The 2022 Gopo Awards – Talking to the Five Best First Feature Nominees

19 April, 2022

The Gopos are coming and since last year, with every new edition we present you a category of nominees that is powerful yet not enough promoted. After in 2021 we photographed and interviewed the young and emerging talents nominated for the Young Hope Award, this year it is time for the debutants in feature film: Dan Dinu (Wild Romania), Octavian Strunilă (Perfect Strangers), Tudor Platon (House of Dolls), Ruxandra Ghițescu (Otto the Barbarian) and Eugen Jebeleanu (Poppy Fields) are the five nominees of Best Debut Film. More than half of them have never directed a film prior to this. Dan Dinu and Eugen Jebeleanu come from artistic fields which are close to filmmaking but never interacted with it, Tudor Platon is already a known DOP and Octavian Strunilă, actor and stage director and Ruxandra Ghițescu have had many roles on a film set before directing their short films, followed by their first feature film. 

Besides the quality of their films, what struck me was the diversity of this group. It’s a first in Gopo’s history to see people with such diverse backgrounds (and some with almost no experience at all) come together in such an important section of nominees, with films that also vary a lot – from a personal documentary to one about nature, to a comedy, a drama and an LGBT-themed feature film. But instead of talking about them more than I should, I’ll let them talk about their films and their future careers as directors.

DAN DINU – co-director Wild Romania

Photo & Collage: Felicia Simion | Styling: Ruxandra Marin

What does directing your first feature film and receiving this nomination mean to you?

I think we’re the outsiders of this group. It came as a surprise, we mainly saw this project as an educational project through which people might learn more about the Romanian ecosystem, it never crossed our minds at the beginning – and it’s been 12 years since then, that we will make a film, nor that we will be nominated. The whole work process was new and very interesting. I’m still getting used to the title of film director, I still consider myself a nature photographer who also happened to make a film that turned out to be well-received by the public.

Being nominated is a motivation to continue. When what you do is appreciated, it’s an incentive to keep going, to continue the work you have begun. The films we want to make in the future will definitely go in the same direction, to promote the idea that we need to preserve the Romanian ecosystem. Without it, Romania will no longer be Romania.

I know this project started as a photography project. Did you have to go back to the places that you’ve already photographed when the idea of a film came up?

Yes, absolutely, but I pretty much knew what to expect. My colleague joined me two years after the project started and around that time the script began to take shape. We knew what we wanted to film, and we had to revisit certain places where we already knew what to shoot. Sometimes everything went as planned, other times we came back home with a completely new story, which in some cases was better than the original.

The camera caught some extraordinary footage (and moments). To me it seems very difficult to get to some of the places you have reached and to capture the animals in their natural habitat, without feeling disturbed by your presence. How long have you had to wait to get these rare shots?

I think the longest we’ve been on the lookout was with grouse – 7 days, about 5-6 hours every day. Although we captured in the first few days what we had been hoping for, we couldn’t help but stay a bit longer. It had snowed one evening, out of the blue, and the next few days were full of snow, and although we couldn’t use it in the film, since the other shots were without snow, we couldn’t resist capturing such a beautiful moment.

There have been many days on the field, it’s what it takes to make this type of film, but we’ve also been lucky to have moments that happened on the spot; for example, the mating scene with the bears in the Făgăraș Mountains was shot in one morning. It was more difficult to get there, it rained a lot. In the wilderness, you have to improvise a lot.

All this unpredictability is very difficult to accept in film production, where time means money and days need to be scheduled in detail. The fact that you didn’t have a budget and a producer seems to have helped you, but the success of the film makes me believe that your next projects will receive financial support. Do you think that you can make documentary films in a more organized way?

Yes, this first time was easy, we made this film out of a great passion – we had no budget whatsoever, except for the final stage. We knew when we were leaving but never when we were coming back and I think that helped us a lot. At least mentally, because we knew we would finish this film only when we were going to be happy with it.

