Raindance Film Festival 2021
A man from London comes to a small remote village in Serbia to look after the cemetery. He starts to have nightmarish visions and suspects the friendly villagers have a more sinister intention with him.
Hey Branko, it's great to talk with you again, how have you been keeping during these strange times?
Thanks for having me! I have been busier than ever during the entire pandemic. We finished the final draft for Vampir just when this whole madness happened. And we were ready to shoot over the summer last year, but then had to postpone because of travel restrictions. We had a small window of a few weeks in September only then and we managed to pull through. And than during the second lockdown we could work on the entire post-production. It’s hard enough to do an independent film, but during a pandemic even harder!
Congratulations on having your UK Premiere of your debut feature Vampir at Raindance 2021, what does it mean to you to be at the festival?
Thank you! We are very thrilled to have our UK premiere with Raindance. I have been a huge fan of them since I moved to London 17 years ago. You get to see really cool, edgy, innovative films there you wouldn’t have the chance to normally. I am very excited about their new Screamdance strand where they show horror films and Vampir is in great company with these other scary films.
How much did your experience working on your previous short films prepare you for directing your first feature?
It’s so important that you do short films first where you can experiment and try to find your own unique style and voice. You learn so much from doing short films. I think it’s crucial before you make the jump to features.
Can you tell me a little bit about Vampir, what inspired your screenplay?
Vampir was inspired by the real vampire cases in the early 1700’s that occurred in Serbia. That is the origin of vampires, it was medically documented by Austrian doctors back then. I spent my summers as a kid in that part of rural Serbia where my family is originally from. People there are still very superstitious and I was always fascinated by those myths and folk stories. That cemetery where we shot really exists like that, it’s so old and creepy - a cemetery to die for! And right opposite is that small house of my grandfather which has been empty since he died. So I wrote everything with those elements in mind that I already had.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced making Vampir?
Apart from the pandemic, doing an independent film is never easy. You will always have restrictions because of money. And it can be frustrating that that should limit your creativity. So you always do the best you can and work with what you have. We were always punching way above our weight from the start. And I’d say it’s very crucial to surround yourself with great, enthusiastic, dedicated people. They should be there cause they believe in the film and want to make something outstanding, no other reason.
Does your background as an actor help you connect differently with the characters you write and your actors?
I love working with actors. And it helps in that way that you understand the entire working and thought process of an actor. If you have some acting experience yourself you can better direct actors for sure. In the beginning I didn’t want to play the lead myself, but I spent so much time with the character when I wrote it and developed it and once it came to shooting and because of the restrictions it was just easier to do it myself. My character Arnaut was very demanding as he gets tortured, attacked, bitten, buried alive, killed, tormented and much more. I was pretty much covered in blood or dirt for 3 weeks.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I saw Blue Velvet when I was around 13, probably a bit too young to be watching such a movie. I felt absolutely mesmerised; it was so different, beautiful, mysterious and twisted. The weird story from finding that severed ear in the grass to the wonderful night club scenes and of course Dennis Hopper's psychotic villain. The music, the cinematography, the storytelling, the visuals and surrealism - everything Lynch did with that movie. The scene with Dean Stockwell mouthing the words to Roy Orbison's In Dreams into that work light and then Hopper's exploding psychotic rage is still so haunting. That was the trigger for me back then.
As an award winning filmmaker what has it mean for you to get this type of recognition for your work?
Vampir is a very personal film. On another level, a deeper meaning, it is an allegory of an immigrant child who was raised abroad and comes back to his ancestry’s country, where he is confronted with the local habits, traditions and way of life which are hard to accept at first. I am happy if people connect with it and respond well to it. We are just starting the festival circuit with Vampir now, the world premiere was at the prestigious Sitges International Film Festival and we have Trieste Science+Fiction coming up where it’s presented in the Silver Melies competition for best European film. That is of course very flattering.
"I wanted to mix the horror genre with European arthouse cinema and create a creepy atmospheric film."
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer fellow writer/directors?
Tell the stories only you could tell. Find what makes you unique and that’s it. Don’t look left and right what other people are doing, just follow your own path.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away Vampir?
I wanted to show a mysterious, darker side of Serbia. Vampir is a Serbian vampire tale that is connected to the local folk elements and myths there. I wanted to mix the horror genre with European arthouse cinema and create a creepy atmospheric film. The film is told very subjectively through the protagonist’s eyes who comes to that place from London and I hope the audience enjoys going on this trip.