In production: Sibiu ‘89 and a thriller about the ethics of filmmaking
Film journalism focuses mainly on completed productions: that’s when all the buzz happens – the reviews, interviews with directors and actors, festival reports, and sometimes news about the awards they won or their box office performance. We at Films in Frame want to anticipate and tell you about the upcoming movies and their odds long before they are finished and get to meet their audience. Here are four titles that are now in production or post-production and will be released later this year or in 2023.
Clara (drama, dir. Sabin Dorohoi)
A film about a family torn apart by the lack of opportunities in a small Romanian village on the Danube. Clara (Olga Török), a former teacher, decides to leave her son, Ionuţ (Luca Puia), with his grandfather (Ovidiu Crişan) and go work as a nanny for a German family in the city of Ulm, also located on the banks of the Danube. The affection she develops for the little girl she takes care of helps her forget a little about the troubles at home and the separation from her son, but for Ionuţ, the situation is completely different. His desperate attempt to reunite with his mother will force Clara to re-evaluate her options.
The screenplay is written by Ruxandra Ghiţescu (Otto the Barbarian). Sabin Dorohoi started from a similar premise when he directed the short film Way of the Danube (2014), but he always felt that the idea was worth exploring in a feature film. The director says that the Danube, “which symbolically connects the boy and his mother, Romania and Germany, the East and the West”, is an important character in the film. The story is also inspired by the director’s personal experience: “I too grew up with my grandparents while my parents worked in another city. Leaving the country to work abroad wasn’t yet an issue at the time, but my parents’ workplace was far from home.”
Dorohoi believes that “migration is a serious social issue dictated by financial needs, but which deeply affects our families and society. In everything we do. In every Romanian family, there is at least a relative, a brother, a mother, a sister, a father, who left the country to work abroad. Given that is a phenomenon of such magnitude, I felt the need to speak my mind about this highly pressing Romanian issue.”
Clara is produced by Western Transylvania Studios (Romania) in co-production with Eyrie Entertainment (Germany) and Chainsaw Europe Studio (Romania). Shootings began in Ulm, Germany on March 3 and continued in several villages and towns in southern Romania. The film is expected to be ready by the end of 2022 and will have its theatrical release in Romania in 2023.
Sibiu ’89 (history, dir. Tudor Giurgiu)
One of the most ambitious film projects of the year, Sibiu ’89 brings into focus events from the 1989 Revolution, a generous topic but little explored in recent Romanian cinema. The film reenacts a lesser-known episode from those times, a life-and-death confrontation between the Army forces and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s repression instruments, the Miliția and Securitate, further exacerbated by the rumor of “terrorists” killing innocent people. Sibiu ’89 is “a sinuous story about the maddening hunt for the alleged terrorists, guilt, manipulation, misinformation, and the tainted dawn of freedom,” as described in a statement about the film.
“The production effort was huge because Sibiu ’89 is a period film and there’s hardly any sites left from the original places where the events of December 1989 took place. Sibiu was out of the question because it has completely changed since then; we found some locations in Brăila, which is quite far away. So it was a colossal effort, especially in terms of set design, props, actors’ hairstyle, and extras. It’s also the film with the biggest cast we’ve ever produced, starring over 100 actors and 2,000 extras, whose number will be multiplied in post-production to make it look like an even bigger crowd,” the film’s director Tudor Giurgiu tells Films in Frame.
The film has been in development for a long time (initially it should have been released in 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Revolution) due to extensive research efforts, says Tudor Giurgiu: “It has been over two years of research, investigations, discussions with those involved in the events, but somehow all the time I tried to understand why the truth has been kept hidden and the guilty haven’t claimed responsibility, and this thing haunts me on a far grander scale because it affects our entire society. It’s a historical film, but at the same time, it’s a very personal film because it talks about this dead weight we can’t seem to free ourselves from and I don’t understand why we don’t make more efforts to shed light on a past that keeps on holding us back.”
Written by Cecilia Ştefănescu, Tudor Giurgiu and Napoleon Helmis, Sibiu ’89 is produced by Libra Films (Romania) in co-production with Mythberg Films (Hungary). The film is set to be released in Romania by Transilvania Film in December 2022.
Dark Ages (thriller, drama, dir. Tom Wilson)
Produced by Corneliu Porumboiu, Dark Ages is the third feature by British director Tom Wilson, whose debut, The Bucureşti Experiment, won the 2014 Gopo Award for Best Documentary. At the center of this “thriller with arthouse elements”, as the director describes it, is Angela’s family, whose peaceful life is disrupted by Carmen Dumitru’s visit, a middle-aged eccentric who has spent the last two decades in the New York art world. What Angela doesn’t know is that the artist has returned to create her latest piece, a film meant to become a radical manifesto against art. In order to achieve her goal, Carmen lures Angela’s two children into the game, and soon things will get out of control.
The screenplay is written by the director together with Loredana Novak, co-writer on Why Me? (2015) and Legacy (2020). “I wanted to create something with the structure of a thriller, but with a bizarre esoteric idea at its center about the role of the theory of aesthetics. I wanted to create something that people would still watch even if they had zero interest in these far-out theories about aesthetics,” says the director for Films in Frame.
Wilson also says that the film is atypical for the film industry, which he considers “more than sexist” (especially in Romania, we would add), and that although that wasn’t his first intention, Dark Ages also presents a unique approach as far as the Bechdel test goes, since it’s “a film where no man ever talks on-screen, except once in the background”. The director concludes with another of the project’s angles: “Mrs. Dumitru explicitly makes us ask: why make films if the world really doesn’t need another? Should we (me, you, him, her) be making films at all? It’s definitely a film about the ethics of filmmaking.” Dark Ages will complete its post-production by the end of March and the theatrical release is intended for this fall.
Refuge (drama, dir. Liviu Mărghidan)
After making his directing debut with the children’s film The Sentries (2018), followed by the upcoming sequel, The Sentries of the Delta (coming out in cinemas on April 1), DoP and producer Liviu Mărghidan is in the final stages of post-production with his third feature, Refuge, a drama about a broken family, starring Judith State and Dragoş Ularu. After their parents’ divorce, two siblings (played by the director’s children, Adela and Radu Mărghidan) are forced to part from each other; the girl goes to live with the mother in France, while the boy stays in Romania with the father. During the summer, the family reunites to spend a few days in the mountains, but as the vacation is coming to an end and the family is about to separate for another year, the two children are willing to do anything to spend a little more time together.
Refuge is produced by Scharf Film in co-production with Chainsaw Romania. The project, labeled as “the first Romanian film made exclusively outdoors”, was shot in the summer of 2020, with an additional week of production in the summer of 2021, in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, at an altitude ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 meters. Each day of shooting required between four and five hours of hiking to reach the high-altitude locations and the team was accompanied by a group of professional climbers. There were even situations when the cast and crew were up in the mountains for five consecutive days, and they all had to carry with them both their supplies and the technical equipment.
Liviu Mărghidan tells Films in Frame that Refuge is quite different from his previous films because it depicts “a modern-day common drama”, namely the family torn apart by the parents’ divorce. “Refuge tells the drama of children separated by their parents,” concludes the director, who insists on the fact that Romanian cinema is poor in children’s films or films starring children as main characters. “There is a great need for such initiatives, which can inspire children, guide them, and reconnect them with nature,” adds Mărghidan. Refuge is expected to have its theatrical release this fall.