Interview with writer of Little Hands, an Australian film shot in Bosnia&Herzego
Press release from Dinka Bonelle Dzubur
The sound of an Australian film shot completely offshore in a remote post-war country Bosnia & Herzegovina typically generates some concern in both Producer and Director. But Little Hands seems different. First: the Director is Claire McCarthy, yes, the director who introduced the Australian film The Waiting City with Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton and Isabel Lucas a couple of years back at the Toronto Film Festival, film which marked the first Australian film shot in India. Little Hands is also the first Australian film to be shot offshore in Mostar city, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The Producer is also EP and Actress, Dinka Bonelle Dzubur, a versatile ingenue and QUT Acting Graduate (who additionally holds a Journalism degree from the University of Queensland), is also a woman with a very interesting history who was recently named the Croatian "rising star" in 2011 after she premiered and introduced Little Hands at the prestigious Pula Film Festival, the Croatian equivalent of the Academy® Awards and appeared in the successful Croatian TV Series "Lara's Choice".
Second, there is the Little Hands subject matter, and approach to the material, is anything but frivolous. This film is real, moving, something worth keeping an eye on. In fact, audiences will be introduced to this powerful tale screening this weekend in Official Competition during the Flickerfest International Film Festival, Australia's leading and only Academy® accredited and BAFTA recognised international short film festival.
A dark, sometimes disturbing but very uplifting and moving portrayal, Little Hands attempts to portray the deep ambiguities embedded in the pain inflicted on and by the women and children during the Bosnian War. Dinka Bonelle Dzubur, portrays the leading heroine, Mia, an Australian tourist who ventures to post-war Mostar city in search for her only living family, her younger sister Sofia. In the film, Dinka anchors the film with her co-star Miraj Grbic (Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol) and we soon are to discover that behind this graceful and thoughful observer, lies a lot of depth – Dinka is a Croatian native with Bosnian and Slavonian roots who moved to Australia at the age of 12 and has thus far lived in over 7 countries.
Remembering her transition to Australia at age 11, Dinka candidly says: “every time I moved, I sort of reconstructed an identity in order to fit in. In fact, I haven't stopped traveling and searching. I now almost see identity as an ephemeral concept". Here, Dinka speaks about her first reactions to the project, the journey of making the film and what is next.
LITTLE HANDS is told through the perspective of a young Australian, Mia, who arrives to the post-war city of Mostar to reunite with her younger sister, Sofia. How did this project come about?
The script for Little Hands is a true-story inspired by my experiences working with children and troubled youngsters in Sarajevo and Mostar: two cities I have an intrinsic bond with.
The screenplay was workshopped by the very talented Australian Director Claire McCarthy and myself in Mostar city and we included a lot of children and actors from the province to take part in realising the scope of the project, including young Actors from Theatre for Young People in Mostar and in collaboration with dancers who were part of the Pavarotti Theatre ensemble.
The visual style of the film is "poetic realism", where the film takes elements of realism in an almost documentary way but there is also a visual and narrative authority to the film's style, tone and approach to performance. Always filmed in real location, this included the "Egipatsko Selo" orphanage where I stayed and worked in as part of my Actor's research into character.
The story is told through a thoughtful observer, Mia, an estranged woman, an Australian of Balkan heritage, who arrives to Mostar to work with troubled youngsters in a remote orphanage, but in particular, to. reunite with her younger sister Sofia whom she has not seen for 9 years and who was left behind during the Balkan war. The film explores questions of identity, loss and the fragility and the importance of human connection.
I was drawn to the experience of creating and playing a character that breaks out of their environment to define herself in her own way.
Little Hands in fact deals tenderly with the sister/sister relationship. How attuned to that are you and how did you like playing Mia?
At most times, I am drawn to playing characters that intuitively offer me, as an Artist, flexibility to grow and an opportunity to imaginatively explore areas that are important to me, at any moment in time.
There was a lot of fragility that underpinned the character of Mia but very contained, very ordered, she is assertive but with a deep sensitivity and fragility. This to me was interesting to explore.
