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Otilia Babara • Director of Love Is Not an Orange

“This is why the archive footage was so powerful: it makes it clear that this is not a one-off story”


- In her first feature-length documentary, the Moldovan director tells the story of her fellow countrywomen through some intriguing video footage

Otilia Babara • Director of Love Is Not an Orange

The first feature-length documentary by Otilia Babara is celebrating its world premiere at this year's DOK Leipzig. Love Is Not an Orange [+see also:
interview: Otilia Babara
film profile
is being shown in the section dedicated to productions from Central and Eastern Europe. In it, the director uses archive material to tell the story of myriad families in Moldova. We spoke to Babara about the background of the film and her artistic choices.

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from? Does it tell your own family story?
Otilia Babara:
It's not exactly the story of my family, but I grew up with friends who grew up without mothers. Their mums kept disappearing, one by one. But my mother didn't leave. I envied my friends who received these boxes full of presents – it was exciting. Later on, I understood that the reality was more complex than that. I saw that more precisely in the example of my best friend. Her mother had left and then came back to stay after 12 years. It was very difficult for them to connect, as the communication between them was disrupted. On my friend’s side, there was a lot of resentment, and from her mother’s side, a hugely guilty conscience. I was in between them, somehow, trying to mediate. I wanted to make the film in order to unveil these dynamics.

Did you have a lot of material at your disposal, and how did you choose the footage you ended up using?
I had around 100 hours of footage. I chose the material to illustrate the storyline I had in mind, and that reflects the story of my best friend. The material had to show how feelings evolve over time – how there is initially excitement over the presents, then how there is resentment for those same presents when the child realises that the mother isn’t coming back any time soon, and finally, what it is like when the mother comes back after all those years of absence. It was fascinating to see that the girl in the footage that I used the most had a similar story to tell. Not all of the stories have this same, sad ending, though. Everything depends on the communication involved. It is difficult to express our feelings. We often try to compensate for this through presents. When we have been away for a long time, we tend to give gifts – the bigger the better.

Did you know from the start that you would be making the film using only these archive videos? For example, did you plan to do present-day interviews as well?
I actually had another form in mind for the film at first. I had been filming my best friend and her mother for three years. But somehow, it felt disconnected, and I hadn’t been able to capture what I wanted to. So I kept doing research in parallel with this and spoke to other people with similar experiences. Then someone told me about the tapes, and others also brought them up. I started watching this footage and realised I would be able to extract much more of what I wanted for the film from them than from the parts I had shot. In the meantime, I thought I could combine both things, but then I realised that the archive footage was rich enough.

Your film is a historical document about part of the history of Moldova. What is your particular approach, and how does it differ compared to other films that have been made on the subject?
There are some films about the migration of women from Moldova that were made before, but only by foreigners who came to the country to do so, and they were all men. My film is the first one to be made by someone who lived through this; I am a woman making films about women. And the movie is different because it has a collective approach. This is why the archive footage was so powerful as well: it makes it clear that this is not a single, one-off story. I wanted to extract that from the archive material, and I wanted to make the mentality of the people from Moldova more understandable. Such as, for example, when it comes to the topic of building a house, or what it means to be able to say that you own a house or that you own any other object. This is very important – facing the fact that the Russians took everything away from the people, who have not owned anything for a long time.

Could you tell us more about title you chose?
Oranges don't grow in Moldova, but rather in warm countries such as Greece and Italy, where the mothers travelled to. And oranges were some of the things they they started sending back home. At first, there was a lot of joy upon finding oranges in the boxes. But they kept sending them, while they stayed away for longer and longer. And so, finally, the oranges became more of a symbol of resentment.

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