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A New Era in Romanian Cinema: Alexandru Maftei’s Hello! How are you?

Hello! How are you? is the film that helmer Alexandru Maftei hopes will represent a new era in Romanian cinema: an era of the films for the general public. Maftei sophomore film follows his debut pic, Fii cu ochii pe fericire. A decade has passed since his debut and follow up picture and during all this time, Maftei worked mostly in advertising until he felt the need to come back to his first love: making movies.

Hello! How are you? is the film that helmer Alexandru Maftei hopes will represent a new era in Romanian cinema: an era of the films for the general public. Maftei sophomore film follows his debut pic, Fii cu ochii pe fericire. A decade has passed since his debut and follow up picture and during all this time, Maftei worked mostly in advertising until he felt the need to come back to his first love: making movies. But he didn’t want to show the same old stories that we got used to see in Romanian films. He wanted to make people laugh. He wanted people to feel good watching a Romanian movie. He wanted that, at least for about an hour and a half, the public would forget about everyday problems from both the past and the present. So he made this film – a romantic comedy, a rarity in Romanian cinema and a movie featuring a solid soundtrack (unlike most of the Romanian movies) by Dragos Alexandru accompanied by some outstanding cinematography via Radu Aldea.

Hello! How are you? is a Rollin Studio Romania production made with the support of Romanian CNC, in cooperation with Romanian National Television, with participation of HBO Romania. Responsible with the international sales is M-appeal, from Germany.Here’s what Alexandru Maftei had to say about his film and about the young directors from the so-called Romanian new wave.

Alexandru Maftei Hello! How are you?

Marin Apostol: From your first feature film, Fii cu ochii pe fericire, and onto your second one – Bună! Ce faci? (Hello! How are you?) – more than ten years have pass. What has Alexandru Maftei done in all this time?
Alexandru Maftei: Once I finished Fii cu ochii pe fericire, I wished not to make films anymore. There were many reasons that made me think like that. The movie was made for cinema, but CNC (Romanian Center of Cinematography) at that time – having Radu Gabrea as president – didn’t provide the money needed for converting the film (the movie was filmed in Super 16) nor for distributing in cinemas, although it featured many well-known actors (Marcel Iures, Mircea Diaconu, Dan Condurache, Dragos Paslaru, Dorel Visan, Tora Vasilescu, Serban Ionescu, Maria Ploaie, Monica Ghiuta, Mihai Gruia Sandu, Mirela Gorea) and it was telling a story on a popular subject for that time: the power of commercial televisions.

So the movie ended up being broadcast on Romanian National Television (TVR) several times – which was also the co-producer of the film – and then was buried. Sure, the movie suffered somehow from my lack of experience. After completing this film, I re-enlisted as a writer of advertising texts and I licked my wounds for a good period of time. At each end of the year when Dakino festival begun (where I got my first award with my film ‘In Each Day is a Night’) I used to fall into a terrible depression.

In early 2000 I finished my collaboration with advertising agencies and I became director of advertising as a freelancer. There were some full years in which I made dozens of commercials and gained a lot more experience, hence, I tried different styles. I matured as a director. The spots made by me won awards at international festivals in the area. In 2005, I attended Studio Drum, at Portoroz. It is a tradition of this festival to call five directors from five different countries and give them a theme on which each of directors must make a 1 minute film (each director has 6 hours to write a script, 6 hours to film it and 6 hours for editing). Best movie is then honored by a prestigious panel of industry. In 2005, the movie I made won this contest.

In the fall of 2006 I directed seven episodes of the TV series ‘Lombarzilor 8’. First and I think the only decent TV series ever produced in Romania. Working at this series was the most beautiful time I have lived it up then as a director. An excellent script, very good actors, awesome team and an atmosphere that I never met with before. The show was appreciated by the people although its visibility at B1 TV has been quite small. And, as it happens with any thing well done, the second series never happened.

In December 2006, I won the CNC contest with the screenplay ‘Bună! Ce faci?’ (Hello! How are you?), written by Lia Bugnar from one of my ideas. We obtained the smallest funding in the CNC competition history – 15% of the film budget. In the next two years, the producers – Tudor Reu and Radu Aldea / Rollin Studio and I tried to get the other 85% of the budget. In the summer of 2009, I managed to shoot this movie and in 2010 to finish the post-production. Before completing post-production we signed with an international sales agent (M-appeal, Germany), the film was purchased by HBO Romania and Warner Music Italia has bought the rights for the soundtrack. We had an amazing projection in the market at Cannes in 2010 and the premiere at the Transylvania International Film Festival had a huge success for the public and the reviews in Variety and other local publications were very good.

