Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Igor Drljaca

The Archivists

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In a dystopian future, a trio of musicians discover a degraded vinyl record and attempt to reimagine one of its songs.

Hi Igor thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times? 

I take it a day at a time, for if I didn’t, I’d be numb and overwhelmed by the thought of how fragile and unjust our society still is. I’m trying to meditate more, walk more, and spend more time with my young daughter. While technology has helped keep me sane on one level, the over reliance on it has made me feel more disconnected. On the work front it feels like there is more work as we try to move things online. I am learning how to take fewer things for granted. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

It has, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve become weary of eureka moments, or rather inspiration brought on by immediate situations or topical ideas that are not fully formed. If the idea festers for a few weeks, if it comes back in waves, only then do I feel compelled to peruse it and develop it further. Some ideas during this pandemic have emerged, and I am exploring their potential.

Your latest short film The Archivists is part of TIFF Short Cuts, what does it mean to you to have your film a part of such an amazing line up of short films?

It is a blessing to be able to play at TIFF during this unique edition. It feels like a strange one-off, like the NBA’s bubble season, which has produced some inspired basketball. I have to send a shout out to the Raptors, Canada’s sole team, to Kyle, VanVleet, OG and the rest, they have provided some much-needed joy and brought a lot of attention to important issues while on the court. Sorry for the segue. 

I have not released a short film in almost a decade, so I am excited to be able to share this with an audience, even if it is in a digital environment.

Can you tell me a little bit about The Archivists, what was the inspiration behind this film? 

The idea came to me during a The Walkmen concert I attended in March of 2012 in Toronto.  It festered for a few years and it became more urgent in 2016 to try and make it after far-right political parties began winning elections throughout the western world. This period started to remind me of my pre-war childhood in Sarajevo and how former Yugoslavia became a dystopia, a country which had a developed civic society, yet which still descended into an ethnonationalist conflict. I felt that this kind of descent is possible anywhere if the economic and social situation became bleak enough. During that dark period, I wanted to explore the idea that creativity eventually trumps all the darkness, and as bleak as things may seem today - or in some far worse future - people will always find a way out, and dream of a better world.

When creating film projects do you ever draw from your own life or experiences?

Most of my earlier work has some thematic overlap. After leaving war-torn Sarajevo when I was nine, and spending a year as a refugee, my family immigrated to Canada. The feelings I had during this time left an undeniable imprint on me and later my work, even if some of the films have no relevance to these events.

"You do not want that feeling to overwhelm your creativity and prevent you from moving onto the next project."

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

Anything in the secret room was a challenge, as it was not a studio set, but a functional house, so this was a difficult set to navigate with a camera and to block. As it was rather small, it was not a pleasant place to be inside for prolonged periods either.

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making The Archivists?

Never give up and don’t be afraid to change your approach if what was written in the script feels like it may not be working. This was a difficult project to film for a number of logistical reasons, and we were trying to do a lot with very limited resources. 

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

With every project you get closer to what you were after; visually, aesthetically, emotionally, so it should become less frequent. While that feeling of “we could have done this differently” comes up occasionally, you learn to live with it more effectively, and move on. You do not want that feeling to overwhelm your creativity and prevent you from moving onto the next project. Learning to let go is part of the process.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

When I was six or seven, every new year’s eve, a local Sarajevo channel would have Kubrick’s 2001: The Space Odyssey play after the new year countdown, and while I was always mesmerized, I could never stay awake long enough to finish the film. It took three or four tries to finish it. When I finally did see it, I was both confused and curious to understand what it all meant and why the story structure and its form was so different. I wasn’t conscious of this at first, but it’s as if I wanted to know; how every image, cut pattern, space, and performance influenced the telling of that story.

I think that having lost a foundational story so early in my life - leaving war-torn former Yugoslavia - has made me interested both in the stories we tell ourselves to keep going, as well as the stories we choose to share with others. Having always been a visual thinker, I didn’t see myself ever developing into a writer, as I often couldn’t find the right words, or find the right rhythm for those words. I felt I was better suited to use the tools of cinema to tell stories.

How much has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut film?

The style is similar in terms of the language, form, and rhythm, but the scale of the world I operate in is bigger, the characterizations more expressive, so it can feel like a shift in approach. I see it as more of an experience thing, and sometimes the limitation of budget that existed in my informative work.

As assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre & Film at the University of British Columbia do you have any advice you would offer anyone about to start film school?

One thing I try to emphasize to all film students, is to make sure to watch a lot of films; different genres, films made using different means, from different countries, by different directors. If you are not curious to do this during your informative years, you miss on the chance to find out what kind of filmmaker you can become.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Archivists?

Even if things seem dark and with little hope, our ability to express ideas, emotions, sounds, movement and textures through various art forms will keep the flame burning.

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