Waiting For August is the award winning documentary from talented filmmaker Teodora Ana Mihai. Click through for my interview with Teodora.
Waiting For August – Synposis:
Georgiana Halmac turns 15 this winter. She lives with her six brothers and sisters in a social housing condo on the outskirts of Bacau, Romania. Their mother Liliana was forced to leave her family behind to go to Turin, Italy, to earn money. She won’t be back before summer. During their mother’s absence, Georgiana has been catapulted into the role of head of the family, responsible for her siblings. Her adolescence is cut brutally short. Caught between puberty and responsibility, Georgiana moves ahead, improvising as she goes. Phone conversations with her mom are her only guidelines. Intimate scenes from the daily life of the seven siblings show us – in an uncensored, fly-onthe-wall style – how real events are experienced and interpreted with great imagination by the children. You can’t help being amazed by their ingenuity, while also realizing how precarious their daily equilibrium is.
Interview with Director Teodora Ana Mihai
1. Teodora with your own history of separation can you explain the change in climate of Romania from the 80's to the present day of the Halmac family?
The ´80s in Romania were very tough, in the sense that the communist regime had paralyzed its population by the lack of freedom of speech and even of thought. People were living in fear and distrust and many were quite desperate to find a way of fleeing the country in search for a better life abroad, not being able to imagine a future in the Romania of that time. That was my parents’ case actually.
After the fall of the regime, there was a lot of hope for a better future. Most people believed that after years of oppression, the newly arrived democracy was going to turn the tide. Their hopes were cruelly crushed by a very unstable political arena, plagued by corruption scandals and mismanagement. The new political powers miserably missed opportunities to raise the country to a better living standard, so now the country is just too poor to enjoy its regained freedom. 25 years after the fall of communism, people no longer flee dictatorial oppression, but the oppression of being too poor and not having enough decent work opportunities in their own country to survive.
2. What made you pick the Halmac family after 8 months of searching?
I loved the vivacity the kids were displaying and the joyful dynamic between the many siblings. And thanks to their very different ages (ranging from 5 to 16), I was able to shine a light on the reactions of the different age groups to parental absence.
3. I loved the shot selection of how to frame the kids. Can you talk about working with your DP on creating the right look of the documentary? What cameras did you use for the film?
We talked about the look and the approach at great length. I wanted a soft, kind approach to the story of these children and I wanted to achieve a closeness to the characters that would get under the viewer’s skin. I wanted to give the audience a privileged view of an exceptional level of intimacy, as if they were part of the family. I needed people to feel real empathy for these kids.
And beautiful images and correct framing are very important to me, regardless of the story actually. That is how I like to think about filmmaking.
During the filming of Waiting for August, I was practically always next to my cameraman, discussing beforehand what and how. And once the camera was rolling, we would continue communication through signs and whispers, to achieve the best result possible in every circumstance.
4. Can you talk about the Belgian film industry and in particular how you picked your crew and team?
Of course. Belgium is not a huge country, but it possesses quite a respectable film tradition and reputation. I have the impression that the film industry is even flourishing right now. It has many talented people active on both the Flemish and French speaking side and many of these individuals are working already at an international level.
As for me, it was the first time I was working with this particular crew and team. I had checked out their previous work and their references and after a good discussion with them, I felt confident that we were on the same wavelength and could make this work. They were very open to my artistic vision and showed great interest for the story. Their enthusiasm and work was crucial to the success of this film.
5. With such young children how were you able to bond with them so much?
Through genuine curiosity, openness and admiration for them, I think. Through being very patient and available. Through conversations, playing together, cooking/eating together, homework, TV-watching, going to the park… We were not living in their apartment when we were there of course. But we spent most of our time with them, from very early morning till very late at night.
6. How did the family react to the finished film?
The little ones were having fun, commenting all the time and laughing at each other and at the situation on the screen.
Georgiana was pleased and reassured I think. As you can imagine, any teenage girl is very self-conscious and preoccupied with her looks. She was joking around and commenting in which scenes she thought she looked pretty and in which scenes she had pimples and a bad hair day. And occasionally she was commenting on the situations where she thought she could have been stricter with the kids, uttering this in her usual joking tone and friendly way.
As for their Mom´s reaction, she seemed to oscillate between melancholy, reflection and admiration for her kids. And she was thankful for the souvenir of her children´s childhood that this film represents for her.
7. With any documentary it's hard to have full closure. Would you do a look back with the Halmacs?
There is never closure in such cases. Life goes on, it is a fact, but we remain in close contact. And I am playing with the idea of revisiting them with a camera crew, lets say… eight years from now. I have told them jokingly that I might come back then with the camera to see how they have grown up and what they are doing with their lives. They laughed and asked: Really?
8. What do you hope American audiences will take from your documentary? You're about to be at the Quad for a week run. If you could wish for one specific question to be asked of you during one of the upcoming Q & A's, what would it be?
I don’t have a specific question in mind, but I’m definitely curious about their reactions to the film. I’m looking forward to sharing my film with US audiences, since it narrates the story behind the story of economic migration, which is quite a familiar phenomenon to the US as well. And of course, the film touches many more subjects: childhood, adolescence, brotherhood, love, hope, longing, courage, resilience… all human values that are so universal and that I am sure will not leave US audiences unmoved.
I also hope that US audiences will accept my invitation to patiently observe the beauty that lies in the details of everyday life. And that they are ready to see a film that focusses on positive human aspects and stays far away from a sensationalistic tone and other pity traps. Though the subject matter of the film might seem heavy, the film itself is not: the kids’ vibrant energy doesn´t allow it to be. Despite the hardships, this is a story of hope.
9. Congrats on the wonderful awards for the film! What were the HotDocs and Karlovy Vary experiences like?
Thank you very much! As you can imagine, these experiences were absolutely overwhelming. It is hard to describe the amazing feeling that I felt back then! I was just truly happy and felt (and still feel) enormously honored and privileged that my work has been seen and appreciated to this extent and that it has managed to stand out amongst so many great and valuable films in competition.
I am truly grateful for all that is happening right now. There is no greater motivation for continuing making films, which really is what I love to do!
10. Can you talk about your upcoming work? Your knowing writer Habacuc Antonio de Rosario? Lastly what filmmakers (fiction or documentary) inspire you?
I live in Belgium, where I met Mexican writer Habacuc Antonio de Rosario years ago. We now decided to collaborate on the next film project and at the moment, I travel a lot to the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, at the border with Texas, to conduct research for this new film. The project is planned to be a docu fiction about kids living in this border region so impregnated with violence, that childhood inevitably takes on a different meaning here. The film will raise questions about what it means to grow up in the region. What are the perspectives and options for the future? It is a very challenging new project and it provides me with quite some food for thought. I find it again extremely relevant and I am looking forward to developing this new story and being able to share it with audiences in the near future.
Many filmmakers have inspired me over the years, but my top inspirations are Hirokazu Koreeda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Agnès Varda, Andrei Tarkovsky and Woody Allen.