Eline Van Gils, you are a Dutch actress known for the role of Lily in the TV series ANNE+ (NL 2018 -) in which you play Anne's first girlfriend Lily. We learn that the two are in their twenties and moved together to Amsterdam for their studies. We see their mutual interests and their differences and we also watch how they grow apart, which eventually leads to their break up. I watched a short clip behind the scenes with you in which you relate that you enjoy playing a role you feel connected to, so in which way was this role connected to you and how did you learn about the series?
The main connection between the role of Lily and myself is that Lily is openly gay from a young age. She grew up in a small town and moved to Amsterdam to study there, same as me. This is the first gay role that I’ve played, and because of her being openly gay from a young age and growing up in a small town, there is a natural understanding of who she is and where she comes from. She is kind of a young version of myself in a way, although she has some other characteristics, of course. As an actor you always have to connect yourself to the role you play, and sometimes that takes a bit more time and figuring out than at other times. In the case of Lily, it went pretty smoothly and we fell together quite fast and organically. I first learned about the series from Hanna van Vliet, who played the role of Anne in the series. She had just filmed a teaser for the series and told me about the idea. After that, I coincidentally met Valerie (the director) in a bar. I didn’t know her back then, but she knew who I was and started talking about the series. Then I told her I heard about it from Hanna and I loved the idea. This is when we decided to meet up for a beer to discuss the part of Lily and the rest of the series.
It was an all female cast and crew who made the series. How was that experience compared to some others experiences; for instance, having male coworkers on the set? I also learned that director Valerie Bisscheroux and screenwriter Maud Wiemeijer wanted to challenge certain stereotypes regarding the representation of lesbians wearing certain clothes--such as tank tops--and feeling isolated and lonely. Instead, the series wanted to portray young lesbians as happy and carefree as any other adolescents during their student years. I find this positive attitude very refreshing and think it is about time. How do you relate to that?
Most of the cast and crew was indeed female and gay, not all. For this series, it was cool that there was a lot of personal understanding of being gay and of gay love and sex. I never felt uncomfortable; everyone was on the same page and felt connected to the series and that’s a very good vibe to have on a set. I don’t mind male coworkers at all, but sometimes it is nice to have a few more women on set to have a good balance of the energy though.
I think it is really important to stop looking at being gay as a problem that you should feel ashamed about. Of course coming out is often difficult and can be very scary, but we shouldn’t only show the negative things about being gay on TV shows and in films. If you want people to look at it as being just as normal as being straight, then we should focus on it being normal.
I liked how you present yourself in your bio, saying that you are a cisgender woman whose sexual orientation is homosexual. This made me think that you are aware of the importance that lesbian characters are played by lesbian actresses. I often see straight actresses saying that sexual orientation does not matter in playing a role or that sexual orientation does not matter since we are all more or less bisexual. How do you reply to that?
I believe that sexual orientation can help a lot when playing a gay role. It gives a deeper understanding of a role and you can make sure that it doesn’t accidentally get stereotyped. It gives a certain realness that just adds something extra. But on the other hand, I also think that an actor should be able to play a lot of different roles. If I only got to play gay roles because I’m gay, it would be very difficult for me to get any work. There are straight actors that do a great job playing a gay character, but I also have seen this go wrong a lot of times. It’s a topic that still doesn’t have enough commercial content, so why not give gay actors the few gay roles that are there and give them a chance of getting those stories out? I somehow feel responsible as an actress to help tell these stories to a bigger audience, and it feels good to be a part of it.
About women playing lesbians and telling that sexual orientation doesn’t matter because we are all more or less bisexual, I believe in “the spectrum”: in some cases people are really in the middle of the spectrum. But really, being able to fall in love with both sexes, with girls just as deeply and hard as with boys, is a rare thing. I understand straight love because I compare it to what I know, which is lesbian love. And that’s probably a different relationship, but the feeling of love could be the same. So when I play a straight role, I play the idea I have about straight love and when I play a gay role, I play the love I truly, personally, know as love. It’s a bit hard to explain; I might be a bit all over the place here…hahah…but I don’t know how to say it in a better way.
I watched an interview on the show “Margriet van der Linden” with the aforementioned director and screenwriter and actress Hanna van Vliet and learned that it is the first Dutch lesbian TV series. I was a bit surprised that such a liberal and progressive country as the Netherlands only got its first lesbian TV series in 2018 and that lesbians aren't so much represented in Dutch movies and TV series. Why? And how do you find life for LGBT people, their job, marriage, family and social aspects in the Netherlands?
In a lot of things, the Dutch are progressive. And when it comes to being gay, they’re finding this more and more okay. But still in the representation of gay men and women there is definitely not enough. It is still stranger than I would want it to be, and the representation that there is makes the stereotyped, troubled image of gay people even worse. I live in Amsterdam, and I’m surrounded with great loving friends and most of them are gay, so I don’t know if I have the best opinion on this. I sometimes get so surprised when I'm with straight people and I’m “coming out” again that the reactions are mostly a bit shocked and they often change the way they look at you, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But it still happens, and it fascinates me how people can still change the image they have of you by the knowledge of who you love, what gender you love. I’m happy that ANNE+ is not doing anything with these stereotypes and prejudices that people have, and that this series is about love and about being young and finding your way in life like any 20-year old.
Do you think film should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships) and a world in which people's origin, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity, colour, status don't matter?
Absolutely, yes! Film can inspire people or make people see things in a different way. But if you want to talk to a big audience, you probably have to take it easy and show it in more subtle ways, just as if it’s the most normal thing ever. Those kind of films are very important and there should be more of it! And also more female leads that are not a girl falling in love with the cute guy.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
I find inspiration in a lot of things and art forms and the genres are very diverse. I love strong female characters in film and theatre. I have a weak spot for the funny, strong women in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I love the theatrical style and humor of Wes Anderson. Roy Andersson also has a dark, theatrical humor and tragedy which I love. And the darkness and psychedelic films of Lars von Trier. But I don’t know who my biggest inspiration is. Maybe they are all in my head together, combined as one. For me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic. I want to believe it, of course, but the style and form can be totally weird.
I do theatre a lot. Currently I’m in three different plays which I perform with a few other actors in high schools. Theatre is something I love to do, and I would love to keep on doing it. But I also want to do more in film and explore that part of acting more, which I do in smaller film projects at the moment. Because I really like doing it and it has such a different audience and different way of working and acting. And of course maybe a season 2 of ANNE+, who knows…
Ness Simons you a screenwriter and filmmaker from Wellington, New Zealand. You created and directed a 'Pot Luck', a New Zealand’s first lesbian web series which won several nominations and got several awards. The series, six-part 'dramedy' about three 30- and 40-something lesbian friends follows Debs (Nikki Si'ulepa), Mel (Anji Kreft) and Beth (Tess Jamieson - Karaha) as the three friends negotiate friendship, family and finding love at their weekly pot luck dinners. You wrote that inspiration for the series came from the many pot luck dinners you were to over the years, and the scores of characters and stories came from such an occasion, can you elaborate that? I came out when I was really young and over a couple of decades I've shared so many different experiences with lesbians and women who love women, including a bunch of pot luck dinners! Whether it was with a group of close friends or a broader community event, getting together and sharing food is such a strong connector and always good for the soul. I've seen the whole range of emotions at these dinners, and all types of people, so it felt like a natural setting to bring a bunch of characters together.
