Flexibility and Openness
Interview with Lucija Stojevic on her Documentary nominee LA CHANA
Can you briefly describe what LA CHANA is about and how you got interested in her story?
LA CHANA is a film about dreams and passions, aging and loss, acceptance and re-invention, love and abuse … It’s an intimate portrait of La Chana (the stage name of the self-taught Gypsy dancer Antonia Santiago Amador) who reigned supreme as a flamenco dancer throughout the 60s and 70s, but suddenly disappeared from the spotlight at the height of her career. The film follows La Chana as she prepares for one last, seated performance after 23 years away from the stage and she reveals the secret behind her disappearance.
La Chana is a larger-than-life character and as soon as I met her I was convinced that this had to be the film. It wasn’t just her story that attracted me, which in itself is very important both in terms of giving a voice to an artist and because of its social relevance, but she, herself, as a character intrigued me to make this film. LA CHANA is ultimately a film about one woman’s strength to confront and rise above tragedy in her life.
How did you develop the concept and style of the film? How detailed was the script before shooting?
There wasn’t a very detailed script before the shooting began. The film built up layer by layer. I started off with the obvious, namely the story of what happened to La Chana and her legacy as an artist. This was something tangible I could start working with. But during this process, I started to dig deeper and I discovered her current conflicts as an aging diva, her relationships, her complexities, her pain and her love. This aspect of what’s inside her became more of a driving force of the film. I think in documentary filmmaking it’s very difficult to start with a detailed script because it could blind you to discovery. And you need to have that flexibility and openness to listen and embrace what you see or else the film can’t become what it needs to be. It would stay dry and superficial.
It is also a close look into the Gitano culture of Spain. How did you get access and win their trust, especially La Chana’s?
In a nutshell: time. A lot of time and patience.
This is your first feature film. What are the main differences for your previous work, shorts and video art? And what was the biggest challenge in making this film?
The shorts I did were commissioned by press and I was always working on a very tight budget and schedule. This was, of course, very restrictive and often left me feeling like there was so much more to tell. On the other hand, the video art pieces were experimental, which was fun creatively but the exposure was limited to a smaller audience. La Chana was not only challenging creatively, working for the first time in the long format, but also in terms of thinking about audiences, the market and the industry. Luckily, both on the creative side and the production side, I had very good team members and consultants to help move the project along. We had so many obstacles financing this film and I had to take on so many risks to be able to actually do this film. The learning curve has been incredible.
How do you see the state of documentary cinema in Europe right now?
This is a big question and a complex one. In terms of the quality of creative documentary film in Europe I think what is being made is fantastic and the genre is really striving. Funnily enough though, this doesn’t reflect the financial possibilities for documentary filmmakers to produce quality films, which seem to be getting less all the time. There are obviously big shifts happening in the way media is being consumed and how that is monetized that everyone is trying to get used to and which is affecting filmmaking everywhere. But speaking more specifically, within Europe, I think there’s also a big difference between working in this genre in northern or southern Europe. From my perspective, based in southern Europe, the reality is that the only way to make a competitive, independent documentary film is to take on a lot of risk for a very long time, which is not very sustainable. So, sadly, there is this assumption that documentary film should be made out of passion and cannot be considered a profession. That’s a problem because the stories we tell are important and this should be a dignified profession. I'm not sure what the solution to this is but it's definitely a reality for creators of documentary cinema in my part of Europe.
In recent years the borders between documentary and fiction have blurred. What do you think of this development and where do you see yourself?
I come from an architecture background where a popular school of thought is that form follows function. I feel the same can be applied here. The most important thing is the story you feel you need to tell. If using fiction adds to the story, then by all means. If fiction is only used decoratively, for effect, then don’t go there. My feeling is, as long as it doesn’t compromise the substance - the essence of the idea - then why not? Let’s push the boundaries of the genre and experiment.