An interview with Alexandru Mavrodineanu about Caisa
Born in Romania in a family of actors, he flew to Austria with his mom and brother when he was five. He lived and went to school there until he reached 14, when he moved in the south of Italy. He met his father a few years later, when he arrived in Germany, where he worked for a TV station, followed by a few years in Israel as a camera operator. Alex came back to Bucharest for the first time when he was 23 years old. From 2005 he is living in Bucharest, trying to find a place of his own in the local film industry. I met Mavro one year ago when a mutual friend introduced us – back then, he was in search for a film producer. I found him very cynical, a bit lost and extremely stubborn but so eager to do stuff. He was working on his feature documentary “Caisa” and was looking for some financing and feedback from the outside on his latest draft. I took my time watching his shorts, reading his script and following Caisa’s story and my e-mail took quite a while to reach him, maybe that’s the reason he never answered me back. Even though it left me with some mixed feelings, I always thought of him as a man with great potential and someone I sympathize for no particular reason. I took this interview a few days ago and discovered a confident and slightly more positive man with the same ambition of doing film. An interview about hardships, dreams come true, and how his latest film was brought to life.
This is your second documentary film. How long have you been working on it?
I started working on it five years ago and finished it last spring – we were in a bit of a hurry to release it at TIFF.
Tell me how it all started: from the first idea to the drafts it went through and the major changes that occurred during the evolution of this project.
At first, I wanted to make a film about the kid (Caisă) and I draw an ideal script in my mind about what might happen to him – things that did happen eventually: he became a champion and went through several difficulties to get there, so we had all the ingredients to make an “uplifting” observational documentary where this kid escapes the fate predetermined for the social category he was part of. Although I edited it like this, I didn’t like it, it didn’t have enough essence. I went back to the boxing room looking for something else, although I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. I was always there, they were getting tired of me, and the more I insisted, the more our relationship was falling apart. In my mind, I had already begun to abandon the idea until one day when, after months of giving it a break, I passed by their training session and I was lucky enough that exactly on that day one thing that can be seen in the film happened, which made me see things clearly. That’s when I realized that, actually, the coach is my main character. I ran to get the equipment and I started shooting again, rethinking everything around him. I was lucky to be there that day, otherwise, things wouldn’t have come out right.
Did you want to make this project from the beginning or was it a compromise?
The observational documentary is a film genre that requires a crew that can subtly “infiltrate” the character’s life. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have at least someone to drive the car (laughs) – I did the work of five people just by myself. Now, if money isn’t a problem, there are two ideal cases of team structure: the one where the director shoots and someone else deals with the sound or the one where the director does the sound and has a cameraman with whom he must have a strong communication relationship, since the latter is also a sort of director of the observational documentary film.
Your characters seem very natural to me although they are in front of the camera, and I think it’s one of the film’s strong points. Being just you with them, I don’t think they took the project seriously and it was easier for them to open up. Perhaps if there were more people part of the crew, things would have changed.
Perhaps. Indeed, I somehow managed to get their agreement very quickly. Usually, it takes some time for the characters to loosen in front of the camera. But I was day by day with them, they probably saw me rather as an almost insane and very eager guy.
It is a film about work, ambition and overcoming one’s condition, but it is also about loyalty and relinquishment. To what extent do you find yourself in this story?
Oops (laughs). Yes, these are important, almost existential themes for me – the fear of being abandoned and loyalty. Loyalty is a feature I look for in the people I surround myself with. Fear of being abandoned, who doesn’t have it on some level?
I’ve noticed that you put a lot of emphasis on the human connection, in your films. Are you trying to learn more about yourself through your characters?
When I get involved in a film I feel this need to meet those dramaturgical rules, that arc that I don’t fully master, but which I try to get as close as possible to. Of course, its efficiency is measured by the public’s reception, for me that is the supreme test. If you notice that you haven’t touched the audience, you probably still have to work on your craft. I’m afraid I avoided a personal answer☺
The audience more than the critics’ opinion?
Yeah, if I ever had to choose, always the audience. I can’t describe how I feel when a viewer comes to me after the screening and thanks me honestly for the film. I feel so fulfilled professionally, but also a bit of a fraud ☺, somehow embarrassed, because all I do is put them head to head. The true merit for their emotions goes to the real characters in the film.
How do you choose the topics for your films?
In fictional films, I try to develop the main themes that concern me during this period of life, and in documentary the most important aspect is the characters – whom I cannot choose as I would choose an actor for a fiction film. Or, once I’ve chosen them, I stay with them all the way to the end. That’s why it’s important that the character of a documentary to be not only charismatic but also generous enough and able to open up in his moments of vulnerability. If you don’t get these things, you don’t get to the depth of the film.
What’s the best advice you got on a movie set?
(laughs) Many memories come to me. I think it was “let’s shoot!”
Could you say that all these years of different attempts, experiences, and homes helped you as a director?
Probably yes, they may have helped me shape a character capable to adapt easier to new, unpredictable situations. On the other hand, I think I developed that human need to have solid roots in one place. To have a simple answer to the question “where are you from?” Well, I still have a lot to experience in order to make serious expertise. We’ll see in the end.
Caisă has enjoyed some success in several renowned festivals and is due to be released in cinemas on March 1st. What will happen next?
For now, I’m involved in the distribution stage to let know as many people as possible that the film is in cinemas. It’s an intense emotion, I have my first film in cinemas which is a dream I have had since I was a kid, a teenager. The public’s reactions so far have been a strong motivation for me and I think it would be a shame for people not to see it. But, this wasn’t exactly the right answer to your question, was it?
Can you look past that, what do you intend to do after the film is in cinemas?
For now, I’m working on this a bit more, actually today I am going to leave some posters in the coffee shops I go to frequently – things like that, then I’ll let the film see its own course, and I’ll get to my other babies. I have a pending fiction film I have applied with to CNC where I got some tragic notes, a short film that got further, and a documentary in development which I am being mocked about when I talk about it but I am convinced that it must be done. I hope it has the same fate as Caisă with the small difference that this time it gets funded. I have already ruined a production company with Caisă and I don’t have another one to get support from☺