You also said that each character in the web series is part of your character too, in which way? So much of my writing is reflective of my world and my experiences and I find myself peppering these through my work. The characters are not exactly me but we share some traits, or outlooks, or maybe we respond to things in the same way, so there's little bits of me in each of them, but there's probably also little bits of my family, or friends, or people I've met in each of them too. One of the fun parts of developing the characters further with the actors is to explore where the characters thoughts and feelings come from... it can be enlightening!
I believe that Pot Luck is not only universal, it is also quite unique in the way that brings attention to lesbians and universal topics through food which is in every culture connected with values, such as family, love, friendship, parents, special occasions, new beginnings, etc. and in this sense it reminds me a bit of a lesbian movie Nina's Heavenly Delights which also revolves around food while combating prejudices towards and acceptance of homosexuality. However, Pot Luck is beyond that, and goes further by presenting everyday lives of lesbians which is beyond struggle of acceptance although we partly see that through Beth's story and really tries to show everyday lives of women which happen to be lesbians. Currently there are two seasons with Mel and Beth found love, Mel acquiring self-respect and self-confidence and Deb accepting Beth having a new partner, are you planning the third season and if yes, what we can expect to come for your characters, Deb, Mel and Beth? The 'everyday lives' exploration has been a huge part of the vision for me as I think historically there's been a real lack of authentic positive representations of lesbians and queer women on screen. I wanted to address this in a way that was fun and had heart, yes these characters are flawed and their lives are chaotic, but they're all just trying to do their best to be good people. We have thought a lot about a third season, there's certainly a lot of interest in it, but unfortunately challenges with funding and time mean it's unlikely to happen. There may not be more 'Pot Luck' but there are certainly other projects in the pipeline and I hope to give the audience more diverse characters and storylines in the future.
How much would you like 'educate' the audience also regarding self-acceptance and self-respect through the story of Mel and Beth? We see both struggling, one through self-image and other through coming out to her mother in the first season which they finally resolve in the second season, thus third season would be really appropriate to see how they fully live their lives. I always set out to allow an audience to meet these characters and to discover that there's probably heaps they have in common, rather than obviously 'educate'. One of the things I've found really interesting is how often I've heard from heterosexual guys who really connect with Debs character and her sense of fear and feelings of not fitting in, they were so surpirsed to see themselves in her and in the most gentle way it has helped to change their views of what a butch woman is. Yes, there are so many possibilities for another season and the stories that might come through for these characters. It's been so rewarding to see how much the audience has engaged with each of them, and how invested they are in their lives, I wish I could continue into another season to explore all this on screen!
You have full-time job as head tutor at the New Zealand Film & Television School in Wellington. And before you were a business owner, working in the pizza chain’s original Kelburn store, then opened one franchise and bought another, selling up six years later to do the one-year course at film school. What made you change a career, was being a scriptwriter and director something you long wished for? I had always been interested in writing and first studied writing when I was 20, but then got caught up in work and business and went down a different path for a few years. When I sold my business I realised that I wanted to act on my passion and so off I went to Film School to find out what it was all about. I've been working in the industry ever since.
Do you teach your students the importance of a proper representation of the LGBTI characters and do you think it matters that writing and directing about LGBTI characters comes from members of our community? I am a huge advocate for diversity on screen across the board, it's time to change the historically narrow representations of anyone who sits outside the 'mainstream'. Part of this is how I approach my own work, and also how I have conversations with students and other filmmakers about diversity and inclusion, representation, and the power we have as storytellers to impact the beliefs and understanding of individuals and society. For me inclusion is a massive part of this equasion - I don't necessarily think that all LGBTI+ characters have to be written from members of our community, but I think community voices should be included in the conversation through feedback on scripts, or co-writing, or directors and actors doing their research in order to position themselves to create strong representations rather than re-creating damaging stereotypes. It's not possible for any one writer or director or actor to be all things they may be representing on screen, but it is possible for them to do the work to become informed and aware of what they are putting out into the world. I personally value the authenticity of telling stories from within the community by including diverse voices on both sides of the camera and make this a big part of the kaupapa of my work.
Do you think that lesbian roles should be played by lesbian actresses? Yesterday I read this quote regarding the film Ammonite with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan having a lesbian romance. Film is based on Mary Anning's life story and a member of Anning's family, Barbara Anning, said: "I believe if Mary Anning was gay she should be portrayed as gay and this should also be by a gay actress'. I was pleasantly surprised that people start seeing the importance of sexual orientation of the actresses while playing a certain character. As a filmmaker exploring diverse characters I am all too aware of the catch-22 for a lot of LGBTQI+ actors - they are often forced to hide their sexuality in order to fit the mainstream roles, or if they do look 'too different' there are so few roles it's not possible for them to remain viable and stay in the industry. I think that wherever possible the opportunity for LGBTQI+ actors to portray characters that reflect their identity is a powerful thing. I also think that all actors should be able to work and research and explore the humanity and emotion in their characters in order to bring a strong and authentic portrayal to the screen.
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships and world in which people's origin, colour, status, beliefs don't matter much)? I think screen art can both reflect the world as it is and has been, and show what the world could be too. There are films that have changed the world and brought attention to issues or topics, and there are also those that have done damage by reinforcing crappy representations or negative stereotypes. Each storyteller has to choose which pile they want their work to sit on, but I know for myself I want to create characters and stories that help people understand more about themselves and those around them.
Aistė Diržiūtė you are best known for the role of Austė in The Summer of Sangaile (Lithuanian: Sangailė or Sangailės Vasara) by Alanté Kavaïté for which you became the first Lithuanian actress named as one of the European Shooting Stars, alongside actors such as Maisie Williams and Moe Dunford at Berlin Film Festival in 2015. You also won the award for Best Lithuanian Actress at the Vilnius International Film Festival and was nominated for both Sidabrinė gervė and KINFO awards. How that made you feel and what attracted you to the role of Austė?
It wasn’t my awards, it was our awards. Without director, crew and of course Julija, I couldn’t have done anything. Maybe because from the very beginning we were all focused on the idea and how to spread it, we didn’t think about a journey the film could have, so everything what came after was a big and pleasant surprise. Though my most important award is people who decided to come out, to change their lives, find and accept themselves after watching The Summer of Sangaile.
