In a remote village in the north of Serbia something unexpected has happened. All of a sudden, a French family have moved to a poor place deserted by the young. They believe they have found a promised land for growing grapes and wine-making. But they have found only old people in the village, distrusting people with old habits. A new challenge awaited them back home in France – how to persuade sommeliers that superior wine can be made in an unknown and problematic region? Can they awake hope and breathe a new life into the old village?
A promise is born
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Zeljko Mirkovic
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Serbia is a bucolic, hilly, verdant region, comparable to some of the loveliest French or British landscapes. But decades of political mismanagement and two wars in the Nineties have been destroying it right in front of our very eyes, along with the people who still live there. “Serbia is a Sleeping Beauty”, and The Promise is a symbol for a place with great potential that goes unnoticed. It does take outside support to awaken the princess. We need to change the view of it – from the inside out and the outside in – otherwise we cannot realize the tremendous great opportunities the Balkans have. For all the rejection they experience, the French couple just don't give up – on the contrary, they try to adapt, understand, respect, and fit in. It is about more than business – they really love the area, and they do want to both realize their own dream and help the village. The Promise sends a message to governments and economic bodies to give people the opportunity to become self-reliant entrepreneurs if and when they are so inclined.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This a story about faith and passions, about dreams and wine. It already won 8 international awards and has been shown in USA, Europe, Africa, Asia.
A century ago Rogljevo was a prosperous village in the far eastern corners of Serbia, where the Danube river has carved out a canyon through the Carpathian mountains. The sunkissed area produced remarkable wines which were found at exhibitions in Bordeaux and Paris. But today this region is poor and deserted. The Socialist regime that held former Yugoslavia in its grip for decades, and two brutal wars in the 1990s, all but destroyed the fertile area and its wine production. The young generation has long since left for greener pastures, leaving the old ones to fend for themselves until the village gradually sinks into complete oblivion.
The area is imbued with its glorious past, and the old buildings, crumbling as they may be, proudly feature an architecture centering on an oenophile culture. Over 400 wine caves are clustered here. And one day, along come Cyrille Bongiraud and Estelle Germaine, an experienced winemaker couple from Burgundy. They happen upon Rogljevo in their quest of one of the last unexploited winegrowing regions in Europe and decide to buy property here and work the terrain.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I often say that my movies are a version of a docu-fairytale. Perhaps they are not a fairytale, but rather a way to tap into a different frequency that shows us that everything is possible if we have faith, determination, and the will to try. I think that the energy we bring with us into our environment creates our future. In my movies, I always look for the right key that matches the energy of the movie. I think that creative documentaries are an artistic expression of contemporary fairytales that happen to all of us. What may render my movies as docu-fairytales is that our modern reality doesn’t generally believe in a possibility of a positive outcome anymore. We are focused on negative news. Through my work, I am trying to say that good news and beautiful human stories can be as valuable, if not more precious, than negative news.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
As a director and creator, I am seeking for excellence and masterful creation. As a producer, I look for the best way to bring the project to life, and to find ways to bring it to market. One advantage of being the movie project director and producer is that you have freedom to tell the story the way you see it, especially if you are ready to take risks and allow the story to be developed as needed.
When I worked on the “Second Meeting”, I originally thought the movie will finish with the meeting of the two soldiers. However, the American pilot brings with him a letter from his wife addressed to the wife of the Serbian soldier. In this letter, she shares her view of war, and how she suffered through it, too. In that moment, I realize that the movie is not finished until the two women share their stories and pain as well in their direct meeting. As a director, I wanted to complete the story in the way it needed to be told and completed. As a producer, however, I was eager to finish the project so I could focus on distribution. After reflection and internal deliberation, I chose to allow the story to fully develop and finish, hoping that I would find a way to eventually complete the project.
Making of a documentary movie is a unique and interesting process. Creative documentary movies develop gradually at every stage of making, from the very first idea, to production—which can take several years—to post-production, when you may discover some new possibilities and ways to take the movie to a new level. This may be why documentaries are one of the most creative movie genres today.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Documentary movies are based on deeper collaboration between the director and protagonists. This requires trust, shared energy, and an equal desire to make the movie in the best possible way, without rushing, or ending it before the story is told, and new levels of insight are achieved. Based on my experience, a new dimension usually opens in the third or fourth quarter of the movie, and it gives the movie a new and deeper meaning. It takes extra energy, faith, and combined effort to unlock that new dimension. It is very important for the project that the relationships are clear, well defined, and built on mutual trust.
