Interview: Andrej Volkashin

'Fikus' is the story of two friends and a pot plant, set against the backdrop of New Year's Eve celebrations in present-day Sarajevo. Its writer and director Andrej Volkashin spoke to the Iris Blogger about the film, his inspirations, and cinema in Bosnia & Herzegovina and his native Macedonia.
There are picture descriptions for the visually impaired at the end of this post. IRIS BLOGGER: Did you always want to write and direct films? How did you get into film making? ANDREJ VOLKASHIN: I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller. When I was a kid I painted a lot so I wanted to make animated films, but I wasn't very patient. I'm quite adventurous and don't like sitting inside, also I've always had many interests.  So, I guess on some level the idea of becoming a writer and director of live action films started shaping up in my head as a way to express my various interests that is also fitting my energy and temper. At first I dismissed it as a real possibility. I grew up in a very small town in Macedonia where everybody was in crisis after the break-up of Yugoslavia, so having the dream to become a filmmaker was a bit crazy. But just around prom, I don't know what happened to me, but I said it will be film directing and that's it. IB: Who were your early influences? Were there any particular filmmakers or films that made you want to follow in their footsteps? AV: Jurassic Park. I will never forget watching in the cinema the scene with the raptors chasing the kids in the kitchen. I was so scared and excited! But apart from that what I found even more satisfying in the film was that it was basically the story of Frankenstein, just told in another way. Man against nature is a theme that intrigued me from as far as I can remember. But the film that has influenced me the most would probably be Harold and Maude, because it was so touching and funny, made me cry and laugh and dream and fall in love with it.
Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort in Harold and Maude (1971).
IB: Fikus is very much focused on its two main characters, Almir and Militsa. Was it difficult to cast those roles, given that the film depends so much on the strength of the performances? How did you select Edin Avdagic Koja and Tatjana Sojic? AV: I knew Edin from before and felt like there was a real tender side to him that I thought I could explore through the character of Almir. For the rest of the cast I worked with casting director Timka Grahic. She recommended Tatjana Sojic and as soon as I saw her I knew she'd be perfect for Militsa. She is a brilliant actress and a lovely person too. Both Edin and Tatjana were just wonderful to work with and I really hope I'll get a chance to work with them again in the future. IB: Ficus is the first film from Bosnia & Herzegovina to be shortlisted for the Iris Prize. Do many films made there feature LGBT+ characters, or is it still relatively difficult for those stories to be told?
Ermin Bravo as Mirsad and Edin Avdagic Koja as Almir in Ficus (Fikus).
AV: I made the film as part of Sarajevo City of Film program by Sarajevo Film Festival. The concept was that filmmakers from different countries from the region collaborate on a short film based in Sarajevo.  So I am Macedonian, but the reason why I felt like I could easily set this story in Bosnia & Herzegovina is because the two countries, like many others in the region, share very similar attitudes towards the LGBT+ community. In general I'd say that because it is still a taboo, there are not many films that portray LGBT+ characters, and very often the ones that do, lack genuine understanding for those characters. IB: On a similar note, many recent films from Bosnia & Herzegovina are about the 1990s war or its aftermath, and the war is probably the first association many audiences in the UK would make with the country. Ficus feels like a refreshing reminder that there's much more to life in present-day Sarajevo. As a filmmaker, are you conscious of moving away from the subject of recent history, or is it something you would like to explore in future? AV: I was five years old when Yugoslavia started to fall apart and in my hometown in the eastern corner of Macedonia, all I knew about the wars was something I had heard from the TV. Still, as a filmmaker from the Balkans it seems like I am expected to only tell stories about conflict, poverty and corruption, but people from developing countries also fall in love, have dreams and inner struggles and they have the right to share these stories too. However, one can not be completely ignorant of the social background because it shapes who we are. There seems to be a lot of things happening right now, not only in the region where I am from but in the entire world, and for me it is important to talk about what I see and feel at the moment, to make films that could make a difference now.
Tatiana Sojic as Militsa.
IB: This is your fifth short film. Is that because it's easier to get short films funded and made, or because you prefer it as a medium? Do you have any other film projects in the pipeline? AV: At first I was making short films with the idea of moving a step closer towards a feature film. Yes, it is much easier to make short film, but now I actually really appreciate it as a form and I think I would probably continue making short films after I make a feature. Currently I am developing my first feature film at Torino Film Lab, so I do hope that soon I will be directing my first feature! Andrej Volkashin will be attending this year's Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival. Programme 9 | Encounters | Cineworld Screen 15 | Fri 11 Oct 4:30pm Buy tickets for Programme 9 / Buy festival passes Picture Descriptions
  1. A screenshot from the film 'Ficus' - the title of the film appears to the left, over a shot of an interior, an apartment lit with fairy lights, and a man wearing only underpants walking out of the room with his back to the audience.
  2. A photograph of the director, Andrey Volkashin. He has shoulder-length brown hair and a short beard and moustache.
  3. A shot from the film 'Harold and Maude', showing Ruth Gordon as Maude and Bud Cort as Harold. They are on a motorbike. Maude, an older woman, is wearing a hood and a yellow raincoat. Harold is wearing a beige raincoat. Maude is the one about to drive the motorbike. Harold looks hesitant.
  4. Two men, the characters Mirsad and Almir, kiss passionately in the apartment seen in the earlier title shot. Mirsad is clean shaven, Almir has facial hair and is touching Mirsad's face. Neither man is wearing any clothes - but we can only see them from the shoulders up.
  5. The character of Militsa - played by Tatiana Sojic - stands on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Sarajevo skyline at night. She is wearing a pink dressing gown and a blonde wig, and is about to light a cigarette. She has the hint of a smile on her face. The city lights are hazy and out of focus.