Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović
Interview by Jaclyn Bethany
I was first introduced to Antoneta by fellow filmmaker Minji Kang. Minji thought I would relate to Antoneta’s beautiful, coming-of-age film, Into The Blue, which was awarded a Special Mention at Berlinale last year. Not only did I find the story, art direction, and images captivating–I was also intrigued by the depiction of daily life in Croatia, a place we don’t often see on screen. Below, I spoke with Antoneta about that special place, her discovery of filmmaking, and the process of creating her award-winning short. -J.B.
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Antoneta! Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović: I come from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Growing up in Dubrovnik was beautiful. In winter I was living within city walls. It’s like being in a castle, always on the street with people your age, always coming up with theater and choreography–directing, essentially. In the summer, I [lived] on the island with my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. I always felt free both in city and nature; freedom is very important to me.
JB: How did you first discover filmmaking? Do you have an early memory of seeing a film that made an impression, or a particular film you loved growing up?
AAK: It’s interesting. My mother used to take me to the theater when I was four years old. And then, when I was seven, I was very eclectic, and I always wanted to perform. So I started acting in a theater–a city theater in Dubrovnik–and I acted until I was probably 18. Then, something changed; growing up I realized that acting was not my thing anymore, but I wanted to stay surrounded by the same types of people. I applied to the Academy of Dramatic Arts as a producer, because I felt like, “OK, I understand the industry, I can make it happen from having 11 years of acting experience in the theater.” So I studied theater production and, as it is attached to film, I was doing both at the academy in Zagreb–then I went to do an internship in New York City. That was another level of my experience there–my start. Only in NYC did I realize I wanted to direct.
JB: And you also studied film at Columbia University. Why do you think film education is important?
AAK: Studying and living in New York is important. I dare say that never living in New York is almost like never falling in love and being heartbroken. I wanted to study film, but I don’t think that it’s essential to [formally] study film in a film school or at an institution like Columbia. I know many wonderful filmmakers who never went to film school, but they have an impressive film education through other arts and self-education.
JB: How would you describe the arts culture in Croatia? What is something most people wouldn’t know about the country?
AAK: Croatia is home. I am very connected to my roots there, and I spend an equal amount of time in Croatia and the U.S. Something most filmmakers wouldn’t know is that it’s a wonderful place to shoot a film–the people and crews are exceptional and the locations are stunning. Croatia has 1,246 islands. Something interesting about Dubrovnik is that it was an independent state for 800 years; it guarded its freedom from Venice and Turks. [The most prominent Croatian Baroque poets] Ivan Franov Gundulić’s ode to freedom–from his most famous play, Dubravka–moves me every time:
Fair liberty, beloved liberty, liberty sweetly avowed,
thou are the treasured gift that God to us endowed,
all our glory is thy true creation,
to our Home thou are all the decoration,
no silver nor gold, not life itself could replace
the reward of thy pure and sublime grace.
JB: Can you tell me about the inspiration behind your award-winning short, “Into The Blue?” Is it based on a personal experience?
AAK: I wrote it at Columbia in my second year of the Masters program. It actually came about as part of a student exercise, as a recollection of my first childhood memories. The origin of the story is an island, Kalamota, near Dubrovnik, where I grew up as a child. At first, I had….this idea of the potency of being young, [dealing with] hormones, [living in] this very severe landscape and everything that might happen there….that was the germ of “Into the Blue.” We were let wild on an island as kids. There are no cars, no stores, nothing–just nature and people. I wanted to go back to that time, to discovering that nature within us, that was surprising at the time, and the nature outside of us.
JB: What was it like to premiere the film at Berlinale? What was the response like?
AAK: Berlin was the best place for me to premiere, especially coming from Eastern Europe. It is probably the most important festival for initiating feature projects in our part of the world. The Generation program is a very special one. There is no feeling that matches that of many children gasping while watching “Into The Blue.”
JB: And know you’re working on your debut feature now...
AAK: Murina is, in a way, a sequel to “Into the Blue.” It’s set on an island in Croatia, and the main character is a girl from my short film, Gracija Filipovic. She’s an actress with an incredible emotional range at such a young age, and I really developed this feature film with her in mind as a main character. The story follows a teenage girl over three summer days–she wants to replace her father with another man. It explores some of the same themes as the short: adolescent emotions released into the wild.
JB: What advice would you give to the next generation of women and non-binary people in film?
AAK: To be strong and believe in their work; to own it and stand behind it; to be persuasive, emotional, courageous, and loud with their messages; and, most importantly, to be themselves, because that is all we have as filmmakers. We need to protect our own identity.