When I was invited for the first audition for Auste, I was so impressed by the amount of similarities I have with her as a character. My mother is a sewer, so I knew how to sew, favourite Auste’s song was my entry’s exam to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre song etc. On the second round I’ve met with Julija, who is actually my very very very old and dear friend. We know each other since we were 13 years old, we were very close friends and when we reached 16-17 we just stopped talking, nothing happened, just our lives have changed, and we’ve met in audition room after not seeing each other for around 3 years. This part was crazy and it was more or less clear that a destiny brought us there to make that film together. After a film we became inseparable. Being more particular about Auste, I was really impressed by that kind of a character, positive and happy lesbian character, who knows herself, who is confident and who is accepted by her family (mother). Usually LGBT characters are shown in more melancholic way and I think we need to show more positive stories to inspire the ones who are still fighting with their sexuality to accept themselves and enjoy the love.
Can you tell us where your inspiration, knowledge, perhaps even experiences came from for playing Austė? For sure there was a good guidance by the director Kavaïté, however the way you portrayed the role it depended solely on you.
Me, Julija and Alante (director) became friends, we were spending a lot of time together, talking a lot and just enjoying our time together even before shootings. That helped us a lot during all the process, we were friends who built a world together and lived in it for some months. As it was my first ever role in a film, I was following Alante and absorbing every word of her. Though all of her guidance worked with everything what I’ve had in mind about Auste. First of all I’ve found an animal of her which is fox. Auste is cute and charming fox and sometimes a Teddy Bear, when you really need it. I am a ‘giver’ one by myself, so just needed to work on that part of mine even more and be very open, loving and sincere. For the lesbian sex part of the character, I watched The L World and talked a loooot with my lesbian friends, because we wanted to make it as real and beautiful as possible. To get the flow for the character I watched many films from 40s, 50s and 60s and listened a lot of music from that time. And I was madly in love at that time, that probably helped too : ))
Do you think that sexual orientation of the actresses and/or director matter in making a lesbian film? I know acting is acting and good acting shouldn't influence the performance of which ever form of love portrays, however do you think that a certain experience adds to the quality of the role portrayed? Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, equal, free, democratic relationships and world)?
I don’t think that sexual orientation or gender matters. I do believe that everyone of us is bisexual, some more into heterosexual part, some more into homosexual part, some equally in love in both genders. I don’t think that I would play a lesbian character better if I would have had more experience with girls, after all, love is what matters. It would be worse if I would have never been in love before the shooting.
I think film or in general art shouldn’t portray certain values or attitudes just because it’s progressive or trendy now, you should want to talk about it and care a lot about that matter. However nowadays I see another a bit dangerous thing when many people try to talk about it just because it’s “not good not to talk about it” without really caring, believing and changing the world.
I read that after playing Austė you, your co-star Julija Steponaitytė (who played Sangailė) and director Kavaïté got many love letters, how that made you feel?
Surprised and inspired! I could have never imagine how many people from all over the world would be inspired by the film and get connected with characters and the story. The most amazing thing is that even though the film was released in 2015, we still get so many beautiful letters from people who got inspired by The Summer of Sangaile! People’s love is the greatest award.
In 2016 you stared in Kings' Shift directed by Ignas Miškinis and the short film Back directed by Gabrielė Urbonaitė. Both films premiered at the Vilnius International Film Festival. Can you tell us about those roles and alongside the role in The Pagan King (2018)?
Julija, Alina and Lauga. All of them are very different. Julija in Kings’ Shift is typical up and coming millenial, who doesn’t care much about anything but fun and easy life. She works at the private hospital as a nurse, just because her grandpa was an important doctor etc. That kind of a person, who is not bad by herself, she just grew up in particular circumstances. She has everything, but in fact doesn’t have anything. She is lost and she doesn’t even understand that. Alina in Back was more or less a small and joyful cameo in my friend and really good director Gabriele Urbonaite film. Lauga in The Pagan King is my first ever lead female role in English were I worked with such an amazing actors like Edvin Endre and James Bloor. Lauga is a pagan girl who became queen and managed to remain that wild spirit. I had to learn how to throw knives, fight with swords, ride a horse, hold grass snakes in my hands, get well super fast with dogs and of course how to love and trust without any doubt. Julija, Alina and Lauga were such a pleasure and joy to live in!
You played Marina Malich in Kharms by Ivan Bolotnikov (2017). How come you decided for that role and you played Joana in Ashes in the Snow (so called Baltic Schindler's List, 2018) based on the best-selling book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Both films are about the times of the Soviet Union.
Marina came to me out of the blue. Casting director just wrote me on Facebook and asked if I can speak in Russian, I said “no, but I can learn” and that’s how it all started. Beautiful journey of Marina, from shootings in Saint Petersburg to the premiere in Shanghai IFF. One friend was helping me with a language, another friend was translating a small book of Marina memoirs from Russian to Lithuanian and all people around were just supporting me a lot. I fell in love with her from the first sentences, such a character! Such a story! Filmmakers should make a film based on her life, seriously! I would always remember my days off and shooting days in Saint Petersburg, walking around city, museums and exploring everything through Marina’s eyes.
Ashes in the Snow is a very special film for me too. It all started with readings of script some years before shootings and ended up with a beautiful story based on a great book. Joana is that sparkle of joy and happiness in a scary, sad and tough world in Siberia that reminds you about the bright days before the war.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? I watched an interview where you mention actresses like Merly Streep, Irene Jacob, Tilda Swinton and Ingrid Bergman as your biggest inspiration.
Love. In all possible and impossible ways and senses, love is my biggest inspiration. Love for people, world, life and amor. Actors, books, films, art, fights for good, it all melts in the power of love.
I’m very superstitious and never talk about the future, because I know very well from my own experience, if I say something, that usually doesn’t happen or happens in a bit different way. So let’s say, we’ll see.
1. Viv Schiller and Germana Bello, Brazilian screenwriters, co-creators and producers of the excellent lesbian Web series RED (2014-). I read several interviews with you two about the series and what you wished to accomplish with it. I don't wish you repeat the same story again and again, however some of our readers do not know the story. Can you please tell us what the four seasons of the RED are about, what is it between Liz Malmo (Ana Paula Lima) and Mel Béart (Luciana Bollina) that is so appealing to lesbian and bisexual women all around the world: it seems like you followed a certain story-and love-telling structure: in first season there was an attraction between Liz and Mel, then there was desire for each other, after that was fulfillment of the desire and in fourth it was about trust and fidelity while acknowledging and engaging into a long-term relationship? Where the main idea for the the first lesbian-themed Brazilian story came from?