The film does not wallow in the darkness and despair of the past but supports the journey towards acceptance and re-discovery of love and understanding for both characters – loving and allowing oneself to love, even under such circumstances; this experience was very memorable and definitely represents a form of catharsis for me as I have not been back to the province of Herzegovina since my younger years. In fact, I left the country due to war that erupted in the Balkans in '92.
Authenticity, inside knowledge, clear logic and a deep understanding of the world of the story was essential to telling this story. It was important in this instance to plot a narrative where the characters have room to transform personally, within themselves, as well as wanting to offer the better part of self to each other.
What was the working relationship like among the actors? Did you have any kind of rehearsal?
No, we had no rehearsal—we just went for the raw, emotional feeling relying mostly on intuition. Which might look like, or might feel, as something that needs clipping or polishing, yet we also know it carries this raw energy which is really exciting. Claire recognised that – Capturing that is difficult—first, second take, no more. Once you go through more of it, you lose it. Rehearsals, we realized early, would cause trouble. We would start repeating ourselves
Stepping away from your experience making the film, having now seen the completed version, is there anything that surprised you?
It's very hard for me to objective about the film in any way. I've seen every version possible; I was there throughout the shoot. I can't possibly be objective. I can look at my other colleagues work, and they are all tremendous, really. What I always enjoy the most about the work is the reaction from the audience. To see their faces, to see their expressions, to see how they were sitting in their chair uncomfortably, and start crying even, is a great testament to what film can achieve. There is also this element of a cathartic experience, where I'm happy where we are. It's been a long year. The circle has been completed, and I'm happy where we are with it.
Little Hands is populated by objects and people of great beauty, in an exotic location. How did you get to film in Mostar?
I have a deep love for the city of Mostar as my father is a Herzegovina native. I have lived in over 7 countries now in my time and discovering Mostar and its people during the filming of this film was a warm and very fulfiling journey. The people of Mostar really embraced all of us working on the film and I have formed some very special friendships as a result.
Director Claire McCarthy and Cinematographer Denson Baker ACS came to Mostar for the first time during the filming of this film and this also was very exciting as they brought to the set, a well-crafted approach to depicting the authenticity and epic feel for both the story and the location.
You are also the Writer and Executive Producer of the film – how do you like wearing multiple hats?
I consider most creation of Art part of the poetic mind. I am a classically trained Actress but also enjoy writing very much as I have a background in print-journalism and have always either written or been on stage or on a film set. To me, this represents a large part of my life.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) from QUT and also hold a Journalism degree from the University of Queensland.
This film was an opportunity to bring together a lot of my skill-set and tell a story that will offer up a new voice but hopefully also tell a universal story that people will be able to relate to. The film explores universal values that hopefully will relate to the international public: exploring notions of family values, identity, friendship. Through serendipity, sheer determination and a lot of commitment from all parties involved, the project was realised.
I most certainly enjoy Producing, bringing a variety of people together to collaborate on projects they would be linked to through creative taste and I see myself continuing to keep myself occupied shifting between these hats in all the time to come. I launched Chandelier Films fairly recently and we have some interesting projects on the development slate which I look forward to working on.
You have appeared in many stage performances and have recently merged to film – what do you prefer and what is your ideal role?
I don’t have a preference and feel the best thing would be to always shift between theatre and film. I enjoy acting in both mediums. Theatre offers an opportunity to polish and keep polishing craft whereas Film is more immediate and is a visual medium. Film obviously reaches more people. At most part, I consider the team and story on any project to be a deciding factor of involvement, whether that be theatre, film, music, fashion, writing or otherwise. The collaborative aspect of this profession is the most enjoyable.
In terms of the ideal role, I enjoy embracing masculine parts, it would be interesting playing a man. If it is something I have not done before, I find that very appealing. I also love action films and thrillers. On my own slate through Chandelier Films, I am working on a modern fairytale and an adaptation of a comic book.
Little Hands teaser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6wWyiB4-kg
Little Hands will screen as part of the Official Competition at Flickerfest International Film Festival
SCREENING SUNDAY 6.45 pm & MONDAY 6.45 pm, BONDI PAVILLION