I realize that making this film took so long because we didn’t have a plan, and what I’m trying to do now is set some (minimal) rules for ourselves. It’s pretty clear that we won’t be able to make another film without setting deadlines, your perception of what making a film entails changes when you have a budget. But it would be hard to compromise too much – we need the freedom to make such films.

You are a photographer and I know it’s a profession you enjoy. I understand that you also want to explore a career as a film director. Do you already have other projects in mind?

As I said before, it’s still odd to consider myself a film director. What I find interesting is that the two don’t exclude one another but rather complement each other. You can tell a complex story about nature and wildlife both through photography and film. I liked the whole process and I learned so many things. It is my greatest joy, along with releasing the film, to have found in Romania a team of people from whom I can learn and who can do these things on another level – sound engineers, music composers, the entire post-production. It would be strange to end this collaboration all of a sudden, so yes, I do want to carry on with it; and in a more organized way. I think it would have been better to have everyone involved in this project earlier. Lesson learned, so for the next film things are going to happen in a different way.

We are thinking about a sequel to this documentary, but we would also like to make a documentary about the Danube Delta, which in my opinion is Romania’s most precious natural heritage and there are many stories to discover.

OCTAVIAN STRUNILĂ – director & producer Perfect Strangers

Photo & Collage: Felicia Simion | Styling: Ruxandra Marin

What does directing your first feature film and receiving this nomination mean to you?

Making my debut in film directing means a lot, I finally managed to raise some money and make a feature film, something I wanted for a long time. I dabbled with directing before, but mostly in television – I made three different pilots and came to the conclusion that I could have rather put all that effort into making a feature film. In 2008, I did a master’s degree in Film Directing at UNATC and I’ve been submitting projects to the CNC’s funding contests since then; I won with a short film once, which was followed by several attempts, on my own money. I look forward to the future because this nomination comes as a confirmation that I’m on the right path.

What have you learned from your first film as a director?

I’m also a producer on this film and I think I’ve learned more from this position, such as you shouldn’t take a lot of risks because making films is not profitable yet. As a director, I learned that it’s important to work with the actors on the script, to feel they commit to the process, that they get along well – on Perfect Strangers, the actors became like a family, which often made things come naturally. Another important aspect is the attention to detail and cinematography – it’s now clear to me that getting along with the director of photography is a must. Me and Zoran Simulov made a great team, our collaboration was the best thing that could happen to me. I will tell you a short story from when we were shooting: I was in a hurry because it was the end of the day, I only had 50 minutes left, and Zoran stopped me and told me we should “focus because something’s off”; we were shooting with two cameras but the angle on one of them was not working out, so we decided to shoot with only one camera, even if that meant that we had to leave part of the scene for the next day. As a producer, it was hard to go with this decision because I was keen on going through the scheduled scenes for the day. It was like a cold shower. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that and I intend to apply what I’ve learned.

Perfect Strangers is a great comedy film, the original Italian script (Perfetti sconosciuti) has been adapted in over 20 countries. How many of these films have you seen? Have you been inspired by any of them in particular, in terms of directing?

I saw some of them, many are not available, or translated. Indeed, it has been adapted in many countries, including Japan, which is quite odd because they have a different culture. I saw the original, the French version, the Russian version – which is completely different, and the Spanish version. I can’t say that I’ve been inspired by a particular thing and wanted to do the same because the actors have their own personalities and then there is our own characteristic humor. All of this can be seen when they start reading the text. It’s like staging A Stormy Night (i.e. comedy in 4 acts by I.L Caragiale) – it was done in dozens of ways, by dozens of directors, and yet, when you do it, it’s different – the actors are different, you feel and experience it differently. With Perfect Strangers, I was most inspired by the actors, from the moment we had our first reading of the script. Initially, I wanted it to be a theater play, I was waiting to get the rights to stage it and that’s how I got the rights to make the film. Because it happened during the pandemic and staging theater plays was rather difficult, I said why not? I managed to convince people around me that the script is good and easy to shoot in times of pandemic – a single location, few actors. It was an ideal situation. I bought the rights for the film with the money I got from an ophthalmologist, a film enthusiast, and from that moment, it all came together.