Germana: Yes, that’s basically how the story unfolds throughout the seasons. Additionally, I would say that Mel and Liz’s story is not just about love but also about self-exploration. It’s about being in a relationship that confronts you with questions about yourself, about who you are and what you really want from life. It’s been a long journey for both of them since Season 1 not only as a couple but also as individuals. So, even when they are going through that journey side by side, there’s the solitary aspect of it, and both of them have changed a lot.
Viv: It came from the idea of telling a love story that is genuine and, at the same time, realistic - one that other women could relate to.
2. What I found especially intriguing, engaging and with added value is that each component of the series, script, directing, scenography, music has an added value in itself: first there is a great love story, actresses have an incredible chemistry and their acting provide with the plausibility of their love story, visuals are highly artistic (through use of the paintings in the first season, through use of the occasional blurred picture in the second and the third season), music seems to tell or add another layer to the story, like an additional line of the script, directing is brilliant in a way that organize all components in a good composed unity and we get a highly artistic product. In this sense your series truly stands out and we rarely see it nowadays: how come you decided for such a highly artistic product for a webseries and most importantly lesbian webseries?
Viv: That only goes to show that we can have a low-budget series that is as creative as a high-budget one, regarless of its genre or content. But, mainly, we wanted to deliver a good story with the best quality possible - technical-wise. Also, the talent of everyone involved is something quite relevant and I am very proud of our team.
Germana: RED, like any other cinema or TV content, is a co-creation, and we were lucky enough to have so many talented people reunited to bring it to life from the start. Everyone in this collaborative process adds some kind of value to what we are creating and plays a part in what we have as a final product. As for the aesthetics and the artistic quality of the series, I have to acknowledge Fernando’s work. His sensibility as a director and as a cinematographer has a major role in what we have accomplished.
3. Do you think that sexual orientation of the screenwriter(s) or film director matter in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline, if yes why?
Viv: I think so, yes. Not only because it helps develop a more genuine story, but also because the process of creating the characters comes from a place of understanding.
Germana: Yes, I think it does. But, mostly, because LGBTQ+ stories have been told by straight creators for so long and I think it’s time for us LGBTQ+ creators own our narratives. On the other hand, as creators, I don’t think we should limit our stories to our own experiences. Understanding can also come from putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and empathize with what they go through being who they are. That said, I still believe it’s possible for straight creators telling good LGBTQ+ themed stories.
4. Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)? For instance, philosopher Walter Benjamin thought that art should be politically and culturally engaged; for philosopher Alan Badiou art is a production of infinite subjective series and experiences (which should aim toward creating peace), for Jean Beaudrillard art is nothing more then simulation, however. What do you think?
Viv: I think art has to be relatable. Doesn't necessarily has to portray values. It just has to be as relatable as possible.
Germana: I think art should be anything the artist wants it to be. If it comes from a genuine place, if it has some truth within it, it will have something valuable to state and add to people’s lives.
5. What are your experiences and impressions from Clexa-Con Even in April this year, you were the only international crew that attended it, how was meeting your fans? Why do you think you have such a wide range of fans from all over the world and how do you feel about it?
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational.
Viv: I wasn't there myself, but REDlovers are so supportive of our show I'm just glad that we have them by our side. We have more supporters than I could ever consider having. They're such sweethearts!
6. Can you tell us what comes next for Liz and Mel in the fifth season?
Viv: Can't. Sorry. Mel and Liz won't let me. :)
Germana: So, I guess I’ll be the one to spill some beans… Without giving to much away, I would say the journey in Season 5 will be more like a soul searching for both Liz and Mel. They will be trying to come to terms with who they are now after everything they have gone through together.
7. What are your biggest inspirations (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
Viv: Tough question. But I really like realistic stories. I like scandinavian films, and I am a big admirer of people who are awfully good with words. I love writers. Best artistic category ever. :)
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational. As for the international feedback, we’ve always meant to create something that could resonate with people worldwide so I’m glad we've succeed.
Kelly Manoudi, you are project coordinator and youth worker specialized in human rights education in Euphoria Youth Organization, Greece. Can you tell me more about your work and how it is connected to work with LGBTI people?
Dear Katarina, first of all I would like to thank you for your invitation. Its a pleasure to talk with activists and open-minded people like you. My approach to LGBT people started long-time ago, it was during my high school years. Actually the first time I heard the term homosexual was after the death of Freddie Mercury and the same time I heard so much hate speech about him and for homosexuals.
Although I didn't have any gay people (as far as I know) in my family environment, I had some basic knowledge what homosexuality was about and I couldn't understand why gay and trans people should face such discrimination for being different. I noticed that inside my classmates there were people that did not match to the stereotype girl or boy. I started talking closely to them and slowly they reveal their secret. From that moment I realized that I wanted to stand by them and support them in the point that I could.
The years went by and taking part to several European projects together with the feeling of an active citizen I was directed to youth work and project management of European and international projects.
Being a youth worker means that you work with and for young people. You have to listen, understand, support and empower them to their way from childhood to adult life.
Among the many young people that I have met during my work, there were also LGBTI people. Most of them, specially the teenagers, do not have the courage to express themselves openly, so they hide their ID. In these cases I try to make them feel comfortable, to trust me and then to see how I can help them.
You have concluded a two year European project Facing Homophobia For an Inclusive Job: what the project was about, who were your project partners and how did you choose them, what each partner contributed and how? Where do you plan to disseminate your results?
The project 'Facing Homophobia For an Inclusive Job' was a biannual project which aimed to fight the discriminations at workplace against LGBTI people. We organized several events like trainings, debates and networks at local, national and international level.
My project partners were Giolli cooperative from Italy (which was the applicant organization) and PiNA organization from Slovenia. Giolli aims in creating a more peaceful, fair and democratic world using mainly Boal's theatre method, Paulo Freire's pedagogical approach, Active no-violence and Community Development Approach. Pina association for culture and education is based in Koper, Slovenia is an organization for social development and they contribute to the project by making the final video and teaching the method 'Loesje'. From my side I was responsible for the coordination of the trainings held in Greece and for the editing of the handbook.
The final, lets say, products of this project is a handbook and a video which promote the LGBTI’s inclusion in the labour market. The video is already online, you can find it on YouTube and the handbook will be realized very soon in English, Italian, Greek, Spanish, French and Slovenian language.
One of the project results is also a handbook for LGBTI inclusion in the labour market. Whom this handbook is for and how can it be used?
This handbook is useful for each person working in the field of anti-discrimination towards LGBTI people, both professionals and activists, trainers, educators, adult education providers, Center for Employment officers, decision makers, responsible of Public Institutions related to the topic, etc. because it provides tools to organize training in companies, trade-unions, LGBTI associations in order to strengthen the skills to tackle discrimination. Even if the focus is about “discrimination against LGBTI people in the labour market” most of the activities can be used in several contexts about different topics.
Do you think that sexual orientation and/or sexual identity with such projects comes at handy or it does not matter at all?
