Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts Programme 01
For the couple driving along a Serbian mountainside, navigating the road’s sharpest curves may be less challenging than finding the means to genuinely communicate.
Hi Lee thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my new short Zero! Ah, these strange times- I get these moments where everything feels normal for a while and then it just hits me that this has become the new normal. We are very adaptable little creatures, aren’t we?
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Is it bad to say I enjoyed the lockdown!? The FoMo was completely erased as a thing I have to deal with, and I fully embraced my introverted side which is actually my natural state, I just have to fight it very often it I want to have any social life whatsoever. And also, the nature of our business. The world stopping gave me the time and space to develop some of my old ideas which I’ve kept on the back-burner and it also gave me some distance from my goals and desire. Come to think of it, it was a fruitful time.
What does it mean for you to be to Premiering Zero in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF?
I love Short Cuts, deeply. Ever since I was a student at Image Arts at Ryerson, Short Cuts was a sort of a mecca, the place to screen your film, if you’re lucky. So to be a part of it for the second time around is a privilege. The selection of shorts is always really inspiring, and it feels great to be a part of it!
You had an amazing festival run with FLUFFY which won Best Live Action Short Drama at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your work?
It was surprising, to say the least. When I made Fluffy, it came from a place of- I need to tell this story. Of course, everyone likes recognition for their work, but in the moment of creating the film, it wasn’t even on my radar as a possibility. It’s always great to have an institution such as the Canadian Academy recognise your work and award it. But I have a rule to let myself enjoy this for a couple of days and then forget about the award entirely. I need to create from a place where I am not expecting anything outside of myself as a motivating factor. I’m not saying I’m great at it, but it is my goal.
"If I’m excited about it, if my closest collaborators share the enthusiasm, I know we are on the right path."
Can you tell me a little bit about how Zero came about, what inspired the screenplay?
This film was born from my desperate attempt to understand what is wrong with communication between me and my then partner. Our conversations about life, love, and the direction of our relationship often left me more confused than I was before I had them. In order to try to get a better grasp, I wrote down a lengthy conversation between the two of us- and realized that it wasn’t really a conversation, but more of “conversational squash” where I felt that my questions, my thoughts and attempts to communicate with my partner felt like hitting a tennis ball against a wall, that is to say- I was having the conversations all by myself. Once I wrote the script as a form of therapy for myself, I read it out loud to several close friends, only to find the comment “Oh man, I’ve had this type of conversation happen to me before” way too many times. I realized that what I thought was unique to my relationship, and my situation, happened between all couples, more or less. I can’t say whether or not this information gave me comfort or made me even more disconcerted than I was in the first place.
To me, these types of conversations in relationships are pure and utter torture, you really feel that you are speaking in a foreign language to the person who is supposed to be the closest to you and you cannot get to them. I also got to see from another perspective that sometimes, letting go and not pushing for more, can be beneficial. Can’t say that I learned that, but from making “Zero”, and getting to hear people’s thoughts on it, I gained a better perspective on how different attachment styles view these types of situations. What started as personal therapy became a short film that everyone can find themselves in, and maybe learn a thing or two about interpersonal relationships and improve them. Or not.
How important is the collaborative relationship between a director and their crew?
Incredibly important. I hate competing, I love collaborating. And the symbiosis of a film crew gives you exactly that, a well-oiled machine serving one purpose, all contributing to the creation of an alternate reality. It’s no surprise that my main collaborators on film became some of my closest friends. You need lots of love, understanding, support, rooting for one another to make it in this already cut-throat industry.
What were the biggest challenges you faced working on Zero?
We shot the film during the time that Serbia was in a semi-lockdown due to corona. There was lots of fear around. Touching people, being close- it was unnatural. We also had very limited resources and limited time, so we had to prepare the best we could. Having said that, once we got into the magical flow of creation, it just kept giving and going- the best feeling in the world.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Since my teenage years, yes. So…half of my life. I’ve always know I wanted to be a director. It seemed the most natural calling for me. I like to do things where I feel I have the skill and control, and if I don’t have the answers, to be really motivated to find them. Directing is that for me, the one place where I feel I can give it my all, and that all the effort feels rewarding. Everything outside of directing and creating can be very tedious- financing, pitching, writing endless treatments. But once I am preparing a film which is to be shot, it’s my zone. The filming is just the tip of the iceberg of creating a film…a wonderful, intense experience where time/space get a completely new shape.
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?
I don’t think it has very much, although I feel that perhaps I have learned to communicate with the audience better, I have them in mind when I am deciding on a story. When some one is dedicating their time to watching your film, you want to make it worthwhile- at least, that is how I feel when I watch a film. I aim to tell a story, and make a film that I, above all, would like to watch. If I’m excited about it, if my closest collaborators share the enthusiasm, I know we are on the right path. That’s all that matters. We need to care about the people we see on screen. I think I fall into the empath category, so I really try to tell stories where one would care about the characters they are watching, and want them to succeed, to root for them.
Is there any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting directing?
The best years of preparation will be you, alone in your room, armed with films and books and art. Absorb as much as you can, and then go off and create. And oh, watch people closely. They are living, breathing versions of your characters and they have all the answers to your questions.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Zero?
I hope that someone going through an unrewarding relationship realizes that these dead-end conversations that go around in circles are extremely common, and that they are not alone or weird. And maybe it will spark some actual conversations between couples on how they can communicate better. Maybe!