Film- og video

– Materialized memory on celluloid

Filmmaker Nataša Urban started making films by coincidence - now her films win prestigious awards at international film festivals. We have talked to Nataša, who also teaches at Oslo Fotokunstskole, about her latest and award winning film The Eclipse which she describes as "indescribably difficult to make".
Still from The Eclipse by Nataša Urban.

When did you realise that you wanted to make films, and what was your way into becoming a documentary filmmaker?

It was a coincidence that I started making films. I never planned it. My background is in photography. I studied art photography at the University of Arts in Bucharest for 5 years and was sure photography was going to be my future. Then I went to Nepal in 2005 where I shot my first short film. It was by accident. I met someone who I thought was interesting with an interesting story to tell, so I filmed her. As simple as that. I understood that photography as a mode of expression was not right for me. When I think about stories I want to tell I always think in terms of moving images, in terms of scenes, movement, dramaturgy, sound, music, editing.

Film maker and OFKS-teacher Nataša Urban.

Your latest film, The Eclipse, was earlier this year awarded the prestigious DOX:AWARD, which is the main award at CPH:DOX festival. It has also won Doc Alliance Award Special Mention, which was given out during this years Cannes Film Festival. Can you elaborate a bit on this film and its connection to your personal background and history?

I am incredibly grateful for the awards and the recognition my film has been receiving. It is so nice to see that the film is touching and moving people.

The key scene in The Eclipse depicts the event from August 11, 1999: while the world celebrated the total solar eclipse – this rare and beautiful natural phenomena – most of Serbia’s population barricaded themselves in their homes and nuclear bunkers, in fear of the lunar shadow.

I use this surreal event as a metaphor for Serbia’s avoidance of its wartime past and responsibilities. People, locked in their apartments, hid from the lunar shadow behind thick curtains, cowering before their involvement in the horrors of the ‘90s in the former Yugoslavia. It represents the unclean conscience of a nation about the consequences of its political choices. Even now, the war crimes, atrocities, and genocide perpetrated in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo are treated with silence at best, and denial at worst. Serbia has still not confronted the evil it supported for over a decade, so that evil still roams unconstrained.

A solar eclipse is intimately connected to the nature of time. Solar eclipses repeat in cycles, they appear in exact intervals of 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours. The eclipse of August 11, 1999 is part of a cycle that began in 1639 and will continue until 3009. I use the cyclic nature of eclipse to remind us that the past and history are repeating – much like the wars, hatred, and brutality from my point of a view when I was a girl. I was 22 when the total eclipse happened. By then, my country had waged four wars.

Still from The Eclipse by Nataša Urban.

You have described The Eclipse as a film that has been ”indescribably difficult to make”. What made this particular film especially hard to make? 

There are set of things that made working on this film very difficult. I worked with my closest family, with my mom and dad as the main characters in the film, which made it very emotional. Then, learning about details of the atrocities and genocide during the wars in former Yugoslavia was devastating. I am still tormented by it, by what people are capable of doing to each other. And then facing the memories and traumas that you tried to forget was very painful. It was all too personal, too close.

Still from The Eclipse by Nataša Urban.

You use analogue film techniques such as 8mm and 16mm film in your practice. What is it that attracts you to analogue media and working methods?

I started exploring with analogue film in 2018, when I began working on THE ECLIPSE. It is a personal film woven from memories, and in order to give the film the special “look” I was after, I shot it entirely on film (both super 16 and super 8). The idea was to use the characteristic irregular and organic qualities of analogue film, its textures, scratches and grains, as a palpable, materialized memory on celluloid.

But, in some scenes I wanted this irregularity – the subjectivity of memory, pronounced even more. I wanted this “look” pushed even more. So, I started experimenting and manipulating old super 8 film stocks, including 40–50-year-old super 8 films, that I later hand-developed in a variety of chemical mixtures to achieve different effects.

This is one of the aspects that excites me the most about working with photochemical film – its many – endless, possibilities for storytelling and creative expression.

Also, photochemical film offers us material engagement. Hand-processing your own film, touching it and smelling it – holding it in your hands, is an utterly gratifying and empowering experience.

For my new film Motherhood (working title) I am working with handmade emulsion film. Which means that I am making my 16mm film from scratch (mixing and cooking my own emulsion, airbrushing it on polyester base etc.)

Still from The Eclipse by Nataša Urban.

In addition to your filmatic practice you teach film at Oslo Fotokunstskole. How do you utilise your vast experience as a filmmaker in your work as a teacher? 

First of all, I really love and enjoy my time with my students. It is very rewarding and gives me much hope. I am there to support them but also challenge them at times, to push them out of their comfort zone. I also try to expose them to filmic work they normally wouldn’t be able to see on TV or YouTube. I think it is so important for them to watch as many films as possible, for them to develop their eyes, hone their critical thinking and open their minds. Not the least, I like to open up the magic world of analogue film, and spend some time with them in the lab, with our hands dipped in all sorts of hand-made developers, based on coffee, beer, or blueberry juice. Yes, it is possible to develop a negative film in beer!

Still from The Eclipse by Nataša Urban.


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