Interview with Dina Duma, director of "Sisters": The film is inspired by real events from my teenage years

Dina Duma

The feature film "Sisters" by director Dina Duma had its Skopje premiere on December 16 at the "Millennium" cinema, and immediately afterwards entered the cinema distribution in Skopje and Bitola, so that the domestic public will be able to see the film, which with great success in the past four months has been screened at a number of important film festivals.

Print while the last frame goes. The story has an open end and each viewer completes the message based on their own experiences. Only after the whole check-out period has passed does the audience recover and the deserved applause begins.

Such an effect is achieved by the film "Sisters" by director Dina Duma. Or, at least that was the case at the Skopje premiere of the film on December 16 at the Millennium Cinema. The story in the film reveals a segment of the daily life of adolescents. It is told in a film language that is close to them, because they use it themselves.

The focus is on peer violence that is present in the digital space. The topic is global, and in "Sisters" a vivisection was made with a unique but dramatic example. The aim is to warn the younger generations, but also to encourage the whole society for a more serious treatment of cyberbullying, which has emerged with the rapid development of digital technologies.

The Skopje premiere of the film "Sisters" took place on December 16 at the "Millennium" cinema

In a conversation with the director Dina Duma, we reveal details from the film's life so far, but we also emphasize the messages it conveys.

The special award at the world premiere of "Sisters" in Karlovy Vary opened the door to numerous film festivals thereafter. How was the film received by the audience at the festivals where you personally attended?

- The award and the participation in the festival in Karlovy Vary has opened its doors and we constantly receive invitations to participate in the film from many festivals. Unfortunately, the pandemic does not allow us to go to all the festivals to which we are invited. Many festivals are hybrid or completely online. But at several festivals I've been to, in different parts of the world, the audience recognizes the film and we get a lot of positive feedback.

As a woman, I think it is extremely important to open the topic of peer violence in the digital space in the hope that this way things will change in our society / Photo: Aris Ramos

The subject matter of the film is sensitive and globally present. Peer violence in the digital space is present in our country and in the world. When did the theme appear as a motive / inspiration for your first feature film and how much is the story in the film inspired by real events?

- I thought about the topic of the film when I was a student. The movie "Sisters" is inspired by real events from my teenage years. There was a sex scandal at my school, a girl and a boy were filmed having an affair, the video soon went viral and the whole situation got out of control. The girl's destiny was sealed, she was "slut-shamed" (stigmatized girls / women because of their sex life) and experienced social exclusion, lost friends and eventually had to move to another country, and the boy became a hero in school. None of the authorities in my school did anything, but on the contrary contributed to its destruction.

I had a rare chance to talk to about 100 casting girls who were open to sharing their stories on the subject. Casting soon took on the dimension of "case studies". The stories were striking to me, everyone had a similar experience or knew someone who had a similar experience as in my movie. What brought their stories together was the fear that "slut-shaming" and social exclusion might happen to them, or happen again. That fear is deeply ingrained in an entire generation and further directly affects their development. As a woman, I think it is extremely important to open this topic with the hope that in this way things will change in our society.

How did the collaboration on the script with Martin Ivanov, who is also the editor of the film, take place and what did it consist of?

- We have been working together with Martin Ivanov since our student days. While we were editing the short films, of course, we talked about various topics, so in those conversations we started to start the theme of the film. We realized that we had very similar experiences from our high school days, even though we did not go to the same school. We noticed that online bullying and "slut-shaming" were present. What led us to develop this story through the prism of antagonists is precisely the question: what kind of person could do such a thing, why would anyone do such a cruel act, and what are the consequences?

The theme of the film is a challenge for wider analysis in society, and it was an occasion for part of the film crew to be present at debates in several cities as part of the global campaign "16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence" entitled "Do not be silent, do not last "Stop it!"

The camera focuses precisely on the action and creates a specific setting in which the story takes place. How much did the previous collaboration with the cinematographer Naum Doksevski contribute to the film being shot with the right angle?

- Previous collaborations with Nahum have helped us a lot, because we have been working since the joint graduation film and we know each other well, both privately and professionally. When I work with Nahum, I never doubt the result we will get in the end. We spent a lot of time preparing the film to find a visual way to tell this story. For me, the most important thing was for the camera to always follow the main character and capture the emotional state. The camera should follow the acting, not the other way around.

