Acasa, My Home: an interview with the core team behind the multi-awarded documentary film
I wish I could translate into words the emotion I felt during my interview with Radu, Monica, Lina & Mircea – the core team of the multi-awarded feature film – Acasa, My Home. I missed so much the encounters with genuine human beings, for whom the world we live in actually matters, that my meeting with them was like a breath of fresh air. We talked mostly about their feature film – Acasa, My Home, which was a cinematic debut for Radu (director), Lina (writer) and Mircea (DOP), since all of them come from a journalism background. The film follows the Enache family, who’s been living for 19 years in the urban jungle of Vacaresti Delta Park and is now forced to move out and become a part of society, once the Park becomes a protected area. During the interview, I could notice their openness to this Roma family, when gypsies are seen by the Romanian people more like a subspecies, rather than human beings, as well as their profound fondness for all of the 11 members of Enache’s family. I have discovered what really getting involved in a project looks like, and how much can modesty and openness matter. Ambitious, but modest, open to telling new stories and to discovering new people, aware that the help they offer to someone else can also contribute to their personal development, the four filmmakers sat down with me for an honest interview and full of surprises, in Monica’s little office garden, on a late summer evening. Right after that, we packed all our stuff and headed to Vacaresti Park, the place for our photo shooting, where I felt part of the team – Mircea was carrying the props, while Radu was fixing the lights, when he was not modelling for our photographer. Everything came naturally and went great. An interview and a photo shooting I keep close to my heart, as a reminder that life is beautiful, it deserves to be discovered, fought for, and protected.
Radu, Lina & Mircea – even though 2020 doesn’t seem such a good year, for you seems to be one of the best so far. Have you managed to digest this successful cinematic debut?
Mircea: Even though we spent some time in quarantine and nothing much really happened this year, I cannot say I had enough time to absorb the whole experience yet. This project came at a moment when I had already had a lot of questions, about what it means to be an artist or a journalist, and if there is any difference between them or it’s just a matter of perspective. I guess the film’s success has only made me think more about these questions – about what I become after all this is over.
Lina: For me, it concurred with a very special moment in my life – the birth of my little girl. I was excited for each award we received, they all came as a confirmation we are on the good track, it brought us closer to the public and it helped us develop relationships within the film industry, both national and international. Besides that, my little girl occupied most of my time and energy, so I can’t say either I had the time to absorb the whole experience.
You took the Cinematography Award at Sundance. Mircea, has this been a confirmation of your potential as a cinematographer?
The first confirmation and most important one came from Radu, when he called me and invited me to take part in his project. At that moment, I had only just begun playing with a video camera, but in a more journalistic way, we could say.
Are you interested in making films from now on?
Yes, but I can’t exactly say which type of film I’m more inclined to – it’s unclear to me too, if I stick to documentary or if I follow a more experimental area. I understand how documentary film works, but I also have some other ideas to explore.
Radu, can you tell me when filmmaking became a part of your life – as a way of expressing your ideas and also as a potential profession?
It came naturally, just like photography and writing came at their time. I once did a cover story in Canada, which was internationally awarded, and I looked for different ways of highlighting the whole project – I guess that was the first time film became an option. It’s when I started realizing its potential, for the dissemination of information in a different way. Somehow a feeling of sadness stayed with me after that, that I didn’t turn it into a film; so I started researching the local industry and went to one of Monica’s film screenings for A Mere Breath, which had a discussion afterward, moderated by Ileana Birsan. I was fascinated by how much time can someone stay on a single subject and research it. When you’re a journalist, you have to deliver fast, so the documentary film came to me as complementary to my profession, but with a bigger impact, more profound research, and a better-defined context.
Has your background in journalism helped you in any way?
Radu: My background helped a lot – a journalist knows when to listen and understands that a good part of its job is for the public’s interest and well being; clarity is much more important than expressing your point of view as a director.
Monica, tell me about your first encounter with Radu.
Before our first meet-up, I was already aware of the social project he was working on and found it quite interesting – I felt its potential for a feature documentary film and had friends who were also telling me stories about it. When Radu called, I said to myself “YES”! (laughs)
Radu: It wasn’t such a difficult decision to choose Monica, there aren’t that many documentary producers, especially on social projects. I saw her interest in these kinds of subjects and it mattered a lot.
(to Monica) I didn’t call you immediately, because I wasn’t sure of the project; I did it when I felt it’s the right time because I wanted to be taken seriously.
I went to Monica when I felt my project is sustainable enough to keep going ahead.
Monica: Right after his call, even though I was happy, I started asking myself questions – what if he’s another journalist who thinks he knows better? I didn’t want to just shoot a story, so I tried to understand what he wants from this film, and also to get to know him better, see if we are a match.
How big was your input in this project?
A lot bigger than in any of my previous ones. I really liked the story and the chemistry with Radu was also good. I really enjoyed our editing sessions, when we would watch the footage and discuss – you can play with the stories, the structure of the film, its layers. It was quite fun. And, of course, I had to take care of the budget and fundings, but I was thrilled to do it, because the whole team and project had a lot of potential. I think it was that project for which I gave a bit more than 100%, as a producer.
