For the second year in a row, Sarajevo Filma Acedemy (SFA) got into the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, alongside some of the oldest and most renowned film schools in the world. A young film director and SFA student Stijn Bouma presented his film Lejla as part of of the official selection for student films Cinéfondation, on Thursday 25 May, as one of 16 selected films out of 2,600 entries. Lejla, a project of the SFA in co-production with Alchemic Film (Netherlands), was filmed in Sarajevo, in Bosnian, with a cast of local amateur actors. Last year, the film Dobro by Marte Hernaiz Pidal, an MA student at the SFA, was part of the official selection of the Cinéfondation. The film's director, Stijn Bouma, and the main actress, Lejla Hadžić, attended the premiere, alongside the executive director of the SSST University, Emir Ganić.
We thought that this international success would be a proper occassion to do an interview with Stijn. He was kind enough to share his story upon his return to Sarajevo.
SSST: Dear Stijn, thank you for agreeing to do this interview right after Cannes. First of all, congratulations on the success of your film Lejla to you and the whole crew! We are honoured to have you as an ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo Film Academy and SSST.
So, how was it in Cannes? Give us your overall impression of the city, the Festival, the atmosphere...
The festival was amazing for me. Cannes is a city by the coast, and the centre of the festival is also connected to the beach basically. The weather was great, sunny and good temperature and so also the atmosphere was really good. Kind of strange to watch films inside a dark room then, but also there cinema is really important and alive. The audience enthusiasm, waiting in lines for the newest films, it makes one feel like cinema is really valuable and magical again.
SSST: Did you get to see other films that made it into Cinefondation? Which topics predominated, what are the current "hot topics“ in film based on this year's Cannes Film Festival?
Yes, I saw all the films that screened as part of the Cinéfondation competition. They were a lot of different genres and styles, and it was noticeable that a few films dealt with the topic of leaving a place or crossing a border. In general my impression was that most films were made by engaged filmmakers. Who genuinely cared about a certain issue or character.
SSST: And what about the after parties, filmmakers, celebrities, etc.? Did you do your honest part of networking?
I did not go to too much parties, also because I was usually quite busy during the days. But I did definitely meet some interesting and important people, from both the Dutch as well as the Bosnian film industry. I think it definitely is helping me already and giving me opportunities. And yes there was this one evening where I met Barry Jenkins shortly. And I saw a few world premiers in the presence of the filmmakers, like David Lynch and Michael Haneke.
SSST: We've heared that the film was well received by your colleagues in the film industry. What do you think appealed to them? What is the magic, the allure of Lejla?
It's hard to tell as it's not a very spectacular film. But I guess one slowly gets into the story and the rhythm. And then the ending which is kind of rough makes a strong impression I hope.
SSST: Tell us a bit more about the process of making the film – choosing the actors, challenges throughout the process, etc. Feel free to share a few anecdotes, please.
I found the main actress, Lejla Hadzic, through a mutual friend that we had. I was organizing a casting and then I asked this friend to send me a few suggestions, out of which I picked Lejla and she immediately seemed perfect for the role. So it wasn't a very big search, afterwards together with Lejla I found another actor, and the third one I already knew from another shoot. I was very well prepared, knew exactly how I wanted to shoot it and the schedule gave us enough time and space to work at a comfortable pace. The biggest challenges were related to things we could not control: rain, short sunset, the timetable of buses etc.
SSST: I was mesmerized by the story you told me – how the film kind of „happened“. Its success seems so wonderfully spontaneous and deserved without any previous interest, almost like a surprise. When did you realize "Oh, we could be making something really good here...“?
I was quite enthusiastic during the shoot about some scenes as they were unfolding in front of my eyes. And then also at the end of the shoot I had the feeling that we really had something. Then in the edit and with other people giving feedback I got mixed feelings about it and was unsure. Some festivals rejected the film, and then I was very lucky and happy ofcourse to be invited for the Cinefondation.
SSST: So, what are your plans for the upcoming future? Any new projects and ideas?
Soon I will start the postproduction of my graduation film, which I shot in the beginning of april. After finishing that I hope to start writing a feature film, but the ideas about that are still in a very early stage.
SSST: What will you be taking with you from Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina when you leave? Do you plan to come back or mantain contact? Summ it up your own way.
Living in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina somehow broadened my perspective on life I think. Coming from the relatively wealthy and comfortable Netherlands, it was quite something to live for a few years in a place which has such a recent heavy past. I will mostly remember the mountains, and the friends I made here, but I was most impressed by some stories of people here. I definitely think I will come by every once in a while!
SSST: Thank you very much for a lovely conversation, Stijn. May your imagination and talent guide you all over the world. Make sure to stay in touch visit us!
Thank you, Lejla!
The interview was conducted by Ms Lejla Selmanović, our Head of PR.
Photo credit: Stijn Bouma, private collection