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TORONTO 2021 Discovery

Ana Lazarevic • Director of The Game

“I felt a huge sense of responsibility and wanted to be as prepared as I could be”

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- The Serbian director talks about what inspired her to create her first feature, an intimate story about a smuggler and a group of boys he is supposed to drive across the border

Ana Lazarevic  • Director of The Game
(© Toronto International Film Festival)

The Game [+see also:
film review
interview: Ana Lazarevic
film profile
]
is Ana Lazarevic's first feature, which has premiered in the Discovery section of this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Based on her short film exploring the same topic, she has developed an intimate story about a smuggler and a group of boys he meets whom he’s supposed to drive across the border. We spoke to the director about her inspiration for the story, the film’s concept and how she found her protagonists.

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Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
Ana Lazarevic:
I already made a short film a few years ago about a man who smuggles a child. The film was well received, it won several awards, and I was encouraged to develop the story into a feature film. So I took the short as a basis and looked to recreate the magic of it. A smuggler with his own emotions and problems would be the focus once again.

How did you carry out your research?
I have a friend who’s a journalist and who conducted interviews in 2010 with young Afghan refugees. I heard about their stories and began to imagine situations I could use in the film. I didn’t actually mean to make a political statement at the beginning. I started to write the script when the story became personal. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and wanted to be as prepared as I could be. I went to refugee associations, conducted interviews myself and spent some time there, observing.

What was the most important experience which helped you create the characters?
I met a group of boys in Serbia in a park and felt a real connection with them. We discussed other things than being refugees and I saw how they were interested in everyday things. They wanted to hang out, they wanted to be on Facebook and look at girls' profiles. They were looking for a Wi-Fi connection to catch up on social media. Then I realised that, sure, being a refugee is something they won't ever forget, but there are still other things, “normal” things that they think of and like to do. This encounter was decisive in terms of my vision for the film and its concept.

Have you met any smugglers, and how did you develop this part?
I met a smuggler who’s a family man: a husband and father. There are a few like him. In Serbia, a lot of people are underpaid, and even though they have college degrees, as he does, they end up taking up this type of work. I used him as my inspiration. I didn't want to go down the other track of portraying smugglers as brutes and criminals. A Harvard University research paper states that around 75-76% of refugees refer to smugglers as their allies, and that when the former experience mistreatment or violence, it’s often at the hands of the police or other authorities. I’m aware that there are a lot of people taking advantage of refugees, but I wanted to tell a different story.

How did you find your protagonists?
Branislav Trifunović
, who plays the smuggler, is the only professional actor. The boys are non-professional but were very committed to the film. It was difficult finding them: I went to a refugee camp in Belgrade to cast the film. They warned me that it might happen that I choose a boy who then decides to leave Serbia, before the film started shooting. So I chose boys who had family obligations, but I still couldn't be sure. And, actually, one of the boys nearly left before we got started. But, in the end, he decided to stay, luckily for us.

How did you develop the film’s visual concept?
I used the techniques I liked from my short film, such as the handheld and active camera, for example. I wanted to react to what was happening between the characters in every scene. I liked the effect created by allowing the camera to come from behind the actors, because I think it creates a certain barrier and a moment of privacy for the characters. I think it’s even more intimate when you don’t see as much. This is a concept I once heard from the Dardenne brothers, who said that if the audience has to imagine the person's face for a certain emotion, it can create a stronger effect than if you actually see it directly.

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