How did you journey to filmmaking begin?
I’m a child of Romania in the 80s, behind the Iron Curtain. Censorship meant only state-sanctioned propaganda films were shown. Except, there was an underground network that brought Hollywood blockbusters into the country and they were all dubbed by one woman with a really high pitched voice. This network of illegal community screenings is how I was first introduced to the world of storytelling and film. But I went on to study Sociology-Anthropology in both undergrad and graduate settings before pursuing documentary.
Do you remember the feeling of watching these films in secret?
It was almost palpable, as a kid to be taken into that secret, dangerous, and illegal world where you could see this thing that few others around you could. This universe that was so secret you couldn’t talk to each other about it. A lot of these films were recorded straight from the TV to VHS, so you could even see advertisements of products from the west that we knew nothing about in Romania. I distinctly remember the colors and sounds of ads for chewing gum, and the Walkman. At the time, I didn’t even know what that device was for. Getting to peek into that forbidden world was a fantastical experience as a kid.
Did these experiences influence your filmmaking?
The lines are a bit blurred, because I took a circuitous route to filmmaking. Once I was fully immersed in documentary filmmaking, I did embrace the emotion and adrenaline rush I got as a kid watching those films. The biggest impact was definitely in the way I related to that world outside of Romania. I saw the west as this amazing universe everyone dreamed about that was so different from the reality I experienced.
I think a bigger influence for me is my background in SoAn. In my filmmaking, I look at the world through that lens. I try to understand differences and worlds I don’t normally have access to, and attempt to make the extraordinary ordinary so we can see ourselves in each other.
What kind of stories do you prefer to tell?
Those that combine elements of humor alongside the surreal. I love stories that center around an extraordinary characters who is a sort of flawed hero or antiheroes. Those are the narratives that nag at me and make me want to unravel them to try to understand and find the common humanity. Most of all, they have to be stories that speak to the bigger issues in the world today. I think cinema has the power to push people to want to see stories of something bigger than themselves.
What is your preferred method of travel?
I love flying. It’s fast, you see the clouds and other countries from above, and you can work because you don’t have to drive.
One thing I really like about traveling is hotels. It’s one of my favorite parts. There is something about not being rooted in the space you’re staying in that appeals to me. There are no preset rules. I think it makes people behave differently. But it’s also the variety of hotels, even the smaller ones with no amenities. Sometimes they speak so much more to the history and texture of the local area. I especially love those that have a communist past where they used to be opulent hotels for the higher ups in the party and now they’ve become decrepit and crappy.
What do you most value in a friend? How’s that different from a collaborator?
I value friends who can just hang out and talk rubbish rather than discuss serious things or analyze. Loyalty is important, too.
In a collaborator, I appreciate it when we don’t agree. Having someone disagree is valuable because it allows you to question what you’re doing so you can find the weak spots. It gives you the opportunity to drop the things that are weak and that you don’t have the capacity to fight for. In doing so, you discover what you do have the strength to fight for and what you really want to fight to keep.
What does inspiration look like?
Inspiration is a tiny beast that visits me. I can’t force it. All I can do is I try to absorb as much stuff related to a project or a task, and then I just let the ideas flow and run into inexplicable places until inspiration strikes.
How do you approach collaboration
Collaboration is very important because I think that’s the whole point of working on a team, working with head of dept, working with talent, working with subjects. And only then the proejct can be successful because then it becomes much more than what i could imagine or do on my own. I really cherish input from other people I’m working with. One of the more important things I can do as a director is to get all these minds working together and get the best out of the team.
What drives you?
I want to tell stories that keep people at the edge of their seats, engaged and maybe even interested in looking at universes and topics that they dismissed or never considered before.
How you envision the future of filmmaking and your role in it?
For me it’s really exciting to work with MAJORITY. This is an undefined area, and because there’s no rules, we can really push the limits to create exciting content. It’s about the essence of filmmaking — creating a journey for the audience and telling a great story. What we have here is exciting and powerful.
Ilinca Calugareanu is a US and UK-based Romanian director. Her debut documentary feature, “Chuck Norris vs Communism”, premiered in competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and played film festivals around the world. With a background in anthropology, Ilinca has a skill and passion for melding fiction and documentary into beautiful films. Her credits include VHS vs. Communism (2014, New York Times Op-Docs), Erica: Man Made (2017, Guardian Documentaries) and Cops and Robbers (2018, Guardian Documentaries). She is now in production with her second feature hybrid documentary, “A Cops and Robbers Story” and in development with feature documentary “Dead Man Walking”. She is also a Berlinale Talents Alumi (2017), a 2018 Chicken&Egg Accelerator Lab Grantee and the 2018 Sundance Institute|National Geographic Fellow. Together with her sister, and long-time collaborator, producer Mara Adina, llinca is in pre-production with the project I AM, which is one of the 2018 Sundance Creative Producing Fellowship projects.