Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Cannes award-winning director

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Photos: Zen Lefort, Mario Topić, Press Kit Murina, Alban Pichon (Cannes)

How we made a film on a small Croatian island that has taken the world by storM

Frame-filling shots of the sea, scenes in which actors have to be good swimmers or even competent divers and to fish with harpoons, the blue against the background of the island’s rocky ground – this is how one could, in a sentence, vividly describe Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s Murina. Last year, the film won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Festival, an award that, at one time, was received by Jim Jarmusch, Naomi Kawase and Steve McQueen.
Alamat Kusijanović belongs to a new generation of female Croatian film directors who have recently risen to prominence, breathing a new life into films made in this country and bringing a somewhat different narrative.

The story that the film tells is a family psychological drama that takes place on a Croatian island over four days. Murina is a sort of a sequel to the director’s short film Into the Blue, which won awards at the Berlin and Sarajevo festivals and was nominated for a Student Oscar. After seeing Into the Blue, Martin Scorsese got interested in the work of the Croatian filmmaker, and his production company co-produced Murina. While working on the film, the Croatian fillmmaker got more than money; she also received some advice and encouragement by her fellow director.
Filmmaker Alamat Kusijanović graduated from the Zagreb Academy with a degree in production, then went on to graduate from New York’s Columbia University, receiving a degree in directing.
Why did she decide, having lived in New York and with a degree from Columbia, to make this film in Croatia? “It’s a country I know well. When you’re making a debut film, it’s very important to deal with topics that provoke a strong reaction in you, that bring about passion, the desire to fight. These are not topics that emerge from social activism; for me, this is deeper than that. These are topics that primarily come from very personal emotions, and I have such impulses only towards Croatia and the Croatian mindset.”
This year, Kornati National Park – where, in addition to the islands of Koločep and Hvar, Murina was filmed – was one of the finalists for the best European film location award. It was nominated for the most beautiful filming location in a film or a TV series. Apart from Murina, the finalists included the locations where the films Dune and The Green Knight as well as the series The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown were made. This is the way Murina helped Croatia join the high ranks of locations where films are produced.
The island of Koločep, which the islanders and the people from the Dubrovnik region call Kalamota, was part of the filmmaker’s growing up, the place where she, visiting her great-grandmother and later her grandmother, spent some of her formative years.
“Kalamota has remained idyllic to this day. Children are raised there by the whole village, and everyone looks after everyone else. I spent a lot of the time growing up on a small beach, along with the other kids on the island.
Even today, when I think about it, I can feel the warm sense of community. Everyone there is a relative or, if not, they know each other, as if they were connected by blood. There are fewer and fewer such places in the world and they need to be preserved,” she says.
Kalamota does not only remind her of the joy she experienced there as a child; this island is also a great part of Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s current life.
“I’ve had tremendous support there making my films in the last few years. Although there is no logistics on the island to make a short, let alone a feature film, we managed to shoot a lot there, thanks, in large part, to the great openness of the locals who may have recognised the significance this has for the island.
Local people did their best to help us make this film on an island where there are no cars, no roads, no infrastructure for a major production. I think that by filming on Kalamota, I actually went back to those people more than I did to the location itself. Because the underwater world can be found anywhere in the Adriatic, but this island is what I know well and it feels like home.”

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