The young Antonija Belazelkoska and Mia Giro appear in the main roles in the movie "Sisters"

The play of the main characters is very natural, who at the same time manage to capture the emotion and express the inner drama. How did the communication with Antonija Belazelkoska and Mia Giro take place during the filming?

- Ever since I wrote the script, I knew that in order to achieve the authenticity of the world of adolescents, it would be necessary to castrate teenagers who would not have previous experience in acting and filming. Although it was a huge risk, I was aware that this decision was the key to achieving the naturalistic approach that I thought the film needed.

For me this was a completely new approach, I have never worked this way before. It was important to me that the girls and the entire cast that participated in the film contribute to the story with their own experiences. Mia and Antonia and I spent three months in preparation, talking about their personal experiences that infiltrated the story, and trying out improvisation techniques together. I decided that I would not burden them with the script, so they were allowed to read it only once, and when we went out on set, I guided them through every frame and every situation.

How much did the success of the first feature film open the door for the next films? What next would be the focus of a new movie?

- I hope that this success will open the doors for me, but also for the whole team that is dedicated to the film. I'm still not ready to leave the teens' storytelling world, and I think I have more research and storytelling stories.

Marija Dimitrova, producer of the film "Sisters": The film is already in cinemas in Skopje and Bitola

Producer Marija Dimitrova and the production company "List Production" are involved in the film "Sisters" from the very beginning, when it was a film project in development and when it received awards in the co-production markets. The film was shot in 2019 in urban locations around Skopje, and is supported by the Film Agency of Northern Macedonia and is a regional co-production with Montenegro and Kosovo.

The young Antonija Belazelkoska and Mia Giro appear in the main roles of the film. The script is by Dina Duma and Martin Ivanov, the cinematographer is Naum Doksevski, the editor is Martin Ivanov, the scenography is by Kiril Spasevski and Simo Branov, the costumes are by Roza Trajceska-Ristovska, the make-up is by Janeta Dimitrievska, and the music is by Igor Vaska.

The world premiere was in Karlovy Vary in August, the Macedonian one at the 42nd ICFF "Manaki Brothers" in Bitola in September. What was the reason for the delay of the premiere of "Sisters" in Skopje?

- The postponement of the premiere of "Sisters" in Skopje, which was also planned to be the start of the film distribution of the film, was mainly related to the protection measures against Covid-19, which were in force in September (25 percent of the cinema capacity halls), and the "wave" that was coming. We estimated that it is better to wait for the situation to stabilize, the percentage of vaccinated citizens to increase, and the measures to be relaxed and to be able to hold a Skopje premiere indoors, in conditions closer to those we are used to, and still the audience can to watch the film in the cinemas more calmly.

The world premiere of "Sisters" passed with an award at the Karlovy Vary festival / Photo: Michal Uresh

How many festivals has the film participated in so far and how many awards has it won?

- After the premiere of "Sisters" in Karlovy Vary, the film participated in 15 more festivals, and already has invitations for festivals in 2022. At Karlovy Vary, the film won the Special Jury Prize in the East-West program, and at the Ex-Ground Film Fest in Wiesbaden, Germany, it won the Youth Feature Film Award for Best Feature Film.

Immediately after the premiere in Skopje, the film began to be shown in cinemas. What are the plans in that direction, where will it be shown?

- The film started with cinema distribution in Skopje on December 16, and has been on the repertoire in the cinema in Bitola since December 17. We decided to start with screenings in the largest cities in Macedonia, and after the New Year this list to be expanded to other cities, where there are conditions for cinema screenings. The film will also be shown on Netflix soon.

The film "Sisters" is a Macedonian candidate for the Oscar award. Were you able to provide the logistics and funding for the film across the United States?

- Since December 2020, we have been working with the sales agents "Cercamon", who are in charge of selling and promoting the film outside our territory. They actively worked on presenting the film in the United States and to members of the Academy. We hope that the film will be shortlisted, which should be released on December 21.

(The interview was published in "Cultural Press" No. 110, in the print edition of the newspaper "Free Press" on December 18-19, 2021)

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