From my personal involvement in projects which promotes the issue of sexual identity I can tell you that the results are very positive. It is a big opportunity to talk in public about it, to inform, to educate and finally to break stereotypes. With the project FHOFIJ I had the change to approach people from LGBTI community, to interact and learn from them, to make friendships, even to participate for the first time in a Pride parade in Greece!
Greece is one of the countries that sexual education in public and some private schools does not exists. The results of this absence are not only negative for LGBT pupils because of bullying but also unwanted pregnancy for teenage girls. Even gender-based crimes have roots in bad or not haveing any sexual education in school.
What are your other important projects you would like to tell us about?
One project that I was coordinating last year was about gender issues called “Fighting Gender Inequality through Youth Work”. The goal of this capacity building project was to promote gender equal society by strengthening competencies of CSO's representatives coming from participating organizations to tackle roots of gender inequality and effectively respond on them. The objectives were reached through mobility and capacity building activities including kick of meeting, seminar, training courses, study visits, job shadowing, local training and evaluation meeting. Key project activities were based on non-formal learning and target group of these activities were youth workers interested in gender.
What inspires you most in your work and in your personal life, where your inspiration comes?
I love working with young people specially teenagers because they are our hope for a better future. I want to empower them so that they can get to know themselves and not be afraid to take initiatives in order to improve their lives. Personally, what I enjoy most is travelling and meeting interesting people. My inspiration is my family and my close friends, I want to make a better world for them, at least I want to try.
At last but not least, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
This year and for the next one I am working on a project called 'Generation Europe - Young Democracy in Action'. During this project 30 youth work organizations from 15 European countries are working together in trilateral partnerships with the aim, to excite youths from different backgrounds, especially those with fewer opportunities,for political activity on a local and European level. The main topic of GenE is Active European Citizenship (AEC). A central focus will be on problems identified by youths on local levels, which are then worked on with democratic methods on the European level. By working on specific problems related to their life world politics should be shown to be more than parliamentarian's and involvement with political parties. However, the connection between the local and European level is especially important for the project. Through continuous exchange in European groups (digitally via a platform and personal meetings in youth exchanges) the youths should reflect their local situation and recognize the European dimension of the problem. Europe thus becomes tangible and connected to their life world.
My future plans is to organize mobilities for young people further than Europe, to Asia and Africa.
I hope that youth will be better as adults as we are now.
Everybody has their own taste – AND THAT IS OKAY
Kamala Katarina Gjorgijevska you really live a fulfilled life. Since you came from Macedonia, you had a partner in Ljubljana for many years, you are culinary artist, chef and author of creative recipes, you participated in various shows, documentaries and even reality shows, such as The Farm – A Fresh Start and in MasterChef Slovenia 2016, can you tell me a little more about yourself? When and why did you come to Ljubljana, what do you do at the moment?
I came to Slovenia in 2005, to the Hare Krishna Center in Ljubljana. I am an adventurer, and there have been a dozen years of exploration of myself and my tastes in Ljubljana. I am a person who likes to explore and research new tastes in life. I believe that if you do not spice life on your own, your life will be spiced by the others. I like to try things which nurture and nourish my soul and are primarily connected to personal growth and my achievements. What I am capable of and what I can do? I do not compete with the others, but with myself. Achieved dreams have the sweetest taste for me. At the moment, I focus on tasting another dream, namely, to meet Ellen Degeneres: I presented her three ideas for which I need a video production she does. This is for the moment what I want from her. About everything else in the future we will talk later.
Kamala, when we started to talk about doing this interview, you told me that you do not wish to be labeled as a lesbian, and that you want to explain why 'Kamala, a lesbian, says she is not a lesbian'?
Indeed, it's true. I'm not a lesbian. Like I am not a vegan, but in both cases, I prefer to have plumes than sausages. What I am looking in life is taste. It is not a man or a woman, but it is about energy. Is it or is it not? I do not limit and define my sexuality to and by the word. Energy is free, unlimited. The labels confine me in my (re)search about what I like. That does not mean I am BI. I would like to say that we are in this body on our journey as souls.
As far as I know, you published a wonderful cooking card book Taste your dreams together with your former partner, Katarina Čuk. On 48 cards you can find more than 88 creative simple vegetarian-vegan recipes. In addition, cards of the dishes also complements 48 positive thoughts. Can you give us a little more insight into these cards and what does it mean saying 'that each one has its own taste': it must be a special challenge for you knowing there are so many tastes as people and how can you satisfy many?
Cards are the fruits of my imagination. I believed in them and Katarina (ex-partner) supported me. These cards were my long-standing wish. I talked to my friends about my wish. Every time we met, they asked me how my cookbook was going, and I always told them: I was gona do it. A few years passed by and I suddenly realized that if I did not roll up my sleeves, wrote recipes and cooked what I said, I would be hungry. Only the desire to cook something could not satisfy me. And so, the cards were created, and they teach you to take lessons in the kitchen as an opportunity for growth in life. They are encouragement for all people who have a dream and would like to taste them, but they do not know how. I share my recipe of how to taste my dreams and, in the case of recipes, I allow every individual to eat the dishes in their own taste.
And given that I mention that everyone has their own taste all the time, I realized that I could not satisfy every individual with my food. However, I can surely offer new adventures in culinary arts and prepare the usual things in a creative way. We all eat but we have not yet thought that we can cook it in this or that way. So it's not about what, but how.
In my documentary Attraction of Gender, you performed with Katarina Čuk as partners: can you say more about what attracted you to take part in my documentary and if you would like to share a word or two about why you broke up with her after 10 years of relationship?
I feel attracted to be in the open and not hiding anything, I am what I am, no matter where and who I am. I am person who likes freedom and freedom of speech is of great importance to me. I and Katarina were active in many projects. We were revolutionaries and we had our own ways: we responded to things we perceived as interesting and useful to our planet. The Attraction of the gender was a great project to complement our mission FullBlissLiving for all!
I and Katarina share our history. She's my family. She is the person who will always remain part of me because of the the things we went through and not many people wouldn't survive that: during this time we both have personally grown so much that we no longer wanted to lie that everything was cool and that it was a dream relationship that we both wanted. We like each other and we continue to work. I am bound by our two cats, Luna and Simha. We have two kids. We must continue to cooperate.
Together you have an entrepreneurial project FullBlissLiving. You two already published the recipe cards book, opened the YouTube channel, and designed mobile application 'Taste Your Dream', which intent to "add stories with culinary content and personal growth from around the world". How does the application run and is it successful?
The app is ready and is waiting for a great presentation at The Ellen Show.
I joke a bit, but not all of it. You know, every thing needs time to cook. But in order for the thing to cook, we need a powerful fire. In order to make the dish even more tasty, it sometimes need cooking for a longer time on a "quieter" fire. It works as if nothing is happening at the time, but it is precisely at that time that dish is about ready to be served.
