IDFA 2022: Scenes With My Father
IDFA Envision Competition
Dutch/Croatian director Biserka Šuran talks to SEE NL's Geoffrey MacNab about her new documentary which examines her Balkan roots, and those of her Croatian father, a man who feels he is “floating” between two cultures since emigrating to the Netherlands after the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia.
Scenes With My Father by Biserka Suran
Biserka Šuran’s parents met each other on a beach in Yugoslavia, wrote letters to each other for eight years, got married in Amsterdam, and then her mum emigrated to Yugoslavia.
But in 1991 the war brought their happy life to a shuddering halt, and so her parents decide to leave. They rebuilt their lives in the Netherlands. But ever since, the director has felt as if her father is “floating” between two cultures.
Director Biserka has lived in the Netherlands since the age of two. She often visits relatives in Croatia but still isn’t sure where she belongs. “As a refugee or a migrant, you always take this world with you and it’s hard to forget about it,” the director reflects on her own Balkan roots.
Her tutors at the Film Academy would sometimes ask her, “don’t you want to do something with your own personal story?” At that time, she didn’t feel ready to take on such an assignation. However, a few years later after she joined the IDFA Academy workshop her ideas for a film about her unusual background became “much more concrete.” Gradually, she developed her documentary Scenes With My Father, a world premiere in IDFA’s Envision Competition.
When Šuran first told her parents of her plans for a film, her father reacted negatively. “He was very much against it. He didn’t like it at all,” the director remembers.
Her father also worried deeply about Šuran’s choice of career. Filmmaking didn’t seem like a “solid” profession and he feared she wouldn’t be able to make a living. “He would rather see me be a teacher or something more secure. He was always saying, ‘well, you know, the Film Academy wasn’t a success for you, so maybe you should just quit.’”
It is ironic, then, that the father has ended up being the main character in his daughter’s film. They are shown sitting together on a makeshift stage in an old, disused factory, having a wide-ranging conversation together about their Balkan background.
In the former Yugoslavia, the father had worked in a senior role for an electricity company. It was a good job. He had also served in the army as a younger man - an experience which had furthered his education and career prospects. He had risen through the ranks but wasn’t happy he had been sent so far away from home to live and work in Belgrade.
No, Šuran can’t remember leaving Croatia for the Netherlands. “I cannot say there was a moment I knew I was half-Croatian… but I always kind of knew because my father was quite occupied with this other country we were from.” She realised that her father was very different from the other dads who would turn up at the school gates. He had a different accent. He was more formal in what he wore.
“I thought, oh, my father is from another place - and so I am also half from another place.”
Why did the director decide to take her father into the old metal factory to film their conversations together? “Well, I did try to film him at home but I noticed that that wasn’t so special. It was not so intriguing to me,” Šuran says. She had seen many other “personal” documentaries in which filmmakers turned their cameras on their own families and wanted to find a “different” approach to create something new.
There was another reason for choosing the neutral, night-time factory space and for having images of her father in a stationary car. The country her father lived in no longer exists. “You cannot go to Yugoslavia because it is gone,” she says. “He was brought up in Yugoslavia. He served in the army. He was a Yugoslav for a big part of his life… he is longing to go back.”
The father turned out to be “a true natural” on screen. “He didn’t mind or care about the camera at all. He was totally himself.”
Not that his daughter agrees with everything the father says. He concludes that she was the family member most affected by the family being uprooted. She disagrees, suggesting her sisters, who are older, suffered just as much, if not more, from having to leave their homeland.
“I don’t know how I feel about sharing it with the rest of the world,” Šuran, who produced the film as well as directing it, reflects on what it will be like seeing her documentary with a public audience at IDFA. She says, though, that “it was very therapeutic to work on this project” after all those years in which strangers, on learning her name, have asked intrusive questions about her background. “It really helped in giving me a stronger say of who I am and where I’m from,” she says of her film.
Scenes With My Father is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund.