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GOCRITIC! Trieste 2019

GoCritic! Interview: Miha Mazzini • Director of Erased

"Somebody had to tackle this subject, and obviously it was me"

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- At the Trieste Film Festival, GoCritic! sat down with Slovenian filmmaker Miha Mazzini to talk about the tricky subject he deals with in his latest film, Erased

GoCritic! Interview: Miha Mazzini  • Director of Erased
(© Borut Peterlin)

Acclaimed Slovenian author Miha Mazzini, whose books have been bestsellers in both the former Yugoslavia and today's Slovenia, has directed his first feature film, Erased [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Miha M…
film profile
]
, based on his 2013 novel. Starring Judita Franković Brdar in the lead role, the film depicts the struggles of a woman who is erased from all public records following the breakup of Yugoslavia. In other words, in the eyes of the state, she does not exist. We sat down with Mazzini the morning after the film’s screening at the 30th Trieste Film Festival to discuss his film, inspired by the real-life stories of those who were unlucky enough to experience this erasure. 

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GoCritic!: A year after Slovenia had declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, some 26,000 non Slovenian-born residents were erased from the system and left without a legal status. How did you become aware of the subject and what drove you to explore it?
Miha Mazzini: I only learned that the government had erased a whole section of the population three or four years after it happened, and I was shocked. I thought to myself, “This subject must be the focus of every writer and filmmaker right now, so there’s no point in me even beginning to look into it”. NGOs and documentary filmmakers were collecting people’s stories, but no works appeared in the field of fiction. After a while, I realized somebody should do it, and obviously that someone would be me. Why did I decide to tackle this theme? My childhood was full of injustices and I'm still very sensitive to it.

Erased is based on your own novel. How has the process of writing the novel evolved into writing the film script?
Actually, it was some ten years ago that I first started to write the screenplay. There’s a magical obstacle between the script and the film called money, and I realized that, for this subject-matter, there wasn’t going to be much chance for funding from the state. Writing the novel was a solace for a screenwriter who’d subsequently given up. But then, somehow, small doors started opening, just enough to find co-producers in Croatia and Serbia, and I reconstructed the story for the third time, finally turning it into a script.

There has never been much public discussion of this phenomenon, neither in Slovenia, nor in the wider region. Has your novel managed to spark some debate?
I'm quite popular in Slovenia and I always get a lot of feedback, but I didn’t get any for this book. I checked the stats – the sales and the library borrowings were higher than for my other books. This subject-matter causes a certain degree of discomfort, so people prefer to avoid it. It’s the elephant in the room. Everybody knows, but everybody stays silent. Even more interesting than the public silence is the fact that only one Slovenian lawyer agreed to fight on behalf of these cases.

Did you try to approach these erased individuals in order to gather material for your characters?
I tried but nobody wanted to talk!

…Very much unlike your main character, who appears live on national TV…
Yes. But later on, during the process of making the film, three or four people that I’d been working with quite closely actually came up to me, out of the blue, and said “I'm one of the erased”. I expected a story to follow, but there was no story, only silence.

Your film gave voice to those who were unwilling to speak. What do you expect from its theatrical release in Slovenia?
The film will open in Slovenia in February and I don’t know what to expect. When society kicks you out, you tend to look for the reason within yourself, not within society. There is a deep feeling of shame, and maybe people don’t want to be given a voice. I hope it will be well received by the people who lived through this experience.

In 2004, a referendum on minority rights was held in Slovenia, where the government's proposal to restore the erased people’s rights was rejected by the voters. Why did you decide not to include this in the film?
To have a referendum about human rights is simply ridiculous. Of course it was rejected! Everyone was scared of bringing this topic back up. However, my film only follows a few weeks in the life of this woman. Had I followed her for more than a 20-year period, it would have been a completely different film, and I'm not sure it would have worked. I grew up with the cinema of the 1970s and I wanted a dramatic arch which went on and on, flowing like a river. I like that kind of film.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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