Comedy is hardly exploited in Romania – especially this type of comedy, with smart humor and it’s a genre that can bring audiences back to theaters. Do you see this debut as something that happened by accident or do you intend to continue making films for the general public?

It’s not an accident. I gained a similar audience in theater. My first play filled 25% of the audience, the second one 50%, and so on. Now my plays are sold out in the cities I’ve performed in before and the evolution has occurred within a few years since the first play. I chose comedy because it was hardly approached – in theater, boulevard comedy is still very common, those French or Spanish plays designed to make people laugh out loud, which often take aim at adulterers and libertines, and whose stories and characters are depicted in a superficial way. I was interested in the script for Perfect Strangers because behind the comedy lies the characters’ personal drama. I don’t plan on making films meant for the elite festivals, following the classic festival film recipe.

I want to stay in this area, make genre films that can fill up an already existing gap – family films, tasteful and well-made, with good actors and intelligent humor. I’m very happy that Andreea Grămoșteanu has also received a nomination at the Gopo Awards this year.  We were amazed on set by how committed she was to each scene. I hope she wins.

Do you have other projects in mind or which you are working on already?

Me and Alexandru Harsany are constantly searching for stories – in the long run, I do have a project in mind, but it requires a big budget because it doesn’t happen nowadays. In the near future, we are thinking about applying what we’ve learned from Perfect Strangers in other similar genre films.

TUDOR PLATON – director, editor and DOP House of Dolls


Photo & Collage: Felicia Simion | Styling: Ruxandra Marin

What does directing your first feature film and receiving this nomination mean to you?

As far as making my directorial debut goes, it wasn’t premeditated, it just happened. For the most part, I did what I do on all the films I work on, only this time I also did the sound, editing, directing, which was very nice. That’s why being nominated was a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect it. Especially in this section, since it’s a documentary. It made me happy.

I know that in your case, it wasn’t until later that you decided to make a feature-length film. How did your grandmother and the other two characters react when you broke the news?

The first time I told them I was going to look at the footage and soon after I told them that a film was coming out and we were going to have a screening – Cica, in particular, who is a very social person and likes to go out, was very happy. She said I made her an actress at 70 years old. It was like a celebration.

Are there any moments you haven’t shot because they asked you not to? Or moments that didn’t make it to the final cut.

Of course there are. I don’t recall not filming because they asked me not to but there were scenes I didn’t want to have in the film. Not because those weren’t emotionally powerful, but because I payed a lot of attention to the way I’m exposing them. This documentary work-ethic is very important to me.

You’re a popular director of photography and I know you enjoy your profession. Does this film director title scare you?

Sometimes I have thoughts that do but for me these two professions don’t exclude each other, I believe I can practice them both because the films I intend to direct are very personal. I go back to some of my own experiences questioning them, trying to see them with different eyes. I stop asking myself if I’m a director or a director of photography – there are moments or people I feel the need to reconnect with. When I work as a DOP there’s a totally different story. I build something with the director starting from him and his script.

Do you have other projects to direct in mind?

I do, yes. It’s also a very personal film, about my parents and some hard times they went through. I filmed a while ago and left the footage aside. I plan to go back to it, watch it and decide if it can become relatable for an audience. 

RUXANDRA GHIȚESCU – director Otto the Barbarian

Photo & Collag: Felicia Simion | Styiling: Ruxandra Marin

What does directing your first feature film and receiving all your nominations mean to you?

It came after long hours of work and years of searching. The film was like a wreath of a long period of time when I was searching for a work environment that would suit me, and then for financing support to do the film and so on. I decided to make my debut because I became the mother of Matilda and it became a necessity to be more determined. 

The nomination is mostly an avowal of filmmaking as a team-work, which brings me a lot of joy. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate with all the hard-working people who worked on it. And it feels good to have your film brought into the spotlight again, to be watched again by those who haven’t. The film premiered during the pandemic when things were very uncertain. There was a 30% attendance rule in all cinemas and the film has an 18-year old rating, which deprived us of a normal distribution in cinemas. 