You also participated as one of the competitors in the reality show The Farm – A Fresh Start? What attracted you to participate in such a show and what are your impressions? Could you feel any latent bias towards homo-and bisexuality as well as latent homophobia?
In that time, I was totally engaged in creating our YouTube video channel FullBlissLiving, therefore I spent a lot of time in front of the camera creating video clips that inspired me to do more and better work. I wanted to improve my performance in front of the camera, and after 100 recorded videos, I got the desire to test myself in a large media production. I was interested in the show business. I came to learn. Every experience counts and because of such courageous steps I become even more courageous for the new big steps in life.
There would be no homophobia if it was not promoted in the media, and because it is so strongly present in the media and in the newspapers, it is happening. Otherwise, the world is beautiful. We all want to be accepted and in this context I would like to connect to the above question 'why am I not a lesbian'? Because labels, such as Muslim, Hindi, Bosnian, German, gay and lesbian separate, instead converge.
You were also one of the 16 contestants of The MasterChef Slovenia 2016 (2nd season). What was that experience compared to the Farm – A Fresh Start, or could you even compare them?
My performance in second MasterChef's Slovenia is the biggest achievement of all my performances so far. I had a great show. Of the 16 competitors in MasterChef Slovenia, I came among the top 5. I was doing what pleased me. I studied and progressed. I am glad that I said YES to many things and that I responded to this invitation, it was the best decision in my life. I had a great time. Wherever I go around the world, MasterChef apron with my name opens the door for me.
I have read that you include in your new projects your former teammates from The MasterChef show, how and why did you decide that?
I like to connect with people. Miha Kačič and Kristina Mohorič were the first two. You can watch them in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6luwNpQc2A and here:
Was your blog KamalaSutra the result of those experiences and youtube project? Namely, blog KamalaSutra aims at having artistic erotic cooking show, in which cooks involved would decorate their creations not on the plates but on the bodies of the most beautiful Slovenian celebrities. I find this really interesting and daring idea. Probably, it is going to be made for all sexual orientations?
That is right! KamalaSutra 1001 night is my culinary show, which I'm currently completely focused on. What, how and why? When I find the right video production, I will tell you everything about it. For now, I can definitely say that it will be for everyone who wants to explore and play in a creative way. A man with a man. A woman with a woman and a man with a woman or a woman with a man. Anyway. Each will be able to choose according to her/his own taste. Delicious dishes and ideas of how your lovers or long-term partners could spice up dinners and breakfasts in bed. Does it appeal to you?
I find it very interesting that you wish to meet Ellen. Sometimes I look at her show, and laugh from her heart, but sometimes I remember her breakthrough, revolutionary beginnings in comedy Ellen: at that time it was truly revolutionary, that through various subtexts she revealed lesbianism on television. How do you look at her show and what you would like to offer her or why you want to meet her?
Ellen is a legend. On the other hand, she is 'my sister from another mister'. I wish to meet her because I would like to present her the KamalaSutra idea and she can introduce me to some of her Hollywood friends. For my another idea, I need actors, and Ellen could help me here as well. The third wish is related to the cats and because Ellen is a cat lover. I know that when Ellen will hear all these ideas, she will be enthusiastic and supportive. Does anybody know her? Contact me, please.
What does it mean to you that you are a vlogger? Is this the way you want to make people aware of everything you are and more: what vlog offers better or other from the book or a show?
Vloggin to me personally means a chance for self-acceptance. By shooting video I watch myself, my performance, my presence. I see who I am. I can look at myself from another perspective. I saw what I was. I can say that vlogging is a great mirror which shows you who you are, where you are and where you could go if you do not give up.
Where do you take your optimism, courage, openness and inspiration from?
From my failures, successes, joys and sorrows ... from having to accept first of all that life is like that. That is the way it always is and will be. Otherwise, it's not easy for me. I always have to find the strength, and I find it. If we do not give up, we become stronger and you also realize that if you lose one battlefield it does not mean that you completely lost the whole battle. In this sense, I tell everyone about my dreams to everyone, and this drives me to reach them. If no one knows what you want, and if you do not achieve that, there is no panic because nobody knows about your wishes. Well, I wish others to know. Kamala goes to The Ellen Show. When? Tomorrow.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new love?
There is a lot of love and I have a lot of plans too. Ideas are coming and coming. You can watch my latest work at www.kamalasutra.com.
Leticia De Bortoli, you are Canadian writer, producer and film director who made a very good TV mini series Queering this year. Where did you get the idea for the story? Namely, having an older woman (Val) coming out at 60 years old and posting coming out on youtube is really unique idea we haven't seen before in any other LB-films and TV-or Web-series. It is also refreshing to see an older woman so ful of life, energetic and open to embrace new ideas, new life-style and accepting dating.
Just a small correction am I actually Brazillian.
The core conflicts of Queering came from my relationship with my mother. She didn’t necessarily came out as bi, but I started to see her trying to discover herself, try new things way later in life and I though that situation of women of her generation was very interesting. Have lived their “younger years” with a lot restriction and 1/10 of the freedom we have and now later in life have more space for their own whishes and desires.
In Queering series you tackle another stereotype or the same stereotype you also tackle through Val, namely regarding bisexuality. Bisexuality as a stereotypical label in LGTIQ-community has been present through the whole series. Why did you decide to present it in the series? I also like how Val's daughter Harper expresses the same prejudices towards bisexuality as many other LGTIQ-members and how she finally comes to terms that her mother is bisexual.
A lot comes from my personal life. I’m a lesbian woman and often displayed Harper’s behavior in the past. Maybe to try to affirm myself, or to follow what other where doing. But as an adult, with many bisexual friends and started to think about why we replicate this microaggressions towards bisexuals even though we know how hurtful it is.
You currently work on writing and producing second season, can you tell us a bit about what or how is going to unfold, maybe Val getting a girlfriend, will Harper finally got over her former girlfriend of 10 years?
Yes! Harper will have some sort of closure with her ex. And Val will experience life past the “coming out” phase, which quiet often if the harder thing to handle. We also have a lot of knew characthers joining!
Do you think that sexual orientation of the writer, director and actresses is important while doing LB films and series? I mean, I wouldn't say that it is at utmost importance, however I would think that it can contribute to a better understanding of the topic written, directed and played, is that correct? It is interesting how we hear today straight actresses saying they can play LB-roles as good as LB-actresses.
Honestly, I think it is important. We had our stories told by the “straight lens” for so long, and ends up being empty and not as close to reality. We all have different experiences as Queer people, but also very universal ones that we can all relate. I don’t think you must be queer to write/direct queer content, but I would for sure partner or consult with someone who actually lived those experiences.
