Srećan Put (Happy Trails) aka Fragments of a Memory of Another Film
Year one. I’ll do my best not to pretend that my new feature film is a reset on the cinema apparatus, by any means. But I will admit it as a reset of my own practice and approach to filmmaking. It is two thousand and twenty one, and amidst the endless horrors and suffering in the world, amidst the never-ending p*nd*m*c, I sat down for nearly a week straight to carve away at digital video files, learn more about color correction, and bring my third first feature film to fruition.
In 2014 I had ‘made a feature film’ during the final semester of my undergraduate studies. My dreams of playing Sundance were squashed when I learned they only accepted ‘DCP’s, which I had never heard of and thought my only option was to spend a couple grand to make one. (I did not squander money having a DCP made. I was overly optimistic, not stupid.) The movie was called Fragments of a Memory.
After a couple of years having no idea how to realize my dreams of becoming a filmmaker, I realized that the only thing stopping me from ‘making a movie’ was me. So I got out of my own way and made a movie. It starred myself and a couple of friends, and was loosely based on a fictionalized version of our own lives in Heidelberg – or it was about trying to be more honest with audiences, and therefore with myself. And all while still trying to navigate the multitudinous divides between fiction, meta-fiction and reality, truth and lies, questions, answers, and general comments which neither question nor answer. When I finished that film (Fragments of a Memory of a Film), I began plans for my next feature, which would be a proper narrative fiction, set in Berlin and shot on film (HAH).
In 2017 Tijana and I moved to Berlin, and to be quite frank it was a trying experience. I was beyond grateful to have Tijana in my life, as I didn’t feel that I had much of anything else in those first two months: I had left my friends behind for a second time (the first time being in 2014 when I left the U.S. ‘for good’), we were living in a temporary sublet and scrambling to find a permanent place in one of the worst cities for apartment hunting, and to top it all off I couldn’t find a job – to my great surprise, no one had been waiting outside the train station to greet me with a briefcase full of cash asking me to make a film about whatever I wanted (and to shoot it on film). In that moment I felt the seed of a second feature planted, and in March of this year I realized the time had come to bring it to life. The film is called Srećan Put (Happy Trails) aka Fragments of a Memory of Another Film.
It is my third attempt at assembling a work of feature-length (an increasingly nebulous and tenuous distinction), and the first of those three that I consider a total success. What constitutes a total success, in this case, is the work’s completion, without any glaring technical errors (a little soft focus and subpar sound aside) which push the film to be ‘unwatchable’ while also managing to bring together some visual ideas I had bubbling in my head for several years (and indeed had been practicing in isolated sessions of filming and editing, sequences which were sometimes completely abandoned and in other cases made their way right into the feature film in the same form in which they were initially completed, well over a year ago).
With the introduction of affordable digital filmmaking equipment came many new cinematic forms, and in some way what I’ve created here holds connections to ‘mumblecore’. Often, no budget scenarios are ‘overcome’ by focusing on the story, the script, the narrative. THE STORY! THE STORY! Everyone will remind you of the importance of the story, and I could not care less about the godforsaken story. I care about how the story (or absence of story!) is told (or shown!). I will concede that story is not completely negligible in all cases, but you have to be willing admit to yourself that it’s not the story itself which sells you on most movies, and especially not great ones.
If you’ve been brainwashed by the story police, this may not be an easy task. But I believe in you, and I’ll offer a little exercise that should help: close your eyes. Do you see the flashing red, green, yellow? Unnamable forms which describe everything and nothing? Do you see the imprints of the room that was in front of you just moments ago? Are they not fascinating to watch? They have no story.
I propose that my film is an example of ‘jumblecore’, a category referring to the use of ultra low budgets to create 21st century moving image works which forgo a focus on ‘story’ in favor of exploring the possibilities of the medium through formal experimentation – a direct challenge to the hegemony of Hollywood money and a reflection of the current absence of a type of filmmaking which used to be a normal part of the healthy functioning cinema apparatus. The cinema apparatus is no longer healthy.
I am not blind to the fact that in the context of this CYZ project, writing about my own film (especially plopping it into the YEAR ONE slot in an extensive lineage of brilliant titles over a century) could very much be taken the wrong way. And yet I know of no other way. If I am to tell you what a century of moving images means to me, it would be a mistake not to point you in the direction of the work I have just completed, which (in short) sums up my feelings about how to work with images.
Consider yourself spoiler warned.
As I’ve stated plainly in the opening eight minutes of narration over a black screen, this film came about from three essential ingredients:
1) the desire to make a film
2) moving to Berlin and not having a great time in the process
3) realizing I am better at shooting first and asking questions later
Thus the film (I keep calling it a ‘film’ but please don’t be fooled, it was shot entirely digitally) is many things to me. First of all, it is a document about this part of my life, or at least a semi-fictionalized part of this part. What you will not find in my movie are scenes re-enacting specific events in my life.
What you will find in my movie are scenes unscripted (and two scripted) between characters created by simply placing a camera in front of my friends and asking them to play themselves. When the camera rolls, you are a new person, even if you try to ‘be yourself’. Even when he forgot about the camera, Martin in this movie is specifically ‘movie Martin’ for every minute he is on screen. Even Valentin, who is a trained actor, has three different selves here: Valentin my friend, who agreed to take part in the project; Valentin the actor who plays an exaggerated version of himself in a scripted scene; and Valentin who acts ‘natural’ for the camera in unscripted scenes.
You will also find fragments from scenes in my life as they were happening. For instance, one time I cleaned out the ice that accumulates in the back of Tijana and I’s fridge. As I was doing this work (and cursing the fridge for its bad habit), I thought to myself that it might be something worth filming next time. So the next time it had to be done, I set up the camera and filmed part of the process. I would have to be utterly insane to willfully set up that scene without the actual need for the fridge to be cleaned. Thus the film exists as a kind of response to life: certain events pushed me to get out the camera – such as when I was flipping through an old notebook and found a tiny dead bug squished between the pages. I have no idea how or when it got in there. Other times I simply walked around with my camera in search of images that pleased me.
Ultimately, as with most of my work, this film is an exercise. I want to improve, and I cannot do so without practice. This was a conscious effort to practice in a more intensive way than I ever have before; to create something that fulfilled me creatively while remaining ‘accessible’ enough to a general audience. No one has to like it, only to be willing to give it a go. This is my response to a century of moving images, for the time being. I’m sure I’ll have another in a year. I know I’m not the only one to work in this manner, with no budget, with very few collaborators. And I know I’m not the first to think I’ll manage to somehow turn this into a career.
RIP to the rest, but I’m different.