17.12.2014 grit friedrich

The film begins with a panoramic view of the Ferentari neighborhood of Bucharest, where Toto, a ten year old boy and his sisters, Andreea and Ana, live.

Their mother is locked up for drug trafficking, so that, for many years, the children are left all on their own. Their one-room home is their meeting place. While, Ana, the eldest, drifts away into the drug world, Toto and Andreea find their comfort in a club founded by the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities. It is here that they will dicover dancing and will start to practice it.  

Alexander Nanau has created an intimate portrait of children left in most difficult situations, looking for their way in spite of all that's happening around them. The film presents the story of a dissolution and of a new beginning. What is significant is the closeness of the director to its protagonists, a closeness not marked by cheap sentimentality; the delicate drama play, somewhat musical, filtered in the fitting room; and the masterly visual language.

For the 1979-born director, this is the second documentary placed in Romanian society, after The World According to Ion B., the winner of an Emmy prize. Starting September, this new film is traveling from one festival to another. After Zürich, TOTO AND HIS SISTERS won the documentary film contest at the 30th Film Festival in Warsaw.

Grit Friedrich talked to Director Alexander Nanau. 

Why did you consistenly choose and apply the perspective of the invisible onlooker? The only ones to be asking questions are the children.

I've had this formula for a documentary in mind for quite a while and wanted to apply it for my next film. And it just matched the theme. I was always convinced that both artistic and documentary films function a lot better without the implication of an author asking the questions. To the spectator the situation where the documentarist asks questions and receives answers is very clear one, but it presents no emotional risk. It is with this different way that I wanted to break that barrier and to allow the spectator a direct and emotional contact with the protagonists.

You have filmed very powerful images, you always get close to the protagonists. Was this the reason to being the one to handle the video camera?

I always do this with my films. In fact, it is the only way to work on such documentary films with an observational point of view. It would be impossible for me to stay next to a cameraman and hope that he will record the same image that I consider emotionally important at a certain time. I have to be able to see through the lens and to capture what is to be captured only through the lens. In fact, I don't consider myself a director only, but also a photographer or a cameramen, and so there is no way to work differently to how I do. The best way to look and feel is through the lens.

Is this film one that considers the political situation, considering the fact that the actual social situation of Romania is yet unknown to the European space?

This film is a political one to me, and makes a reference to the whole of Europe. The problem of poverty and of people living at the edge of society is a European one. We cannot limit it to the countries where these people actually come from. Once these countries become part of the EU, the problem is a common one. The movies aims to be an incentive of thinking seriously at how we see these people and how their problems should be treated.

What reactions do you expect after the screening of this movie in Romania?

Since the Romanians live in tense relations with the Roma people, I can assume that TOTO AND HIS SISTERS will cause controversy. Which is good, because it's one of the intentions. But my purpose and hope are that through the shape and the content of this film I can make people think. These people that are still racist and prejudiced. So I am very curious to see what will happen in December, when the film will be broadcast in Romania, on the HBO TV channel.

All stills © Alexander Nanau and the producers 


Alexander Nanau, photo © Ken Laurent 
English version Alice Stoicescu

Countries Romania, Ungaria, Germania Directed by Alexander Nanau film run 93' Cinematorgraphy Alexander Nanau Film editing Alexander Nanau, George Cragg, Mircea Olteanu Producers Bianca Oana, Valeriu Nicolae, Catalin Mitulescu, Marcian Lazar, Hanka Kastelicova, Alexander Nanau Production of Strada Films, HBO Hungary, Alexander Nanau Production                                
grit friedrichis a freelance journalist from Leipzig specialised in the music and culture of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. She works for various radio stations, including MDR FIGARO, WDR and DRadio Kultur, as well as the record labels Asphalt Tango and Oriente Musik. She has close ties with Romania – its traditional music, including fiddler’s music, as well as the contemporary multicultural music scene.
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