You said in many interviews that you were a rebellious teenager and this film was your attempt at reconciling with your girl hood. Can you tell me a bit more about that period of your life, and how much of it is part of your film?

I wasn’t that waltered but neither was I docile. While writing this script I realized how much we modify our past, we don’t realize how we really were and we don’t come to terms easily with the things we did. We erase these things from our personal story while attempting to create a more favorable image of ourselves. Not being able to accept your past and present self is a source of internal conflicts, so I tried to revisit my past with a lot of empathy and openness and accept the choices I have made and the relationships I had. I enjoyed the experience and the whole process that came with it, but being honest with yourself is an ongoing work. I hope it helped me and the relationship I will have with my teenage daughter. 

What did you learn from your first feature film as a director?

To cherish the friendships and people surrounding me. To appreciate their devotion to this film. And it also taught me how important it is to choose projects that are meaningful to you. 

What’s your next step in your career, is there another film coming?

I went through a period of introspection – what filmmaking means and is cinema still relevant nowadays and if so, in what form? All these questions found an answer in a MA I did at CESI, for which I’m writing my dissertation now. 

Last year I finished writing Clara, the debut film of Sabin Dorohoi who I think is now at the end of his shooting days. My next film is still in an early stage of development.

EUGEN JEBELEANU – director Poppy Field

Photo & Collage: Eugen Jebeleanu | Styling: Ruxanndra Marin

What does directing your first feature film and receiving all your nominations mean to you?

My debut doesn’t come with this film, even if I have never directed a film before, because I have been working as a director in opera and theater for almost 10 years. I don’t use the same tools but my work and preoccupations are the same, I’m mostly interested in the message I send through the projects I have and the second more important thing is how I collaborate with the actors –  the way I can discover and support them. This nomination is a validation of all the work done by the team behind this film. A lot of my colleagues have been also nominated – Marius Panduru for cinematography, Ioana Moraru for scriptwriting and of course, Alexandru Potocean and Conrad Mericoffer for their performances. For me personally it is a confirmation I should keep doing films and that brings me a lot of joy.

Do you wish to explore more what film directing can offer you?

Absolutely. And I wish that with my second film we will stop talking about my work in theater, we will move on and I will surpass the knowledge I have acquired as a stage director and start exploring, playing and searching for new things within the cinematography language. To find new ways to express different points of view on matters that should become more important and the forms I would use as a director to answer the dramaturgical necessities of the film’s story. 

The subject you explore in Poppy Fields is very sensitive and not at all exploited in Romanian cinema yet, so I find your intercession quite admirable. 

I’m glad you say that and I hope to see more films that talk about minorities. About these people I like to call “non-heroes of society” because their stories are not yet exposed enough, they’re not noticeable in film, theater, not even in literature. I wish they become more visible and that their stories will be told not only by people like me that are part of the LGBT community – there are already films in Europe on LGBT people without them being the focus of the story. So I encourage directors who are not part of this community to contribute by telling our stories – it can’t go wrong if your intentions are humble and not judgemental. It actually helps culture develop.  

You worked with one of Romania’s most talented and known directors of cinematography – Marius Panduru, a very patient man, a good professor and a supporter of young and emerging talents. What can you tell me about your collaboration?

I think it was one of my richest and most beautiful encounters in recent years. He’s very generous and available, a very good listener who never made me feel like a debutant. He understood the sensibility I’m looking for and was eager to understand how he can answer the script’s needs through the usage of his camera, something I find extremely valuable at a DOP. He didn’t put his talent and vision first. After this collaboration, we worked in theater and now we are doing together this play at the National Theater in Bucharest and for sure we will work at the next films, too, if they will happen. 

What’s your next step in your career, is there another film coming?

Yes, I want to direct my second film, we are awaiting the CNC results. If the answer will be in our favor there will be a second film with the same crew.

Gopo Awards will be held on the 3rd of May at the National Theater of Bucharest and broadcasted on

Film producer and founder of ADFR, she dreamed since she was little of having a magazine one day. Alongside her job as editor-in-chief, she writes the interview of the month. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.