Building on the attention and opportunities that arrived following his 2007 Palme d’Or for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Cristian Mungiu has transformed himself into a quiet force in the European film industry.
A ubiquitous presence on the festival circuit, the Romanian director has won prizes for his follow-up films “Beyond the Hills” and “Graduation,” served on juries at the Cannes and Marrakech film festivals, and acted as guest director for the TorinoFilmLab earlier this year.
Back in Marrakech for a career spanning masterclass, the filmmaker sat down with Variety to discuss his recent career developments and his upcoming projects.
What could you tell about your next feature film?
It’s the story of my grandmother, and it will be a larger-scale film than anything I’ve done so far. It’s a war film set in the past, so the production needs a bit more time. I originally had written it as a book, so now I’m in this strange position of adapting my own unpublished book. In the ‘90s I took the time to spend a summer with my grandmother to write her story. I developed as a writer, and came to filmmaking more as a writer than as a cinephile. I like to think that it’s her book, somehow. It’s difficult to turn it into a film, but now is the time to do it. It will be my most personal project.
Because of the larger scale, that film is still a few years off. What else are working on in the near time?
In February, I’m producing a film [titled “The Father Who Moved Mountains”] for a Romanian director named Daniel Sandu. He made a very good first film, and I tried to push him further for his second, telling him to make it for a larger audience than just people in Romania. I thought that if he retouched his screenplay a little bit, he could really hit at some core human values that everybody could understand. I think he has great potential with this screenplay, so long as he understands a bit better how little changes can make a big difference in the end. He wrote the screenplay, and now I’m working with him to revise it a bit and to make sure the accent falls on the right ideas. For once it’s a film dependent on the weather. We need some snowstorms, and with global warming we waited all winter for them last year and they never came. But this year we need to shoot!
You’ve been producing more and more in recent years. What prompted that shift in focus?
It came naturally, somehow. Once you have a production house and once you get this knowledge of how to do things, it becomes easy for you. I don’t make movies that often, so sometimes I can [help other filmmakers]. People give me stuff all the time. “Can you watch this film? Can you read this screenplay?” I never wanted to be a producer. I never thought I would produce for somebody else, but little by little I felt some attachment to other people’s ideas, and realized it would be a good way to help out other filmmakers.
Was that the case with “Lemonade?”
[“Lemonade” director] Ioana Uricaru is a friend. We wrote a screenplay together in the early 2000s, and we submitted it to some screenplay competition and won. We won the national competition, and then went to L.A. for the international competition. So we spent a couple of weeks there, and I was so naïve I thought I would literally bump into some producer on the street and he would give me money to make my first film. At the end of those two weeks, we made very different decisions. I decided to go back to Romania and get myself noticed working there, in my own language. But Ioana decided to make her career in L.A. She went back to film school, and got a PhD, and now she’s a scholar there, but she could never direct and produce anything. So I produced her first film 20 years later. I knew the screenplay for a long while, and I thought that I owed it to her, to close the circle in a way.
How did you come to executive produce the HBO series “Hackerville?”
HBO has been in Romania for a long while. They were there long before Netflix or Amazon even thought about making films, so they grew in a certain way, and after years and years of just adapting content, they decided that it was time to produce something more interesting. They looked for many production houses, [and in the end came to my company Mobra Films] because I think they expected me to have some creative over-view on the project. And I did, in a way. Because it’s my name associated with the project, I read the screenplays and suggested some changes, especially with regards to dialogue.
What is the status of the show going forward?
We’re now waiting for the decision about the second season, but I think HBO was very pleased with the first season. I think we did well. It came within the budget and within the number of days scheduled, so now we might take the next step forward, and pitch them some original content as well, instead of exec-producing something they brought to us.
I wrote a screenplay for a two and half hour film, because there was a lot of material, and now I think that I might turn that into a six episode series. With that kind of form you can employ different points of view with different episodes. The script has a thriller inspiration, as my films often do, and I think the story is better for a TV series than it is for a film. I don’t know yet to whom we’re going to offer it. At the moment, I have too many plans to write and produce and direct everything that we’ve organized. First I’ll have to finish the screenplays, then get them translated, and then I’ll look into the different platforms. It’s more likely that we’ll start with HBO because we already have experience with them, but we’ll see. We’ll take it step by step.
On top your production charges, you’ve also been spending time in Brussels working with the European Commission.
I’m trying to get involved in reshaping European legislation about cinema, because I think that we shouldn’t allow the politicians to do this without giving our input. That period when filmmakers were just some funny artists thinking about their work is over. Filmmakers know what would be best for the European industry. While technology and the Internet were changing cinema, our legislation was stuck in the 1980s. Now they’re doing something about it, and it’s important that they have our input. I spent some time working on this, because it won’t be changed every other year.
What kind of legislation are you specifically looking to pass?
It’s all based on accessing content. There needs to be a better connection between producers of audio-visual content and the huge amount of profit generated by their work. I know it’s not a popular idea with politicians, but the freedom to access such content should come with some larger support structure behind it. Now we are trying to see if it’s possible to create a general kind of European VOD platform open to the rest of the world. Somewhere where you could find whatever kind of film you want and access it legally. You can’t ask people not to pirate unless you give them a legal [alternative], and I think this is a project that the European Commission should be working on right now. It will take a lot of work organizing this project [if for no other reason than the fact that] nobody has sold the VOD rights to films made in the 1960s, because VOD didn’t exist at the time. So now it’s difficult to do this, but it’s important to offer access to this kind of content in a legally structured way.