Two years ago, I was making a series of short films for an EU PHARE
project for the improvement of the Roma situation in Romania. I
travelled all over the country and came across many interesting
people and places.
Somebody told me about a village in the northeast where children
walk two and a half miles to school in the nearby town. In good
weather they would go across the fields, and in heavy rain or snow
they would walk along the railway tracks. I immediately thought
this would be a good subject for a film.
Sometime later I had the opportunity to visit this village. I was
introduced to a family with ten children; five of whom had made
it all the way to University. While I was talking with the father,
by the gate – an interesting character himself, with his big,
green eyes and his dark face – a young man passed by with
a bucket, on his way to the well. Not only did he not say hello,
but he didn’t seem to be aware of anything around him at all.
The father told me that this was his oldest son Mihai, who just
got back from a monastery, where he had spent nine months after
having abandoned his theological studies at the University. He seemed
alienated or rather – as I was to find out later – profoundly
disappointed by the world around him.
When the father told me about his three older daughters, I knew
there was something special about this family and that it would
be worth spending some more time with them.
Since the older children had left home, the initial idea was to
make a film about the younger ones and their daily trip to school.
However, it turned out that they were at school all day, so I ended
up spending most of my time with Mihai – who was living at
home at this point – and his mother. Since both of them seemed
to be more outspoken and articulate than the rest of the family,
they soon occupied my attention completely, becoming the leading
characters of the film.
One of the first lessons you learn as a documentary filmmaker is
that what you find on the ground, when you go out filming, is usually
different from what you had planned in advance. Or, as the Romanian
saying goes, "the calculations you make at home change as soon
as you get to the market" (“socoteala de-acasa nu se
potriveste cu aia din tirg”). You have to adapt to the situation,
to follow your instinct and go for what you think is more interesting,
rather than stick to the initial plan and maybe end up with a boring
This may cause some debates with the producers, who have to be
prepared to adapt and take risks; for the filmmaker this is part
of the excitement of the filmmaking process.
You have to be sure you come back with a film "in the can”.
And the great joy you feel every time you go to the “set”
to meet your characters seems to be a guarantee for that…