Interview with "Krivina" director Igor Drljaca

in 37th Toronto International Film Festival

by Brian McKechnie

Igor Drljaca’s feature film debut, Krivina, is a haunting cinematic work of art about a Bosnian immigrant in Toronto who returns home in search of an old friend. The premise sounds simple on the surface, but as it unfolds it becomes apparent it’s a multi-layered mind trip and nothing is as it seems. In the wrong hands the film could have hit a wall and failed, but Drjaca is an artist with natural talent and pulled it off with ease and left a lasting impression with his final product. Helping amplify the status of the film is the chilling score by Bojan Bodruzic and solid performances by actors Goran Slavkovic and Jasmin Geljo.

Brian McKechnie spoke with Drljaca about the film, which premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and was in the running for the FIPRESCI award in the Discovery Programme.

Where did the idea for Krivina come from?

Igor Drljaca: Krivina was a film that began as a graduate level thesis film. I began the journey of making this film by spending time in Bosnia, and not exactly knowing what it was that I wanted to shoot. I was working with a feeling, not so much a story. It was a feeling of one’s inability to move on, a feeling of loss, of a people and a country locked in an amnesia like state, and of certain elements of the Yugoslav diaspora in a similarly traumatic state.

The initial structure was pretty loose, as simple as ‘a man seeks an old friend whom he last saw before the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia,’ and I built story elements as various situations presented themselves. I wanted the film to be as dynamic in its shooting approach as possible, and many elements emerged on days of actual shooting, through conversations with the leads like Goran’s suggestion of the Dalmatian song, while you hear that in the film, or Jasmin’s almost biographical arrival to Canada, or the bus crash which happened mere months before I arrived in Zlljebovi, and became a part of the film’s plot. The thing that I tried to reign in throughout this process was the tone. One of the benefits of working like this so early in one’s career, where I was not answerable to any funders is that I was able to really experiment. One can really combine and test the waters, play outside typical genre tropes, genre mash, or completely embrace a genreless approach (people will place labels on it later anyway) and really embrace this process. Some of the scenes in the film are more akin to atmospheric horror films, a little unusual for the subject matter at hand. I am still discovering things, and I feel that to easily assign a style and pin my work at this stage in my filmmaking can have some benefits but more drawbacks. I am currently working on a few screenplays that also really experiment and embrace a similar approach.

The casting and locations felt very organic. Did you have these places and people in mind while you were writing the script?

ID: As for the locations, I was familiar with these places in the film as a child before the war, and I had easy access, which was key with no money. As for the casting, I knew I wanted to cast leads fluent in Serbo-Croatian / Bosnian, simply because the story was designed like that. Goran Slavkovic, who I was friends with and who had also been in the region at the time of filming in Bosnia, became an ideal fit. He is also a Toronto native, which allowed me to explore Miro’s character in both of these locations.

I also wanted to collaborate with Jasmin Geljo, who quite frankly is among the better actors of his generation from the former Yugoslavia and who currently lives in Toronto and is often underused. We’ve talked about collaborating, so I wrote Miro’s friend Drago with Jasmin in mind.

The two Sarajevo characters, Edis, I met at Sarajevo Talent Campus and wanted to collaborate with him while filming in Sarajevo, while Minela was recommended by a friend.

As for the people in the village, they were all locals from Zljebovi or Sokolovici, one of whom was my grandmother, her husband (the uncle), one of my aunts (Bogdanaka) and other extended members of his family and others in that village whom I’ve known since I was little.

As this is your first feature, did you notice the process was different compared to making a short?

ID: Making a feature is just as emotionally involving, just for a longer period of time, in this case almost three years from the beginning of the project. Our resources were thin in terms of production means, at times they were smaller than some of my previous shorts (Woman in Purple) The smaller crew allows you to work with less constraints and try more things. You also learn things you cannot learn by making a short, in terms of how to effectively tell the story as a feature and not a short. The mechanics change somewhat.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production for you?

ID: The most challenging aspect was that we had few production means as mentioned, though Roland Echavarria’s great cinematography disguises this extremely well. The second challenge was to really discover and ‘lock’ the story in the editing room, as the style of shooting allowed us to go in different directions with the material.

The score was extremely chilling and almost felt like you wanted to scare the audience or make us uneasy with it. Did you always know you wanted the music to portray that feeling or did it just happen that way?

ID: I always wanted the music to be unusual, and Bojan Bodruzic really experimented on his acoustic and electric guitar to achieve that effect, so it was a constant back and forth, of me suggesting of incorporating certain elements and him coming up with even more unusual sounds (combining a village song and digitally distorting it). The music was suppose to make the audience somewhat uneasy, and give the naturalistic shooting style a very contrasting soundscape. For many years I’ve worked with no music, but from the start of this project knew I wanted a very different, almost alien soundscape, that touches on some ethnic elements.

How important was it for you to have the film premiere at TIFF?

ID: It really is an honour and a huge boost for the cast and crew to have it premiere at TIFF. It will, I hope, also help me undoubtedly make more films, films that will challenge easy categorization, and give the actors and the crew a platform to make more interesting work.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?

ID: Hopefully most of the audience like it on some level, and find it different and new. Even if they don’t, I hope that they take something from the experience. No reaction would be the least desirable.

What can we expect from you next?

ID: I have three Canadian based projects, one an alternative-fiction short, a feature drama about an immigrant in Toronto with Jasmin Geljo, and a more ambitious and bizarre science fiction project, one that will hopefully become a trilogy of thematically similar films. I also have one Bosnian based feature film about the hopeless post-war present in Sarajevo involving the youth, which is being developed right now.

Edited by Peter Keough