Rade Šerbedžija, born in Bunić, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), is a well-established actor with over 180 (!) film credits. He began his career after graduating from the Academy of Dramatic Arts of the University of Zagreb. He started to perform in films while he was a student, while he also performed at the Gavella Drama Theatre and at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Rade was one of the most prominent actors in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. He in now a well sought-after actor, not only in Croatia and other parts of Europe, but in Hollywood as well – even Angelina Jolie recognised his acting talents. The Liberation in Skopje, which was screened at various film festivals, including the biggest indie film festival in Europe, Raindance Film Festival, is Rade Šerbedžija’s directorial feature debut, which he co-directed with his son Danilo. The latter already had one other feature under his belt: 72 Days, a black comedy starring his father (seems like collaborations work out well in the Šerbedžija family), which was selected as the Croatian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards. During the 25th Raindance Film Festival, we talked to the father and son duo about The Liberation of Skopje and how the project came to life.
(Question for Rade) Looking back at your life and long career as an actor, what – or who – prompted you to move into directing?
Rade: Dušan Jovanović’s play was my inspiration to film this story. A long time ago, it was a great theatre production; we did it in our theatre KPGT 1976. It was a big success at the beginning of the 80’s. We got the OBY award in New York for the best production of the year, and we had a great tour in America and before that, in Australia. I thought it could be a good story for a good film.
The Liberation of Skopje is an interesting depiction of World War II. What was behind the project, and why did you choose to adopt Dušan Jovanović’s play into the feature film?
Rade: The main character in our film is an 11-year old boy. We follow him throughout the film; and through his eyes, we see what he sees and we experience what he experiences during the war. The boy’s character was my main reason why I decided to make this film. I now realised that children today are again witnesses and victims of terrible wars all around the world.
Danilo: As far as I know, it was Rade’s long-time idea to make a film out of this theatre play. A fun fact is that back in the 80’s, I portrayed Zoran in the theatre play. I was 10 years old back then.
The Liberation of Skopje is full of interesting characters. David Todosovski, who portrays Zoran, and Lucija Šerbedžija, who plays his mother, were both superb throughout. What was the auditioning process like for those roles?
Rade: We were so happy that we found David to play the main part in the film. He is an absolutely brilliant boy and an actor. I also knew that Lucija was the perfect cast for this part. After Sonja Savić (a famous actress in former Yugoslavia), Lucija has the saddest eyes.
Danilo: We auditioned many, many kids, but the moment we saw David, both of us knew he was the one. With Lucija, it was a different situation; Rade knew it was the perfect role for her. I was a little bit afraid how she would manage to act in Macedonian language, but she did a good job.
How long did it take to film and which locations did you use?
Danilo: We filmed at many different locations in Macedonia. The main set was in the city of Bitola, but some scenes were shot in Skopje and around Skopje, and some of them were shot in Veles. It took us around a month and a half to film it.
Production-wise, what challenges did you face while making the film?
Danilo: I think the hardest thing was to find exterior locations since Skopje suffered heavy damage during an earthquake 40 years ago; there are many new, post-Second-World-War buildings in the centre of the town, so we moved our location to the city of Bitola, for it to be our background to the WWII’s Skopje.
What was your vision for The Liberation of Skopje? What story were you trying to get across to the audience?
Rade: We wanted to make a film that would touch people, with emotions and an interesting story.
(Question for Danilo) What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that interest evolved?
Danilo: As a son of theatre and film parents, I think I couldn’t have become anything else but an actor or a director. Initially, I was more interested in theatre directing, but slowly, film took all of my intention.
Your film has been shown at a few film festivals already. What role have these events played out in your life so far? How do you get the most out of them?
Danilo: My only goal is that the film is watched by as many people as possible. Festivals are a great opportunity to meet different people and to see their reactions after they have watched the film, and to listen to what they thought about it. It is always exciting to see how film travels around the world.
Rade: Yes, we have attended many film festivals. It’s always nice to meet other filmmakers and to share experiences with people from different parts of the world.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make some better than others?
Danilo: For me, the most important is to feel the film. If, after I have seen a certain film, I think about it while walking home, then film did a good job. I like films that don’t give me all the answers, I like when something is left open, for the audience to make their own conclusions.
If you could name one or more things that you think would make the film industry better, what would they be?
Rade: A film can be interesting in many different ways. It is an art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Films can be of different genres and are mostly interesting. I would like to see more artistic films though, like we had in the ’60s and ’70s.
Danilo: Keeping the European way of making films, well-organized film funding, fair director contracts, respecting the authors’ rights and our right to fair remuneration for our works. Furthermore, fighting against piracy, more art theatres showing small budget films, not only blockbusters, and more films from all around the world in theatres.
What’s next for you? Any new projects in the pipeline?
Rade: There is an Italian film set for January and one Croatian film set for the next summer. I will dedicate the rest of my time to my students at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rijeka. I am still playing King Lear (for 17 years now) at the Ulysses Theatre on the Island of Brijuni.
Danilo: In June 2018, I will start filming my next feature film called Tereza 33 and I am very happy about it, since that is my long-time project. It is a very interesting, modern story, written by a great Croatian actress and scriptwriter Lana Barić.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
Featured Photo © Amer Kuhinja
Photo of Rade @ Raindance Film Festival
All other photos © Courtesy of photographers