While they come from different worlds, “Avatar” director James Cameron and “Murina” helmer Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović bonded over their shared passion for filmmaking during a video interview (see below) hosted by Disney+ ahead of the Independent Spirit Awards.
“Murina” was released in the U.S. by Kino Lorber and is is vying for three Spirit Awards — first film, breakthrough performance and cinematography. It world premiered at Cannes where it won the Camera d’Or and went on to win a Gotham award for its young star Gracija Filipović.
The film is set on a remote island along Croatia’s Adriatic coast where 17-year-old Julija spends her days diving for eel, longing to free herself from her domineering father, Ante. When a rich and mysterious guest, Javier, comes visiting, he seems to offer a way out for Julija. But Javier’s presence sets off a battle of masculine ego that pushes Ante to humiliate and control his daughter even more.
Cameron, whose latest film “Avatar: The Way of Water” is nominated for best picture at the Oscars, asked the New York-based filmmaker why she had the desire to tell a “four-character drama” with the “added burden of filming underwater.” Kusijanović said she grew up in Croatia and was “always around the water,” but she eventually became “terrified of water.” Kusijanović said creativity “always comes from fear.” “To create something with urgency and tension you have to go from fear,” she continued.
Speaking of the symbolic resonance of water, Cameron said “we always connect with it in an almost Jungian way.” “I think, in terms of our subconscious (…) water is simultaneously inviting, and also scary and alien. So I think ‘Murina’ speaks to all the things.”
The Oscar-winning director of “Titanic” said “every film is a personal journey.” He remembered having a recurring nightmare early in his career “of a giant wave that was coming toward the shore and there wasn’t time to get away and no matter how fast you climbed and you see it hitting behind you.”
Then he made “The Abyss” in 1988 and in it, “there’s a giant wave sequence where [he] was processing that image of a wave, almost hits but then it stops.”
“Avatar,” meanwhile, came from his “gnawing concern for the state of our world and what we’re losing: The beauty and the complexity and diversity of nature that we’re systematically destroying.”
The Canadian director also praised the feminist message of “Murina” and the determination that emanates from Filipović’s performance.
“I don’t think anybody leaves the theater believing that Julija is not going to make it. She’ll make it because she’s determined,” said Cameron. “At first, she tries to escape through a man as many women do in life. Men hold the power, they can take you out of your life, change your existence, all those things, and she puts so much on to that and then ultimately she’s left with just herself and her decision to just swim, just go, and I love, symbolically.”
Kusijanović, who is repped by UTA, is developing her sophomore outing, among other projects ranging from film to TV.