Dana Budisavljević • Director of The Diary of Diana B.
“Docu-fiction was the optimal solution”
- Cineuropa sat down with Dana Budisavljević to talk about her film The Diary of Diana B., which won big at Pula recently
Dana Budisavljević (Zagreb, 1971) is an editor, producer and documentary filmmaker who has worked on a number of shorts, documentaries and TV series in Croatia, as well as on international co-productions. Her directorial debut was the medium-length video documentary Sve 5! (2004), while she gained more attention with her second film, Nije ti život pjesma Havaja (2011), a family story about coming out. She also directed one episode of the international series Food Markets - In the Belly of the City (2015). The docu-fiction hybrid The Diary of Diana B. [+see also:
interview: Dana Budisavljević
film profile] is her feature-length debut and recently premiered in the national competition of the Pula Film Festival, where it won four Golden Arenas, including Best Film and Best Director (see the news). Cineuropa sat down with her to talk about the film itself and the historical person at its centre.
Cineuropa: Despite her heroic acts during World War II, Diana Budisavljević remained largely unknown both in Croatia and in a global context. Why did you choose her as the subject of your film?
Dana Budisavljević: The story actually found me. I visited the Jasenovac concentration camp memorial centre in 2010, and the director at that time, who knew my name, asked me if I knew anything about Diana or if I was related to her. I replied that I did not know anything about her, so the director gave me the diary, which had already been published by the Croatian National Archive. So that was my first contact with Diana and her story, which was completely unknown to everybody, except perhaps for some people in historiographical circles. It is a fascinating read that gives completely new insights into that period.
You insist on authenticity, using the source diary for narration, and filming the real-life locations and objects. How much time did the research process take, and how did it go?
Bearing in mind that the story was so unknown, yet so controversial in our region, I wanted to make an honest and truthful film, so historical research was kind of necessary. Otherwise, the movie would have been relegated to a means of political manipulation, and that scenario had to be avoided. That was the reason why Diana remained unknown for 70 years. The research took place as soon as we got the first tranche of funding from MEDIA, and it took up a huge chunk of our budget. The intensive part of it lasted three years, but we were incorporating new findings for the whole time the project was in development – in other words, ten years.
You opted for a very specific docu-fiction approach. Was this the only way to tell the story, which is based on a small quantity of – usually very dry – information?
The docu-fiction decision came gradually. At first, I thought it would end up being a documentary, since my background is also in docs. It turned out that there are no witnesses who could testify about Diana. There are people who were really young children back then, so they do not remember her. The only thing that Diana left and which mentioned her actions was the diary. The only way to tell this story about her was to reconstruct the scenes from the diary, and so we arrived at docu-fiction. There was a possibility to do it as a completely fictional work, but it would have cost more than any budget we could possibly have secured. Docu-fiction was the optimal solution.
How did you strike a balance between all of the different material and the various forms of filmmaking? What was the idea behind it?
Since the “fiction” scenes are re-enactments of the scenes from the diary, even with the greatest of actors, they could never be more powerful than the person in the flesh, the living witness. Also, if I had given both documentary and fiction an equal amount of time and emphasis, they would have collided and clashed with each other. That is the usual problem with docu-fiction. So one of them had to be understated, and I decided that the fiction scenes would be the understated ones so that they could expose the facts and re-tell the story of Diana. They could show what happened because the witnesses could not possibly know that. They could bring out the emotion because they remember the camps, but they do not know who saved them, who Diana was or how she got involved. They were selected carefully and filmed in a certain way so that they could be on an equal footing with the fictional characters. That is also one of the film's peculiarities. Also, there is no sense of a hard transition between the different parts or types of material. One more thing was important for me: that I would not be forced to reconstruct the atrocities in the fiction scenes – things like the camps or children suffering... So I used documentary testimonies and some amazing archive material that we found through our research.
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