The London Film Festival is not just about feature films: the festival also presents a selection of short films, which are grouped into different programmes according to theme. This year’s themes have included resilient women (the ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ programme), tense situations (‘Under Pressure’), and growing up in the suburbs (‘We’re the Kids from Suburbia’). Although these programmes comprise short films from all over the world, the vast majority of live-action shorts at this year’s LFF are from English-speaking countries (the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). According to one LFF programmer, the entries received from other countries were generally not of high enough quality.
In the past, it was common for cinemas to screen a short film before the main feature; now, commercials have taken the place formerly reserved for shorts. Are short films no longer being given the respect they deserve as a training ground and laboratory for innovative new film-makers? Is it up to government to provide funding for independent short films, or will future generations of film-makers have to find room to grow within the constraints imposed by advertisers?
Petar Pašić is the director of E-Pigs (Slovenia, 2009), a short film about a couple of villagers who run into problems when their sow gives birth to bionic piglets. With its high production values, E-Pigs has the distinction of being the only non-English short in the LFF’s ‘Under Pressure’ programme. Pašić is worried by the lack of funding for short films in Serbia, and the consequences for the future of its film industry. I spoke with him following the screening of his film at the National Film Theatre, on Friday, 15th October.
Can you tell me about the source of your inspiration for E-Pigs?
One day I was sitting in a café with my friend Vuk Tatalović, my CGI guy. We heard a funny story about a man who lived in a village near Belgrade: he had a pig that gave birth to piglets with three legs, and because of these piglets he had some problems with the other villagers. We decided to make a movie about this story, not with real pigs, but with cyber pigs – little Frankenstein pigs. We talked about it with our screenwriter, who wrote a proper script for us.
What was the production process like?
Because I’m half-Slovenian, we were able to submit the script to the Slovenian National Fund. They liked it and gave us some money, which allowed us to make the film. It was a long journey: four months of preparation, seven days of shooting, and then a year of post-production to create the cyber-pigs. It was difficult because the CGI studios in Serbia are very good, but small. There’s not room for many people to work. It would have taken much less time if we had been working in a bigger studio.
Stylistically E-Pigs reminded me of the work of two other directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Uroš Stojanović. Have their films influenced you?
Uroš Stojanović is also Serbian: he was directing his movie, Čarlston za Ognjenku (Tears for Sale, 2008) at the same time as I was directing E-Pigs. I didn’t set out to imitate Jeunet, but he is my biggest influence: I like his movies very much. I also like the work of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. As a teenager I was a big fan of horror movies, especially those by John Carpenter and Dario Argento. I still like scary movies, but now I prefer David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky.
My director of production actually asked me, ‘So you want your movies to look like Jeunet’s?’ I told him no: I want to move in other directions now. I’m preparing a new feature film: like E-Pigs, it will be a combination of animation and live-action, but I hope that it will be very different kind of movie.
Can you tell me more about it?
It’s going to be set in a hotel. Part of it will be live action, about the janitor of the empty hotel; the other part will be animated, and will take place in the world of bugs which live below the floors. The animated section will actually only be partially animated: the backgrounds will be maquettes in real space, and that world will be populated with CGI bugs. It will be like stop-motion, but not real stop-motion. Jan Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers are my new influences now. I start shooting in January, but like E-Pigs I will have to wait a year for my CGI team to complete the animation.
How will this compare to your first feature, Mi nismo anđeli 3 (We Are Not Angels 3), from 2006?
This new film will be my first personal feature. Mi nismo anđeli is a very famous movie in Serbia. Srđjan Dragojević directed parts 1 and 2, but he didn’t want to direct the third part. I think it was the first time that they used a US-style approach to film-making in Serbia: they gave the script to seven different directors, and they each had to make a pitch. In the end, I was chosen to direct the movie. But it was a bit like making a commercial: they give me a script, and I can’t change anything about it. I like comedies, but if I’m directing, I prefer it to be a harder form of comedy, with darker surroundings.
You’ve made quite a lot of commercials. Has this been a useful experience? Does it give you any room for creativity and experimentation?
It depends on the commercial. I like it when I can work on a ‘dark’ commercial, but most of the time I’m working with a script that’s not my own: stupid commercials that are all about happy families. A lot of directors don’t want to do commercials: they want to make short movies or feature films right away. But for me commercials have been good: I’ve directed over a hundred now, and that’s given me a lot of experience. They give you a good sense of what you can do: you can experiment with CGI, different approaches to directing, etc.
Would you say that you learned more from directing commercials than you did at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade?
Yes, I learned much more than I did in school. Another good way to learn how to make movies is by watching a lot of them. I don’t know how much you can actually learn at school. Maybe you could learn something at a good school, but in Serbia the schools are not so good. It depends on the professors: you have some good professors who want to teach you, but others are not so good. All the guys I know who went on to direct, even before they went to the academy I could tell that they would succeed. It’s difficult: you have to try everything you can in order to work.
Do you find that there are more funding opportunities in Slovenia now that it is part of the European Union? How does it compare to the funding available in Serbia?
For feature films, the funding opportunities are about the same in Slovenia and Serbia. For short films, it’s very bad in Serbia: they don’t support it at all. It’s such a small amount of money, you couldn’t shoot your film. You could only afford to go out with a Handycam, like you were making a student movie. That’s why I went to Slovenia for funding, and even with that, it was difficult to make E-Pigs: the post-production was very expensive. Luckily, I had a friend that I knew from working in commercials, and he put his whole studio to work on the post-production.
So how is the future looking for film-making in Serbia? Who are the most important directors right now? And who are the most promising directors of the new generation?
Uroš Stojanović is promising, but he is living in the U.S. now, trying to shoot a film there. Among the younger directors, there’s Mladen Djordjević: I liked his movie, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009). As for others…that’s the problem now: you can’t find directors younger than me, between the ages of 21 and 30, to direct films, because they haven’t had a chance to direct anything. It goes right back to the problem of a lack of funding for short films in Serbia. Because there’s no money for them, these young directors can’t prove themselves by making short films. So they’re waiting and waiting for feature film offers to come along, but nothing’s happening. It’s a problem.
How important is it for you to have your short films screened at film festivals?
It’s really important for me to get people to see my short films. It’s only because someone saw E-Pigs at a festival that I’m able to make my own feature film now.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to shoot a film in Hollywood, but not for the prestige. The reason I want to work there is that it would give me the opportunity to work with so many professionals, and with the best resources and facilities. They would give me what I need to transfer my imagination to film. Being a director in Serbia and Slovenia, it’s like you’re always working on a big student movie, surrounded by your friends. My plan is to work in a more professional way.
Petar Pašić’s E-Pigs will be screened a second time as part of the ‘Under Pressure’ shorts programme at the LFF tomorrow, Monday, 18th October, at 6:15pm at the National Film Theatre (NFT).