(interview published in the English language edition of Decât o Revistă [a journal of Romanian nonfiction], issue two, winter 2011/2012)
Adrian Sitaru is 40 and has directed three shorts (Waves [Valuri], The Cage [Colivia], and Lord) and two features (Hooked [Pescuit sportiv], and Best Intentions [Din dragoste cu cele mai bune intenţii]) that have been screened the world over. Best Intentions premiered in Romania this fall, after having won two awards at the Locarno International Film Festival.
When did you decide to go into filmmaking?
When I was 22 or 23, I moved from Deva to Timişoara, to go to my first college to study computer science. I found an art house there – we didn’t have one back in Deva – and I saw the works of Tarkovsky, Bergman and Fellini. Up until then, I was very into music: I played bass and guitar, I wanted to be a musician. But then, all of a sudden, a switch was flipped inside my head, and I said to myself: “This is want I want to do. I want to be a director.” So I started reading a lot, and seeing films. Then I applied to UNATC (Romania’s National University of Theater and Film), but I didn’t get in. I applied three times though.
You graduated from the private Media University and not UNATC. Is that a drawback?
No, not at all, because, in general, the level of education in this country is terribly low and all data and statistics point to it. Film schools are no different and both universities have about the same teachers and the same curriculum. What matters more is the group you’re in and I think going to Media University was to my advantage because in my sophomore year Radu Jude and I had the opportunity to work on Costa-Gavras’ film Amen – so we started working in production. After that, by chance, because the people at Prima TV had confidence in us and wanted to work with young people, we started directing a TV series, În familie. That was, again, a great experience, and we didn’t have any trouble with school because they weren’t so strict about attendance. This mix of going to school and working in filmmaking made a world of difference. Anyway, I don’t think school alone can make a great director.
Most young directors choose to shoot either music videos or commercials. You chose television. Why?
I don’t think I chose television, more like it chose me. If anyone in advertising had called instead, I would have probably said yes. If I had been asked to make a music video, I would’ve said yes. But that hasn’t been the case, not even now when I’ve put out three short films and two features. Television is a medium that needs and takes in an army of people. If you’re not careful, you can get stuck doing television, and the money can be pretty good. But I never wanted to be in television and, as soon as I had some money, I made Hooked – with my own limited means and no outside support. Still, I never turned down television projects I liked.
How can you make a profit as an independent director?
My biggest profits come from awards. If the film does well, one or two awards bring in good money. Take for instance the award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. It’s split among producers and directors but I also co-produced the film so I ended up taking about two thirds of the award value, which was of about 20,000 euros. Just like that, I got back all the money I had invested in the film. Actually, a lot more money is lost with “official” feature films, backed by the National Center of Cinematography (CNC), because it’s a lot harder to get back hundreds of thousands of euros.
Being a Romanian director – is it good or bad from the point of view of big film festival selectors?
I think Romanian cinema is still a brand, and having Romanians films in festivals is a selling point but, on the other hand, they’re also kind of fed up with it. The likes of Puiu, Mungiu or Porumboiu will still be welcome, because their names are brands in themselves. But for us newcomers, it’s pretty hard. My feeling is we’re starting to go out of fashion and we won’t be able to keep the bar high if we keep making the same type of films, even if they’re good. We have to come up with something new if we want to stay among the elites.
Best Intentions is rooted in personal experience. Have you had any objections from people directly involved in the film?
I was a bit afraid, especially when it came to my parents because I didn’t just show their good side. In fact, I portrayed myself with qualities but mostly with faults, I think. But there’s a bit of fiction here and here. My intention was not to portray anyone as being good or bad, hence Best Intentions. We all do stupid things and make mistakes. This film isn’t about who’s good and who’s bad. We all had – or at least that’s how I’ve tried to portray my characters as having – the best intentions. We’ll see if anyone takes offense.
Do you think real life beats fiction?
Yes, pretty much. I say that judging by my own and other people’s experience. I believe in that. Come to think about it, even the fact hat we make realistic films and most times we try to imitate life says a lot. No imitation can ever beat the original. To the director, that’s a lost bet from the start. We can come close, yes, but real life always beats fiction.
What motivates you to keep making films?
I don’t know, it’s something that, like music, I do naturally and for fun. I don’t mean fun in the superficial sense, but I do it for pleasure. It doesn’t feel like work and it’s fun. Just as some people like to go on vacation, to me, making a film is a similar kind of adventure. I like it a lot, it’s very challenging, it gives me an adrenalin rush, and it’s creative. It’s entertainment, for me and for the audience too, I hope.