Marrakech Fest: Cristian Mungiu Talks About Festival's Boost for Regional Cinema, Young Filmmakers

Cristian Mungiu Headshot Two - P 2012
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Cristian Mungiu Headshot Two - P 2012

The situation in Ukraine is "tragic" for filmmakers

The Marrakech film festival is uniquely poised to make an impact on films from underexposed regions, predicts Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, who is attending the fourteenth festival here as a juror.

“One of the things that Marrakech should do, being situated here, is increase the visibility of films that we don’t get to see from Africa, Asia, or South Europe. It has a very strategic position and this could be the profile of the festival, to bring lesser-known filmmakers to light. For example, African cinema doesn’t travel too much or too often,” he said, noting the festival has five films from these regions in competition and eight from first time filmmakers.

Mungiu, who won Cannes’ Palme d’Or for abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days in 2007 and served on Steven Spielberg’s jury alongside Nicole Kidman last year, says that though the festival has an increasingly star-studded red carpet, the competition selection’s focus on developing filmmakers is its strength. “It’s not about following the glamour and luxury of Cannes, but to be able to help the films and filmmakers. If you’re not truly trying to help the filmmakers, then it’s just a big party.”

He sat spoke to The Hollywood Reporter after a day of screenings.

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You seem to gravitate towards making political films. Do you see a thread in your work?

I’m not sure there’s a thread in all of them. But they all have some sort of social implication even if it’s not direct and obvious. It sometimes speaks about the problems in society, but it’s not a pattern that you are not always aware of when you are making it. After you make [several] films, you look back and see that these situations have layers that are about something. 4 Months was mostly about abortion, but it was about freedom and at the same time was considered to be the best film about communism for the creating atmosphere that you could feel, which is very difficult to capture on film, while Beyond the Hills was mainly about religion, but also about the indifference you can have to people that are close to you.

Did your former career as a journalist affect how you capture those truths on film?

That’s a very pragmatic, simple explanation. It’s not about pursuing the truth even if I, hopefully, am looking for truths today in films as I was looking when I was a journalist. But it is a very different explanation. I couldn’t make films during communist times, it was always for the sons and daughters of important people of the day. I had to do something to avoid going into the army at eighteen, so I studied philosophy and then became a journalist and teacher in my hometown. After the fall of communism, I kept working for a few years but finally had no excuse and said if this is what I want to do I can do it now. So I moved to Bucharest and studied film, and moved up from there.

Are there a lot of opportunities for filmmakers to "move up" in the region?

It depends from country to country. It’s very difficult to have a global view about cinema and even a view about Eastern Europe to be honest. We can’t speak about film in Ukraine now for example because they are concerned with the war, even if they had a structure to produce film. For Romania, there is a structure in place to help young filmmakers. This generation has been exposed to Cannes and Berlin, and we should not complain because we are still in Europe and can produce 10-15 films a year and 2-5 debuts a year.

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Is the situation in Russia and Ukraine affecting Romanian film, or filmmakers in that sphere?

I hope we are not in that sphere, I hope. Let’s say we are at the border, but for the first time we feel safer than some other times in the past and are not as afraid of Russia as much as we have been throughout history. You know, in order to be able to talk to these people in what is their language, you have to be very well prepared. You can’t be polite and politically correct; they will simply spit in your face. They don’t speak the same language. You can’t step back and let somebody else do it. Destiny is a big word, but in the destiny of that country our present situation is very different. We are more concerned about what happens in Moldova, because we still see Moldova as a former Romanian territory, and we are very interested in what happens in Ukraine because what has happened there can easily happen in Moldova. It would be ideal to find a way in which peace would find a way. I keep talking to my Ukrainian friends and filmmakers and it’s a very tragic situation that shows you that imperialism will never die.

Will your next film explore this mood of imperialism perhaps, or do you have a different kind of project in the works?

I don’t talk about films that don’t exist yet. Hopefully I’ll be shooting one of the two scripts I recently wrote, depending on what gets financed first. Both depend on the season, so I’ll probably try the one that can be shot in the spring first. In the end it takes so much from your life to make a film, it’s a little bit like falling love. It’s happened to you before, and you know that you would like it to happen again and you know what kind of girl you like, but you can’t really make it happen exactly when you want it or how you want it. You have to be prepared for it to happen, and when it happens it happens.

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Do you have any plans to make an English language film, or to work in Hollywood?

I keep getting a lot of projects from the States but I need to make sure I do it at the right time, so I rather think that I will someday I will find the right book or story and write it myself. I need to write what I do as a director. It’s not like the most important thing for it to be an English-language film or an American film. To do a strong film there I would have to live there, because I am very attached to doing realistic films about what I observe. Right now everybody is making period films in the States, because no audience can really be as specific on details about something historical than something from today. I have a [U.S.] story actually, but I would have to go there and do some research to get an understanding of it. It’s complicated because on top of being filmmakers we are also people. So I am not a big fan of moving my family away because my children are in school and they rather like to see me every day.