I believe that trust and understanding is the key. It is important to be open to hear what protagonists are saying to you. They need to be able to trust you, and they need to feel good when they work with you.
Critics reacted well on my documentaries and I have won 51 international awards so far. The Second Meeting documentary was an Oscars candidate for 2014. It is some poof that all stories are recognized universally.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I would like to invite people to watch the film. Also I would be happy if broadcasters could recognized that it is a warm, universal story and that audiences will enjoy watching it .
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
In all my collaborative projects, I directed the movies, and partnered with other producers to bring projects to life. Producers usually reach out to me to get my perspective as a director. Over time, our collaboration may grow into a deeper level of partnering, followed with my investment in the project.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The documentary could have been turned into a clash of cultures where the seemingly more successful one comes across as domineering. Instead, the key message here is quite the opposite – that there is not one but many “right ways” of doing things, and that respect and openness to different ideas is crucial to advance in one’s endeavor of whatever nature. But beyond that, The Promise is also a fervent plea to save a part of the world that deserves it.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Through my work, I am trying to say that good news and beautiful human stories can be as valuable if not more precious than negative news. I believe people and human stories are inspiring us to stay on right path of Love.
Would you like to add anything else?
I often tell my students that there is an algorithm for a movie project. This means that all the project steps are clear and known, and defined by the production model. However, the way in which the algorithm really take place is not fully predictable. The algorithm has many “if” moments, and knowing what opens when something happens is achieved by recognizing the keys. It is important to have a clear understanding of your intention before starting a project. Without clarity about your message, it is easy to get lost in its possibilities, continue to search around, and not be able to complete the project.
Every step is very important. Whether you are at the beginning of your project, doing research, developing the story, building your relationship with the protagonists, working on post-production, or choosing the soundtrack – every little detail matters. It is really fascinating to see how some tiny details can significantly improve the movie. One moment—and one tiny detail—can evoke emotions that will lead the whole movie, or shift the perspective of the story. Every moment matters. It is important for a person to be able to recognize as many moments as possible. But, the most important is to know where are you going. Without the key, you can’t get in, which is the essence of creative work.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently working on a large project “A Dream of Future: Shalom, Salaam, Peace” with Jerry Holsopple. Through a story with leaders of three largest monotheistic religions—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—we want to explore why we don’t have peace although peace is the core message and the goal of all three religions. If everyone wants to live in peace, what stops us?
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
In a remote village in the north of Serbia something unexpected has happened. All of a sudden, a French family have moved to a poor place deserted by the young.
They believe they have found a promised land for growing grapes and wine-making. But they have found only old people in the village, distrusting people with old habits.
A new challenge awaited them back home in France – how to persuade sommeliers that superior wine can be made in an unknown and problematic region? Can they awake hope and breathe a new life into the old village?
A promise is born
Length: 74 MIN
Director: Zeljko Mirkovic
Producer: Zeljko Mirkovic
Writer: Zeljko Mirkovic, Dusan Gajic
About the writer, director and producer:
Award-winning Film and TV Director, with 51 international awards and Oscars candidature. Professor of Film and digital media in USA. Worked with international film companies and TV stations from USA, UK, UAE, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Serbia, France, Germany. All films are shown at the biggest world film festivals and different TV stations in Europe, Israel, USA and Asia. Producer and Media Manager: Feature films, television series, documentaries, promotional films, media campaigns, commercials. Guest Lecturer at Film schools and Media Workshops /New York City, LA, Berlin, Barcelona, Geneva…/
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
journalists, sales, buyers, film festivals
Social media handles:
Media - Creative Europe, Serbian Film Center
Made in association with:
Optimistic film and SEETV
Where can I see it in the next month?
Wine Country Film Festival, San Francisco, USA - official selection, September 2017
Moondance International Film Festival, Colorado, USA- finalist, September 2017
Belgrade International Festival of Ethnographic Film - official selection, October 2017
AM Egypt Film Festival, Cairo- official selection, September 2017
Arlington International Film Festival, Massachusetts, USA - official selection, October 2017
BIFED, International Film Festival Istanbul, Turkey- official selection, October 2017
Devour! The Food Film Fest, Nova Scotia, Canada- - official selection, October 2017