AN INTERVIEW WITH VARUN SASINDRAN ABOUT ‚OMARSKA‘

Let us introduce you to the Indian director Varun Sasindran, who is participating in this year’s Berlinale Shorts competition.

Born in Kerala, India in 1987, he studied electronics and communication engineering and worked as a software engineer for four years. In 2012, inspired by his visits to international film festivals, he quit his job and turned his attentions to film. He studied visual media at the University of Calicut in Kerala and took a master’s degree at the Sarajevo Film Academy where, thanks to a workshop led by director Alain Fleischer, he became aware of Le Fresnoy – Studio National des Arts Contemporains in France and went on to study there.

Portrait_2
© Varun Sasindran

Bosnian War 1992. In the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the concentration camp Omarska, which according to Serbian reports was an assembly point and investigation centre. Between May and August 1992, thousands of people were interned, tortured, raped and murdered there. Now it is a factory site of the Arcelor Mittal Company. So far, those murdered there have yet to be commemorated. The film is based on the agonizing memories of Nusreta Sivac, who served as a judge until the outbreak of the war. She was sent to the Omarska concentration camp and had to work in the kitchen. From there she could observe the atrocities and became a victim of the violence herself. Omarska tries to construct a virtual memorial using archive material, videos and statements by survivors in a 3D animation. As soon as the last witnesses have died, text and image documents will play a central role in the historical reappraisal of the events. Scientists, artists, filmmakers and writers will become interpreters of the past and will have to replace the survivors who were the historians of their own experience.

Still 3 Omarska © Varun Sasindran
© Omarska by Varun Sasindran

What is your ambition in the film?

I hope the voices from Prijedor will be heard more louder especially in those places, where subject matter is not well known. Through this film, my attempt was to construct a memorial (in 3D animation) mainly guided by the memories of the survivors with the help of archive images. I believe this film will open a dialogue on how reckoning the history could play an important role in reconciliation. And I feel Berlinale will play a vital role in reinforcing this aspect.

What do you like about the short form?

I always liked the films that takes their own time to find their rhythm, and this aspect in short form is quite challenging – to get it right could be a nerve racking  experience. For me, I could never predict what would be the end result. Especially with my latest film Omarska, we decided to reject the existing structure and  narration, just two days before we had to finish our edit . With the short format, it could be just a matter of making one bad decision. And we never really know if it is really a bad decision or not. I enjoy this restless situation, which forces you in the end, to purely go with your intuition.

What are your future plans?

While realizing Omarska, I got to know about Hajra who was detained at Omarska. My urge is to know more about Hajra especially during her end times and I feel an urge to make a film on her. Also, a film about my hometown -Kannur, where political murders have been witnessed from past many years.

Also more importantly, to help the young filmmakers  and artists from my state, in realizing their dreams in whichever way I can, especially who has no academic backgrounds in arts from any privileged institutions. As I feel public funds in India, more opportunities are concentrated on those, who are qualified from elite academies. I strongly feel this eligibility criteria needs to be relooked.

24 films from 17 countries will be competing for the Golden and Silver Bear, the Audi Short Film Award, endowed with 20,000 euros, and a nomination as “Berlin Short Film Candidate for the European Film Awards 2019”.

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