Toronto based filmmaker Hanna Jovin’s narrative short “Erika” is set in 1940’s Nazi Occupied Bosnia, where an unlikely friendship forms between two young girls on opposite sides of the war.
“Erika” screened at Toronto Lift-Off. We interviewed director Hanna to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and her path as a filmmaker.
Interview by Sneh Rupra
First of all, how did it feel for Erika to be screened at Toronto Lift-Off?
I attended Ryerson University, studying film production, and Carlton Cinemas is just down the street! It’s great to see Erika on the big screen at the same theatre where I’ve seen some of my favourite films.
How did you come up with the concept for this film?
The story is based on my late grandmother’s experiences as a child during WWII. A German Officer occupied her house, and she befriended his young daughter who was the same age. They were friends despite the conflict surrounding them, which I found so powerful. The themes of friendship and love in times of war through the eyes of a child are what drew me to telling the story.
How did you go about casting the two girls, and was there really a language barrier between them?
We used Casting Workbook through Ryerson, and found Isla Parekh and Jordan Gorlick through them. Both girls were English speaking Canadians, neither of them knowing Serbo-Croatian or German, so we got them to memorize their lines phonetically. During rehearsal, I’d get them to improvise without speaking, so they would have to try and communicate through other means, just like the real Sidika and Erika.
What was the most unexpected moment you had while working with the girls?
Since I’d never worked with child actors before, I was initially nervous to direct two young girls, but the most unexpected and wonderful part about working with Isla and Jordan was how great their instincts were and how easy they made my job. They had great chemistry and never complained on set – even when it was -30 outside!
The locations and sets are so beautiful and atmospheric – how did you go about getting them so perfect?
Thank you! Our cinematographer, Ben Wong, our production designer, Taylor Aymer, and our Sound Recordist/Designer, Alana Raymond, did an incredible job of creating the mood and atmosphere. Those three coupled with the historical location of the Black Creek Pioneer Village, helped us to craft a close-to perfect ‘period’ look.
Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?
Luckily for us, we had a pretty smooth shoot – the only challenge we faced was weather. We shot in early January and there were days where we had icy rain, blizzards and freezing temperatures. Our final scene was shot in -30, which was pretty tough on our crew and actors, but we made it work with lots of blankets and hot chocolate. I can never thank my producers, Marissa Bergougnou and Aldo Mauro, enough. They were absolute rock stars making sure everything was running smoothly and everyone was warm and well fed throughout.
Friendship and innocence are such key themes – were they something you set out intending to explore?
Friendship and innocence were always key themes that I wanted to explore, and talked about early on with our screenwriter Jessie Posthumus. We wanted to look at war through a child’s eyes, and show how all humans can connect on some level if they can put aside their prejudices and biases.
Has the experience of making this film changed your perceptions in any way?
I think my perception of making a short film changed in many ways. With the support of Ryerson and ACTRA, we were able to make this film for a very small budget, and I would have never been able to make a period piece like this outside of that support system. I think in some ways, I never realized how difficult it was to make a film beyond that system and am now discovering the real hurdles of independent filmmaking.
Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
Yes! I am currently producing and co-directing a short film with Adrian Morphy. He wrote the screenplay and we are planning on shooting in early fall. The film is a coming of age story about a millennial woman moving from small town Nova Scotia to Toronto. It is told in an unconventional split screen format. I am excited to be working on something so different from Erika, and looking forward to the unique challenges it will bring. I am also working at a production company as an Associate Producer on a feature documentary for CBC.