You also made short films: in 2015 you co-produced and wrote Ada. A young woman struggles to set free from the mental and physical harm of an abusive relationship and another film, A beauty shot about a young woman tries to find peace with her self image using a controversial and disturbing product. What made you wish to do these two short films and where did you get inspiration from? Is there any lesson in these two stories you wish to convey?
Both Ada and Beauty Shot come as very natural ideas. Domestic violence is an issue close to home for me and that deeply disturbs me. That pressure of beauty and how that affects women is probably close to home for all of us. So whatever I think about it a lot, ends up on the page. I don’t think I ever attempt to convey a lesson, I guess I just hope to promote some reflection.
It is also intersting you made a short film Meu Nome é Clint (2014). A day in life of a man whose idol is Clint Eastwood. Unfortunately, not everyone in the real world understands this man with no name. This is interesting, where did you get an idea for film and why exactly Clint Eastwood and not some other famous Hollywood name?
I directed this piece, but the story was created by the lead actor Mario Luiz. Who’s a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. He invited me to direct, and I got really excited and joined him.
What is your biggest inspiration and where do you get your inspiration from the most?
I think my biggest inspiration is other people’s work. From friends to huge famous filmmakers. When I watch something amazing, I get inspired to work. I don’t think I have a source of inspiration, everything I write is about things that I can’t stop thinking about. And those are unpredictable.
What are you plans for the future projects?
I want to keep investing in Queering, but I also have a feature script about being queer in rural Brazil that I hope to produce in 2019. And also an new webseries idea, some queer Sci-Fi.
Iva van Hoek, student at Faculty of Arts, a Dutch teacher and LGBT-activist in Association DIH – Equal Under the Rainbow. What brought you to Slovenia and what do you do and what activities do you do at DIH?
I moved to Slovenia primarily because of my studies, and I later found out that this was an excellent decision for many more reasons. I study psychology, I teach Dutch and I volunteer for the associations DIH and Legebitra. At DIH I facilitate the Lezbofé and I am coordinator of the volunteers.
You told me that this season you will lead monthly meetings for women only from LGBT+-community. What are the goals and activities of these meetings? What results do you expect?
It's called Lezbofé, it's intended as a safe space for women of the LBTQIA+ community to share about their experiences. Each meeting we have a different topic, sometimes preceded with a short opening activity and sometimes just in the form of a moderated talk. The aim is to offer queer women a space to meet and discuss topics that are relevant to them with individuals who can relate to their experiences. At the end of each meeting the participants are invited to suggest the topic for the next one, so the topics stay relevant to the community.
You were volunteer at Ljubljana Pride 2018. What inspired you to be a volunteer and what tasks did you have as a volunteer?
I had participated to many Pride parades before, but never as part of the organisation. I wanted to experience the parade from this side, and I also felt that this was something I really wanted to be part of. The Pride parade always meant a lot to me as the most visible event of our community and I want to do what I can to support it. It was my first time volunteering for the parade and I did not have a specific role, I helped out with various technicalities (repairing last year's signs, making badges, selling merchandise and similar) and I lead one LGBT tour of Ljubljana for a study visit group, but even this small involvement made the difference. I felt that the Parade was truly mine.
You were the Slovene group leader of several Erasmus+projects, Rainbow Summer Camp, Slovakia, Youth in Activism, Netherlands, and Queer Lab Europe, Italy. You obviously like to travel and exchange experiences, knowledge and information, why is it so – is this a personal or also part of your psychology profession?
It's difficult to say where my personal interests end and my professional interests begin. My initial interest in Erasmus+ youth projects connected to the LGBTQIA+ spectrum started as a personal initiative, I had never before been in a space that was meant specifically for queer people and after my first project I realised that there were many aspects about my sexual orientation that I did not yet fully value or even accept. It inspired me to become more actively involved in my community and this summer I decided to take the role of group leader in three projects connected to the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and activism, this time with more professional motivation. The experiences supported me immensely in my activist work, but also professionaly as a psychology student there are numerous skills and knowledges I acquired during these projects that will support me in my career.
Do you think that society and youth needs more education about LGBT-topics or sharing knowledge and experience about it, if yes, why?
Of course, people need to have knowledge about topics in order to understand them. Nowadays it seems that many people adopt this "we are not that discriminated anymore" mindset which leads to less conversations and silencing of our experiences – it's absolutely wonderful that many of us do not fear physical violence from outside in comparison to decades ago, but growing up queer without any conversations about LGBTQIA+ topics, without any knowledge at all and without anyone in our close groups talking about it, can still make us feel terribly lonely and like there is something wrong with us. And it takes years and years of processing to get from there to a point where we can celebrate our own differences.
And last but not least, what inspires you the most and what are your future projects?
What inspires me the most is the work of other activists in Slovenia. I am delighted about the amount of effort all the LGBT-related associations are putting into creating safe spaces, building community, raising awareness, educating, discussing, organizing and caring for each other. There is still a lot of work to do, things to celebrate as well as to fight for. My future projects for now are the coordination of DIH's volunteers, which means I will support them in developing their ideas and putting them into action, I am also part of an informal activist group that does not operate under any association, with which we do various street actions and produce educational videos, and I plan to get more involved with non-formal education and activism through study visits and Erasmus+ projects.
Monika Kropej, you are employed at Unesco chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning (at Institute “Jožef Štefan”, Ljubljana). Do you meet homosexual researchers and scientists at your work, especially lesbians and bisexual women, if yes, in which way?
Our project on open education resources is one of our first projects that directly focuses on marginal groups among which we collaborate with the LGBT-community and therefore LGBT-researches. Apart from that, our previous (research) work was mainly oriented towards dissemination and organization on topics, where we did not focus on the social perspective- (e.g. artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensors etc. and the dissemination activities, workshops/conference organizations). And of course, in these research fields the LGBT-researches were also involved. They are regularly included in the research activities as colleagues, co-workers as all other project participants. I haven't noticed any specific issues regarding their sexual orientation.
Do you think that sexual orientation and/or sexual identity has any influence on educational, scientific-research work?
I believe that within my field of work the sexual orientation or gender identity of my colleagues or co-workers does not play a role. However, I can only report for the work, where I am directly involved and I cannot with certainty state that the same holds true for every field of research. To my knowledge, I have not witnessed any discrimination or systemic inequalities within my research community.
Have Unesco chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning had any project that dealt with LGBT-people, if yes, how lesbians have been involved – how are your work experiences with them, how they have contributed to the project?
As already mentioned so far our work on open education resources is first project where we collaborate with this community. I can only compliment on their work so far, they are dedicated, very open to new ideas and collaborative.
Your diploma and Ph.D. deals with the meaning and influence of graphiti and symbols on politics, national identity, music and also feminism and LGBT-issues. Can you tell us more about that with emphasis on women and lesbians?
