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Interview: Ilinca Calugareanu (Chuck Norris vs Communism)

Ilinca Călugăreanu is a freelance documentary filmmaker and editor based in London with a background in anthropology but as she describes it, “I moved towards filmmaking whilst exploring the same themes of memory, place, space and emotion in my practice. My films have a social and ethnographic focus, striving to engage with and understand different cultures from within.” This is how Călugăreanu characterizes herself on her blog. She studied anthropology at the Manchester University in London and now she started working to a documentary titled Chuck Norris vs Communism. I talked to her about this project, I tried to find out what Chuck Norris had against communism and what anthropology and filmmaking has in common.

Marin Apostol: Chuck Norris vs Communism. How did Chuck Norris get to fight against communism?
Ilinca Călugăreanu: The short answer: Watch the film next year and hopefully you will find out.

The long answer: It took him a whole decade but in the end he did it. The pirate VHS tapes that were so popular in 80’s Romania were mostly action films. Actors such as Chuck Norris, Van Damme and Bruce Lee became incredibly popular in a country where officially they shouldn’t have even been known. The harsh communist censorship banned most foreign blockbusters, but they made it into the country and onto the burgeoning black market with hundreds of thousands of Romanians watching them. These films were more than a source of entertainment, they were “a breath of fresh air from the West” as one of our interviewees said. They provided contact with the outside world, with capitalist ideas and realities. So this is how Chuck Norris and the other action heroes played their part in the fight against communism.

Apostol: Doing some research about your film, I found out that you started shooting on March 12th. How did things go until now?
Călugăreanu: We shot in Bucharest this March. It was a very productive three-week session. We spent a lot of time with Irina, but also interviewed many other people who were big fans of the VHS tapes or were involved in the fascinating multiplication and distribution process. We were very lucky to be able to meet Toader Zamfir, the head of the operation and Irina’s boss in the 80’s and had an amazing interview with him. We also started looking through the TVR archive in order to source all the material we’ll need in post-production. We are now planning the second shoot, which will probably take place this autumn.

Apostol: Until this project, you have worked as an editor. How is it to be a director now?
Călugăreanu: I started as a documentary director and self-shooter but then for the past few years I worked mostly as an editor. I was waiting for the right project to come along and make me want to direct again. This is definitely it. But I will also be the editor for Chuck Norris vs Communism, I couldn’t give up the amazing challenge of putting the whole story together and mixing live footage, animation, archive and film excerpts!

Apostol: You studied anthropology, but you work in film business. Are these two domains related somehow?
Călugăreanu: I studied sociology and anthropology at UBB in my hometown, Cluj and then gradually moved towards documentary filmmaking via visual anthropology, which is the perfect marriage of the two disciplines. Anthropology gave me some invaluable tools as a documentary filmmaker as both disciplines attempt to understand and look in depth at different realities than one’s own.

Apostol: Back to your film: what the budget is and how did you financed Revenind la film, care este bugetul filmului şi care sunt sursele de finanţare?
Călugăreanu: The budget is somewhere between £100.000 and £150.000. The big costs are the archive and film copyright. We had a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and people contributed towards our first shoot in Bucharest. Next month we are pitching at Sheffield Doc/Fest and at the Edinburgh pitch. These are great opportunities to get commissioners and distributors interested, as well as finding executive producers.

Apostol: How do you think young people or people outside Romania will receive your film? Will they be able to understand it?
Călugăreanu: I think there’s something for everybody in the story of the tapes, be it a young or old audience, a Romanian or foreign one. Chuck Norris vs Communism speaks of censorship, freedom, piracy, of creative ways to deal with harsh situations and also, of great films from the 80s!

Apostol: Is there a release date so far?
Călugăreanu: We are hoping to release the film in the spring of 2013. We are showing 10 minutes of work in progress at this year Anonimul festival and next year in August we are invited at the Motovun Film Festival in Croatia, so we have to finish by then!

Apostol: Could you tell me which movies get to your all-time top five?
Călugăreanu: There’s a mix of docs and fiction in my top 5, it was quite hard to decide which film gets the no 1 position…

5. Tabloid, Erroll Morris

4. In Vanda’s Room, Pedro Costa

3. Gerry, Gus Van Sant

2. The Lady of Chandor, Catarina Morao

1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson

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