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“It Makes You Rethink Your Life”: Tamar Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov on Creative Change During Quarantine

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

Tamar Kotevska: This situation was a very good test for everyone because it makes you rethink your life, how you live your life, how differently you want to live it. If you don’t ensure your quality of life, you will not get far with your quality of ideas.

This was the first time I could explore my own country. We had trips planned throughout Europe for March and April, another U.S. tour in May. We just couldn’t stop. So, for us personally, it was like somebody pushed us down and said, “No, you’re not going anywhere. You need to stop.” In a way, cancelling our trips and tickets was the best thing that could have happened. I’m grateful to have the time to discover my country because this is my source of inspiration.

Filmmakers are people who live these situations, witness these situations. It’s not like we enjoy them, but it’s our duty. We are the police of reality. As filmmakers, we must create a new perception of anything that happens socially, new ways of thinking about it. I know the film industry will have trouble financially, like every other industry. But our job as filmmakers is to find a way. Every documentary is based on a difficult situation. We must find ways to show it.

Ljubomir Stefanov: I isolated myself for the first two months of the COVID-19 crisis. To accept the situation, the first thing I had to do was remove all of my old ideas, which were pretty much toxic. I said, “OK, I will just go forward.” Because when I started to recycle ideas, it was a disaster, a personal disaster. This situation, this crisis, made me remember that we made Honeyland not with financing, but with the equipment we had in our backpacks, the money we had in our pockets.

To make a good film, it is not about the money or the circumstances, it is the idea. A good idea, and the enthusiasm to realize it. This crisis, we all agree it will be difficult, it will change everything. But how we started working on Honeyland, we feel that might be applicable everywhere in the world.

This is the fourth month of the crisis, I think we are in good positions, both of us. Tamara has her feature, she is in pre-production. We have been shooting a new project for more than a month now. I realized what I had to throw away was from the last 10 years, so I’ve gone back 25 years ago and have started writing a comic book. And we are working on a children’s project, adapting Honeyland’s ideas about sustainability for an illustrated book and a board game.

Kotevska: This board game is like the opposite of Monopoly. It’s not about conquering and power, it’s about keeping balance. That’s how you win the game.

Stefanov: When you play Monopoly, you are killing yourself trying to take everything. Here, it’s a different mindset, a different feeling. Let’s take care of everything.

Kotevska: There’s a line in Honeyland, sort of Hatidže Muratova’s motto: “If one breaks the rule, everyone pays the price.” It’s become a slogan in Macedonia; people use it for the pandemic.

Stefanov: Wear a mask, because everyone will pay for your mistakes.

Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov codirected Honeyland, nominated for both Feature Documentary and International Feature Academy Awards.

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