Within my primary research field, cultural studies, I have come across many feminist and LGBT-graffiti and street art. I have noticed that this community is very active in these fields, which I see as very encouraging. What I discovered, is the graffiti and street art or guerrilla actions are very innovative and subversive. I also study graffiti and the so-called graffiti wars and I can say that in Slovenia there have been many humorous and politically subversive actions. My work is closely connected to libertarian/autonomous activism and, therefore, with various feminist as well as LGBT-groups. I am a feminist myself and fully support the actions they are involved in., Nowadays, when the world is faced with fascism that is invading our everyday life in a very subtle way I believe the struggle for equality is again of great importance. There is a need for all to actively participate in the struggle for a more inclusive and equal community and such groups are an important contribution to the fight for a better world. Or to conclude with Emma Goldman's quote: »Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.«
What are your plans for the future – include among others working with LB-researchers and scientists? Would you be interested in such work and if yes, why?
I am open to collaborate with LGBT-researchers, however I believe the sexual orientation does not define the researchers or their work.
Hanna Szentpeteri, film director and (screen)writer, you grew up between New York, Slovenia, and Hungary. You also made a film in Tel Aviv, Israel and studied in London, UK. How was growing up in so many different languages and culturally diverse environments? How did all that contribute to your art?
I think it was the best possible way to grow up. As a diplomat's kid, you get to move every four years, so you have to be open to people, you have to be talkative and polite, otherwise you end up alone. Growing up in this way has made me very extroverted and has taught me many important social skills. Every place you live for a prolonged period leaves it's mark on you, of course. It's always hard to leave, and you never quite know where home is. But that's such a small price to pay for all the amazing experiences you get along the way.
You had a youth theatre group in London, for which you also wrote and directed plays. It's called Act Your Stage. What was the main goal and mission of the theatre group and why did you found it in the first place since you are a film director - how does theatre differ from film?
I founded AYS because I wanted to make plays that were for and about young people. I'm a little obsessed with coming of age films, books and plays, so I wanted to create a space where young people can tell their stories about growing up. Even though I make movies now, my background is in theater originally. I wrote my first play at the HB Playwrights Foundation in New York City when I was 14 years old, before I made any films. I originally thought I wanted to work in theater, because of it's spontaneity and accessibility. You can easily make and put on a play for free, but films require a lot of funding. So it was simply an easier way to get started and get young people involved. Now that I am finishing my masters, I have access to funding so I can make movies too, but I will always love doing both film and play directing.
Recently you made a documentary Band vs Brand (2018) with another non-straight director, Simona Jerala about Slovenian female music managers Eva Kristina Filipčič and Maša Pavoković. What is the message or the main point of the documentary? Is the title itself meaningful to you?
Simona and I made this film to shed light on the music management profession in Slovenia. It's always fascinated me how bands need to be "on brand" and have this pressure to produce authentic content. Managers play a very important role in that and while they help bands thrive, not every band is ready for the commitment that takes, as you can see in the film. Simona and I also related to the fact that Maša and Eva are working in a male-dominated profession like us, so we wanted to explore that.
Your Bachelors short film Sonny and the Lost Room (2015) is about a boy who creates a special place for his deceased brother and all the things he lost. The short film was also screened in Cannes Short Film Corner. Can you tell me where did you get the idea and why it was important for you to share with the others?
When I was in high school, my grandfather passed away when I was 15. It was the first family death that I had experienced. I remember getting upset about this phrase "sorry for your loss" that people say to you when someone dies. I was like "I didn't lose him, he's not going to appear under the couch one day." The phrase really troubled me. So I got the idea then, for this "lost room" where everything you've ever lost ends up- people and objects alike. But I didn't really have the guts to make a movie about it until many years later, when my uncle passed away while I was doing my BA in London. I just thought: This is what my diploma film is going to be about. It's time.
Your short film Marushka (2017) is about a growing teenager who builds her popularity through a web of lies. Why did you choose this topic and what did you wish to achieve in the audience?Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT). Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT), in a way. As you know, I had been the new kid many times before, but I didn't expect it to be a difficult transition as an adult. Coming to Ljubljana from London was harder than I thought. As an extrovert, I attended a bunch of Academy events in my first year, hoping to make connections, but I felt like I was tapping on a window- I could see everyone, but I couldn't really break the glass between us. (Thankfully, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote a song about exactly this called "Waving Through a Window" for the musical Dear Evan Hansen.) But because films are not real life, Marushka does break the metaphorical window pretty forcefully. She lies to everyone to become popular. I think high school is a weird time in life because you're doing all these adult things, maybe for the first time - like drinking or engaging in relationships, but you're still a kid living with your parents. Marushka circumvents this social barrier the only way she knows how - by making up some adulthood that will probably eventually actually happen. It's an exciting time though because Marushka just got accepted to the Scout Film Festival in Vermont, USA.
Your masters film, Iva, 24 is about a girl finishing college with no prospects for a good future. Is this something that concerns your generation?
Certainly. In the film, Iva works at a fast food bar alongside college, which she hates. She is suffering from depression in the film and feels that even if she fumbles through her degree and manages to finish, her life will not change for the better once she obtains it. But that isn't my brilliant idea, it's a based on a beautiful short story of Alja Debeljak. I just wanted to shine a light on depression among young people, because I think awareness and education is the first step towards ending the stigma around depression and mental illness in general.
However, it is worth mentioning that I was accepted to the film academy with a short film about two lesbians who wish to have a baby. That was supposed to be my masters film. We workshopped it for 1 year at the Academy and I handed in a new edit of the script every week. Regardless, my script was too ambitious for a short film, so I made Iva, 24 instead. I still hope to realise a topic like this into a feature film someday
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)?
Of course. Representation of minority groups has been a serious problem since the media was invented. But I’m happy to say that the awareness about this issue is growing, so I hope to see more LGBTQ+ characters in movies, commercials and TV shows soon that have their own agency and don’t die in the end.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the film director matters in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline the same as it matters that transgender actors play in or transgender directors direct transgender story lines?
I think that more LGBTQ+ people should be making media content, that’s for sure. I would actually love to teach a film class specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, to encourage them to tell their authentic stories, so that we won’t only have straight cis people representing us in the media. Having said that, I’m proud that the history of Slovenian Cinema has two feature length fiction films about LGBTQ+ characters and I wouldn’t give that up, even though both directors, Maja Weiss and Nejc Gazvoda, are straight as far as we know. We need fair and respectful representation in the media, and we need it now. If you’re LGBTQ+ and have a story to tell, please write it and make it. Please apply to film schools, get out there, and let’s make diverse content together.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
My biggest inspiration is Miranda July, hands down. She makes amazing films, art installations, plays and writes books. She just really figured out how to use every medium of art to be perpetuating the same distinct vision - most of her work is about trying to figure out who you are, which is very similar to my favorite topic - coming of age.
I am currently writing my first feature film, which is of course also about coming of age, which I hope to workshop this year