Bianca Oana: ”I feel motivated by the people that inspire me and whose vision I believe in”
I invited Bianca Oana to sit down with me for an interview because I met her a year and a half ago when we were both working on the distribution of Touch me Not – and she left me with a good impression and a desire to get to know her better. I took advantage of the fact she has a new film coming out this Friday – “collective”, a MUST SEE – and called her to arrange an interview. She invited me at her place – a central and chic flat, with stained glass windows, lots of vinyl discs and Michael Jackson playing in the background. We sat in her living room talking for more than an hour and a half, about anything possible and impossible. When I left, I didn’t just feel I know Bianca better, but myself as well.
Bianca is a really smart, introspectiv and kind woman. She graduated with a BA in screenwriting but since she chose the path of film production, she only writes poems. As the main producer, she has two films in her portfolio – Touch me Not (D: Adina Pintilie, Golden Bear at Berlinale 2018) and ”collective” (D: Alexander Nanău – TIFF, Sundance and Venice IFF). However both films are that type that gives you goosebumps and make you think about it days after you’ve watched it. My kind of films and implicitly, my kind of human being and producer – because they way you are can also be deducted by the movies you watch, or in this case, produce. We went through her childhood, high school years, university and life as a film producer. An interview on Touch me Not ”collective”. Intimacy and corruption. Dreams and reality.
Bianca, what does a world you would like to live in look like?
Less polluted, for sure. With less cars around – I live in Bucharest and I always dream about a city with empty sidewalks and lots of trees. Since I started traveling in 2015, I also started noticing the cities I visit and there aren’t so many places in Europe with green spaces. I just came back from Bruxelles, where I took a walk on a long street with no trees, just concrete everywhere. I did like the city’s diversity though – which is another important aspect of my “ideal” world; it would be nice to have everyone in the same place, with no gender or racial differences.
And if we talk about “world peace”, I surely can imagine a world where dignity and respect are primary, and where we don’t kill each other. However, I cannot imagine a world without conflicts – in an ideal world, conflicts exist, without them, there ‘s no evolution.
Do you believe films have the power to change the world?
Alex (n. Alexander Nanau) has a really good answer to this question – he doesn’t believe films could change the world, but rather offer new perspectives. And I totally agree with his point of view. I think it’s unfair to put that much pressure on art, which is an expression of humankind, it comes from the artist’s most profound and personal need. We are the ones who can change the world, art can influence the world, but only after people watch it. It’s an expression of an interior world and we are the ones who can take its message forward.
You started as a screenwriter and you’re now a film producer. When did this shift happen and how?
I have been writing since I was a kid, not sure if it was out of passion or necessity but it definitely was my way of expression; I used to write diaries and letters, and a bit later, during secondary school, I started writing short stories and participate in various contests, having the support of my Romanian class teacher. In high school I discovered photography and I was mesmerized – it felt like a more quicker and a much complex way of expressing myself.
In the 10th grade I met Irina – she was one year older and wanted to be a film director, so she was going frequently at the cinema. On one occasion, she took me with her – we went to see Blue Velvet by David Lynch. It left me in so much awe, I decided right there and then I wanted to study film, so I started attending Irina’s preparatory class at the National University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest. However, Irina chickened out right before her admission exam, and decided she will pursue a screenwriting career, so she got in at the same university, at Audiovisual Communication. I kept attending her classes because her professors would let me and one year later, I got in as well. Because of Irina, I was part of this whole universe before I started studying, so in my first year here, I got an award at the university’s festival – Cinemaiubit, for “Best Screenplay”. However, it was never produced, our tutors thought it’s too complex and difficult to make.
In the years that followed, alongside some friends and now fellow filmmakers, such as Barna Nemethi, Ivana Mladenovic, Vlad Fenesan and a few others, we started a group where I used to write scripts and then produce them – there wasn’t a BA on Production that time, not even an MA as we have now, and I never had anyone to look up to in this field. It was quite hard for me, I used to feel lonely most of the time and if it weren’t for my friends – I don’t know if I had finished my classes.
I remember one night I got a call from Ivana – she was in prison, shooting a making-of for Mitulescu’s film If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle. If you know Ivana, you know she wasn’t there only for that making-of, she was also there looking for a subject, which she found; so she called me to let me know there’s a deadline at CNC (National Centre of Cinematography) in two days and we should apply. The next morning, Ivana came to my place and we spent 18 hours working on that CNC file, and we actually got the financing for her future film Turn off the Lights.
And this happened during your university years.
Yes, in my senior year. And Ivana’s film was produced by Mitulescu through Strada Film, I was the executive producer. Right after we got the CNC financing, Ivana told Catalin (n. Mitulescu) that she wants to continue working with me – we were already used to this type of working where I was writing and producing as well. Mitulescu invited me for an interview and gave me some scripts to read and give feedback; so I started working for Strada Film as an executive producer and “head of development” – a title I gave myself as there was no such thing back then in Romania.
Turn off the Lights was a really tough production, a bit traumatizing I could say – I learned everything as I went.
Do you still write?
I do, but I write poetry now. When I discovered the documentary genre, my perception on screenwriting changed; I realized there’s something really formal about it, that I don’t enjoy anymore. I’m a compliant human being that can mold after people or situations – if the structure I work with is stiff and dictates too many rules, it narrows my creativity to the point where I shut down. Working with reality, like in documentary filmmaking, gives me much more freedom.
What’s your belief as a producer?
I support the director’s vision. I believe in serving the vision of a director, it’s like a mission. I have an atypical style: I work with the director’s company. That means I come as a freelance producer in their company and take over the whole production, serving the film rather than the company.