Recently, the Romanian films are increasingly popular at film festivals worldwide. However, the public in the country appear not to think so. But Bună! Ce faci? somehow changed this rule. I would say that its success is primarily due to the script, which doesn’t deal with usual topics for young Romanian directors, you don’t want to show the Romanian revolution nor our today society, but you want to tell a story that doesn’t identify with Romania.

Bună! Ce faci? is a pioneer. It is the first Romanian romance movie since Liceenii, the first intelligent Romanian comedy and the first Romanian film made after the revolution which people can watch with pleasure. That’s because we wanted to put an end to the occurrence of the misery in the film, to the misunderstood commercialism and we decided to respect the public, to respect its intelligence and its desire to see a beautiful Romanian film – without communism, without horror and boredom. It is a love story, told with humour and warmth, beautifully filmed by Radu Aldea – who was also to his first feature – with beautiful scenery, inspiring music (signed by Dragos Alexandru), played excellent (starring Dana Vociu, Ionel Mihailescu, Paul Diaconescu and Anna Smith). These are the ingredients of our film.

The public reaction was so great at the TIFF and also at IIFF, where i had the most beautiful evening in my life: the people in the cinema refused to go home if the film isn’t screened again. That convinced me that all the hard work wasn’t in vain.

Alexandru Maftei Hello! How are you?

Apostol: Once you’ve started this project, which were the main obstacles you have hit?
Maftei: The most difficult part was to see our first day of shooting. Then to finish the film at the standards that we have imposed, despite the fact we had exceeded the original plans related to the number of days of shooting. Then to find the financial resources to finish the post-production to the same standard that we’ve set it at first. And last but not least we’ve planned to launch the film properly, because it will open a new era in Romanian cinema: an era of the films for the public.

Apostol: How easy/difficult was it to find the necessary budget?
Maftei: No good thing can be done easily. There are more than four years since we’ve started this project and we still have to wait a little longer until the premiere. Some good friends, like Paul Radu and Octav Popescu, who believed in this project have supported us financially and also morally. Paul was the one who urged me not to quit when I was in trouble and we crossed the difficult period. And I would like to thank them.

Apostol: When not directing or writing scripts, what does Alexandru Maftei like to do?
Maftei: I am passionate about photography. My first exhibition was called ‘Fotografia Dell Arte’ and took place at Clubul Țăranului Român, in 2009, and included photographs taken with Dell Arte Theatre Troupe and with Mihai Gruia Sandu.
A part of a larger photographic project called ‘My dear, May the 2nd’ was published in the journal Punctum No. 3, in 2010.

Alexandru Maftei Hello! How are you?

Apostol: What do you like and what you don’t like about these young Romanian directors?
Maftei: I like that they have started taking prizes and now when you’re saying that you’re a Romanian director, anywhere in the world people pays attention to you. I like that they have discovered and used the talented actors from the younger generation but also from the elders. I like how they persevere and not capitulate so easy. I like them because they have adapted to the harsh conditions making films with fewer scenes in 3-4 weeks of filming.
I find it hard to criticize the new wave of Romanian films and directors because I know how hard it is to make movies here and with how many sacrifices. I think however, that an honest critique, made with warm, wouldn’t ruin them.

I do not like that their movies lost the magic of cinema, they have no sense of warmth and humour. They’ve begun to have more in common with reality TV shows. They are dry. They don’t have music – an element that exists in cinema since the beginning.

How a Romanian director who makes movies for the CINEMA fights with television or the internet? He doesn’t.

Then there is a tendency of epigonism. If a minimalist film has taken an important prize all directors starts quickly to make only minimalist movies. Of course, again, the conditions filmmakers have here push them toward a minimalist approach. But this minimalism is often misunderstood and the result is a poor and dusty film that makes the public to choose something else.

The same thing is happening in terms of subject choice: if the misery and horrors of communism receive awards, everyone is focused on such topics. And the results can be seen clearly: the Romanian public is no longer going to Romanian movies; people see on TV enough horrors and things that suck so they won’t bother to go to the cinema to see a movie.

If another Romanian film receives an award, it is regarded with more reluctance – the public thinks that it will be again something dark and ugly, boring and difficult. In the future, the Romanian public might go to the un-awarded movies rather than to those that won something – and this seems absurd.

There’s an appetite of the young directors for long-sequence shots, in which not much quite happens with anything – and they call it a performance. I don’t see where the performance is.
I’ve seen excellent actors whose acting is lost because they are filmed at a general level – from the back mostly – and they become frustrated and suspicious that their work doesn’t contribute in any way to the success of a movie. It’s a pity.

I conclude with the hope that the directors of this new wave will find the inner resources to show us some other stylistic and thematic facets and that it will start to gradually bring the Romanian public back in theaters.

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