Radu: I think we all gave a bit more than 100% for this one.
Well, I believe this is how the best films are made.
Radu: I followed my intuition a lot during the shootings. For example, when we filmed the beginning scene, I knew those were the first shots of the film because it made me feel the same emotion I felt when I first saw the kids, in their natural element, without a camera. And there were a lot of these moments when things just hit me emotionally and I could see them on the screen, as well. Monica is a wonderful producer, a creative one, who knows when to give you the freedom you need and when to intervene. It worked quite well for me.
It was a beautiful experience and I believe the honesty of the film was possible because we didn’t persist in having the best crew, technicians, and so on. It would have been easier, I can tell you that, but the atmosphere of the film and the access we had to everything would not have been possible.
Tell me about the Enache Family, behind the cameras. How do you see them?
Monica: They are quite different – the kids from the parents. Some of them are going to school and they are doing very well. The parents have a different rhythm, they have adapted to their new life harder.
Radu: Kids are more curious.
Monica: And more adaptive.
Lina: I believe we all got attached to them, and they to us – personally, I am more fond of the kids, even though I had quite a good relationship with Gica as well. The children are honest and natural, full of life – all these characteristics being amplified by the environment they lived in. We used to walk with them, take them to different parks in Bucharest, take them to the alternative education club – so many activities that were separate from our project, but we did them all with so much joy because they were adorable.
Mircea: We were their doorway to things happening outside the Danube Park.
Seems like a groundbreaking experience from which you have learned a lot.
Radu: Yes, I think patience is the best example to give. The working process on the film, so long and new to me, made me understand the value of time – what it means to understand stay on things, to give them a structure.
Lina: Growing up in the Delta offered the children certain freedom and a lack of inhibitions, which inspired me a lot. Everything they feel, they say it out loud, and act as such, without any constraints or self-censorship. They don’t relate to society and its norms as we do, we were raised in residential areas and taken to school. That, for me, was the most important lesson: to open my mind and get out of this box that my parents and all the people from different systems I interacted with have built around me.
Mircea: I discovered a different perspective and way of thinking from some people I only learned about from the press until that moment. Once you interact with them, you come to understand why they live there and how they got there – your own standpoint changes.
However, when you set the camera on a person, no matter how close the relationship with them is or isn’t, things change. Was it hard to get so close to your characters? Acasa, My Home is an extremely personal film.
Radu: I have a background in writing and I always found it easy to get access to the people I was documenting, but it was that much harder when we would take out the camera. I think in this case we were very lucky – Gica was already used to the cameras, he liked this role of patriarch, the way he was portrayed by the media. We built everything over time, we had many common experiences that helped us get to know each other over time.
Mircea: In order to build trust on both sides.
Radu: I think it mattered a lot to Sir Gica when we found a school for the children, or when the children got sick and at 4am we were with them at the hospital. And even though there were many times when we didn’t take the camera with us, we made sure that we had at least one tool for documentation, so that we could still get a shot, whatever that was.
How much of the film is directed?
Radu: The whole film is directed, but not in the classic style; we never gave them lines to remember or learn, nor did we create any contexts, but we took advantage of them when we felt there was an opportunity – it was very important that we knew everything that was going on in their lives, every moment. When Gica was angry with Vali or vice versa, I acted as a mediator, I guided them to talking to each other, they didn’t know how to express their emotions. That’s how the first dialogue scene came out; until that moment, we had no dialogue in our footage. I would always go with them on the lakes, that’s where my heart stands, and my fascination with the family – in the children’s lazy mornings. They told us when they were cooking, when they were going fishing, we were always in touch with them. Mircea was a very good partner, I would never have thought to bring all the equipment and store it in a tent at night, but it was a very good move and a way to get closer to the family.
Mircea: I think the best way of bonding was joining them for dinner – for them it was a ritual, since they are a big family. Each activity we spent together crossed off any doubts they might have had about our intentions.
What do you take with you from this complex project?
Radu: The relationship with the Enache family. Then, there’s some sense of direction and a little more courage.
Monica: Personally, I gained a sort of case study, an example of how to work on a social project, which includes many layers – it’s not just “here I am, I’m shooting a film, now I’m done, goodbye”. The film is requested by many NGOs, some of them partners of the social project, for discussions, screenings, fundraising.
Radu: Although the work processes (i.e. for the social project and the film) were separated, I always saw the film as part of everything.
Monica: And I always pitched it as a multimedia project – we had the book, the film, and the social project. I think that’s what documentaries should look like.
Will you continue to make films or do you return to being journalists and reporters in the field?
Mircea: We will surely keep on going!
Radu: We also do freelancing journalism, that’s how we pay for baby’s pampers.
(and we ended our time on good spirits)
Acasa, My Home will enter local cinemas tomorrow, September 18, and starting with October 15, it will be available on HBO GO.