I believe once you own a business, you start focusing more on the company and its future, most of the time it’s subliminal. It’s a style of work that doesn’t suit me and I realized it when I left Strada Film.
The two feature films you’ve produced so far – as the main producer, are both deep films, that send a message and provoke you to ask questions about yourself and the world we live in. I guess that hasn’t happened by chance.
It’s all about the process – what I go through during the production of a film and what I get from it. As I said before, I hate patterns and I try to stay as far away as possible from them. I can’t stand the idea of being forced to be like everyone else, when we’re not the same and diversity is actually the beauty of it all.
I don’t wish producing movies that are safe, or go through the same predictable process – it’s a way of making films that becomes standardized, so you get to a point where you stop asking questions: why are you doing it, who are you, what do you want to do next.
What do you appreciate the most at a film director?
A particular cinematographic vision and the capacity to make out between the artistic ego and the film as a form of art.
I feel motivated by the people that inspire me and whose vision I believe in.
Touch Me Not has been a movie both multi-awarded and criticized. Tell me more about your personal and creative process throughout its production.
Adina (n. Pintilie) attended the premiere of Alexander’s film – Toto and His Sisters, and soon after she sent me her file of research for Touch Me Not – it had more than 100 pages and I remember when I finished it, I thought this could either be a terrible failure or a masterpiece; and I realized that’s the kind of film I want to be a part of – where nothing is predictable and you have no idea how it will end up.
Professionally speaking, I was at a turning point – I had just left Strada Film with a negative perception about what being a producer meant and I couldn’t find my place. Even now, there are a lot of overwhelming moments and even when speaking with other producers , no matter the point in their career, we all find our profession overwhelming. Going back to Adina’s film – her proposal was quite unique so I took it. Personally speaking, I started exploring the film’s theme on myself; Adina needed someone to start researching the Romanian BDSM community, so I went to munches (n. social gatherings for the BDSM community where there’s no play involved) to meet the community, and soon after I attended a bondage session, with a woman I didn’t know. It was a revealing experience, something I had never experienced before in my life and helped me widen my perspectives. Another similar moment for me was when I met Christian.
Last but not least, logistically we encountered all the possible problems of a film production, with no exaggeration.
“colectiv” is released in Romanian cinemas tomorrow. I know Alexander started filming right after the fire at the Colectiv Club. Were you in the project from day one?
I got in after the research stage was over, when Alex realized he had a film. The idea of it came in December 2015 – the night of the EFA (n. European Film Awards) gala, where Alex and Hanka Kastelicova (n. HBO Europe’s Film Producer) were present as representatives of Toto and His Sisters.
They were bothered but pleasantly surprised by the new civic force in Romania and decided to dig deeper in the story – so the research stage began and Alexander alongside Antoaneta Opris (head of the research) interviewed doctors, parents and survivors. At the beginning, the story was so complex, they didn’t know where to begin and how to develop it. Right at the same time, journalist Catalin Tolontan started his investigation on Hexi Pharma and Antoaneta realised this film should follow a journalist seeking the truth – Alexander was never the type to do investigative documentary, but observational. He follows people and their inner searches.
Two months after Alex’s first meeting with Tolontan, he called me and in July 2016 I started working on the film.
Have you faced any difficulties in the process?
There was a lot of hard work for obtaining access in some institutions, like the High Court of Justice where we went for the Colectiv trial. Even if it doesn’t appear in the film, we had to send tons of applications. Also during post-production, the editing stage was difficult because we had a lot of hours of footage which needed to be organized and on top of that, hundreds of hours of archive footage too – both local and international footage, anything there ever was on Colectiv. Alex and his assistant Maria Carstea went through it all.
The whole editing process was complex – there are more narratives and we had to find the balance between them.
Have you carried on filming after the legislative elections in 2016?
Yes, we filmed the protests of February 2017, even though we stopped filming after the elections. I was at the office with Alex and Teo – our lawyer at the time, writing a shooting permission letter for the High Court of Justice, when Alex goes on Facebook and finds out the OUG 13 Law has passed. He screamed, took his camera, we took our scarves and we got out running. We kept on shooting until July, when we decided to stop. It could have gone on forever.
But you were getting far from your main subject.
Definitely, it was already another film, starting with the protests of February 2017.
So Colectiv happened and we all took down the streets protesting; for the first time, I actually felt I’m part of a big community. I felt hope that we could really change things. Looking back, five years later, I feel little has changed. I’m curious, can you imagine a future in this country?
The feeling you describe – I felt it too, though I believe things have changed even if it’s on a microscopical level; it seems we adapt harder and slower to the times we live in. Of course this has something to do with politics and the way the State operates, but I believe it comes from us too. If you look back, with every new protest after the Colectiv ones, we’ve gotten fewer – the last spike was the 10th of August protest, when police and gendarmerie forces annihilated us with choke damps. Even though all of us were really angry after these events and the whole movement #rezist happened, we didn’t actually resist. Those choke damps annihilated us as a collective. If I have to imagine a future here, I could only imagine one where there’s either resistance or subsistence to the system.
Unfortunately I do not have a solution for living in Romania when you know all the things films like colectiv teach or show you.
What have you learned about yourself working on these two films?
The most critical thing I feel is life is really short and the decisions we make are more important than we think. Regarding what us, producers, do with our lives and how we maintain ourselves in the game – because physical and mental health are two really important aspects, both films opened ways to discover where I stand: colectiv taught me to always ask questions and never compromise my morals and the values I believe in, while Touch Me Not tested my personal limits and helped me find a balance between my qualities and my flaws, and adjust the expectations I have from myself and others.