came to Bucharest to welcome Romania into NATO. And then I went to the guys at Carter Film, one of those film companies that services foreign productions, and a taciturn young lad called Bogdan helped me to edit it (he worked the Avid programme while I sat back like a proper director and shouted “cut” now and then).
I thought it was a brilliant production that would take the film world by storm, but unfortunately I didn’t know much about promotion or distribution — or the film business for that matter. We made this film for a business contact in Los Angeles (American Apparel) whom my brother had met, but rather than send them the DVD directly I sent it to a Romanian contact in the hope that he would hand deliver it (a naive move considering the size of LA and the fact I didn’t even know the guy). I never heard back from him, or American Apparel and certainly not from Hollywood. As a result, hardly anyone ever saw this video.
I then tried to coordinate with some Romanian producers in order to promote Romania as a film making location, and some enthusiastic meetings took place (Romanians are great at enthusiastic meetings; it’s the followup which is the problem). And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under a forked tongue dame called Ana Birchall, got all enthusiastic and urged me to write a big proposal (I’m still awaiting feedback). As is the way in Romania, everyone did their own thing and several “Promote Romania” initiatives got going — none of which had any real impact as far as I can see. I lost interest and moved on, as I suspect the other producers did.
But the international film industry did find out that Romania is a good place for low budget productions (low budget horrors a speciality) and they are still coming — which just goes to show that word of mouth is the best form of PR.
Thanks Rupert for a very interesting article on Romanian film-making. On one hand it is a shame that Romania is not attracting the big hollywood film-makers, but the positive flip-side of this failure is the opportunity for Romanian cinema and film directors to shape their own paths, visions, directions and paradigms that they think Romanian film industry could be following, more or less outside the mainstream of conventional sensation-seeking money-grabbing imposed by Hollywood. And I think they are doing this very well, as film critics and people are talking about a Romanian new-wave cinema.
I would be interested to know your thoughts on new Romanian film directors whom you consider display raw talent and an excellent potential for producing new interesting and award-winning films. For instance, I have been to the Romanian short film festival in Berlin, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the variety and the talented film-making that young film graduates are demonstrating. Of particular interest was the short film “Stuck on Christmas” by Iulia Rugina, a cleverly-drafted, pleasant and humorous story of four characters who do not know each other and are forced to spend time together in a small provincial train station as the train is indeterminately delayed. I think this style of film-making is much welcome as it has the potential to offer an interesting turn in Romania cinema away from the monopoly of the austere, (extra) realist and minimalist style of the so-called new wave cinema, and towards more pluralistic approaches, including playful, fun and enjoyable story-lines and films.
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To my shame I have to admit that I haven’t seen those new young Romanian filmmakers, or been to any of those short film festivals you mentioned. I know that I should have done all that but I haven’t.
But I would love to see their work and ask you (or anyone reading this) how I can access it?
Thanks, Rupert WM