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Benjamin Dizdarević — A Visionary Filmmaker

Author: Hana Tiro

Benjamin Dizdarević is a a filmmaker born in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1992, but almost all of his life spent in Sweden. When he turned 18, he decided to study film in his hometown, at the Sarajevo Film Academy/film.factory. Benjamin studied film for three years, but decided to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a plan to make more movies in his home country.

But it all took an unexpected turn, because Benjamin's application for master's degree at Academy of Performing Arts was declined. From eleven applicants, he was the only one who didn't enroll. After this, Benjamin talked to Danis Tanović, Oscar-winning director, and Tanović told him that this is a perfect thing because now he has no excuses not to make movies.

Thus, it began.

One of the first Dizdarević's movies "Rez" (Cut). It is about a film enthusiast Jasmin Dodik and his life story of traveling around the Balkans, screening movies for free. We see his journey from the very beginning, the ex-Yugoslav era, to his continuation of the process during the Balkan wars in the 90's, as well as the post-war era in Bosnia. The movie discusses the future of the 35mm film reel now that the digital era is slowly taking over.

Who was your first inspiration? From where did this filmmaking urge emerge?

To be honest, I didn’t even know I wanted to be a filmmaker until my first real movie, after I graduated from film school. During film school, I had plenty of contrasting inspirations, depending on which mood I was for the day: Lars von Trier, Paul Thomas Anderson, Coen Brothers and so on. I was a young wanna-be provocateur who probably liked the image of a filmmaker more than filmmaking itself. It might sound harsh, but those are probably the words I’d tell myself if I could go back in time.

But the one inspiration that made me begin my filmmaking career? My mom. See, after high school, I had gotten into the psychology program in Richmond, England. I was convinced that “this is what I’m supposed to do”. But one day, out of the blue, my mom calls me while I was visiting my dad in Germany and says “Hey, there’s a film school in Bosnia. You’ve always liked film. Wanna give it a shot?”. And my reaction was “Film school? What do you mean, we sit around and watch movies all day?” and she’s like “No silly, they teach you how to make them.”

I was sold.

And so, my journey began. I packed my bags and flew to Bosnia instead.

These were years of uncertainty, up until the point I had my first budget to make a movie. So I made the documentary film “Cut”, which was screened at international film festivals all over the world and eventually sold to Al Jazeera Balkans. Five days of filming. 12 hour shifts. Last day was 16 hours + 2 hour drive home. My crew were destroyed, lying in the van falling asleep. My eyes were excitedly open. Red and bloody, sure, but open.

That’s when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.

Who would be your favorite film director, and why?

Nowadays, I tend to look at movies independently from their creator. Having a favorite filmmaker is hard for me to imagine. It left a bad taste my mouth when the younger me used to worship certain creators and aspire to be like them instead of being myself.

But to avoid giving an anti-climactic answer, I’ll put it this way: The filmmaker that lit the bulb over my head and made me go “I think I know what kind of movies I want to make” for the first time ever, was Asghar Farhadi.

I liked movies on both sides of the spectrum back then: Slow and artsy but also good, stable Hollywood. With Farhadi, it’s as if he took both sides and merged them together. Complex, profound stories made easy to watch.

That’s probably the closest to an inspiration as I’ll get right about now.

Did directing change your world view? As in, do you see a house merely as a building made of bricks, or as someone's potential home filled with stories, or maybe something else?

Filmmaking in general definitely has made me look at the world differently. Everything has become a story now. Even the most mundane boring tasks that people do each day are a story to me. Just to take your example of buildings: They are a collection of bricks if you want to look at it that way. Boring, sterile but serve an important function.

But maybe it’s not about the building. Maybe it’s about the ties that people have to the building and the place around it. Yes, you can look at it and go “Oh… bricks”. But to Ivan, who lived there 40 years ago and cultivated the best memories of his childhood? You bet it’s more than “just bricks”. Anybody who’s gone on a nostalgia trip and visited their childhood home knows the power of that feeling. It’s disgustingly nauseating. Makes you sick to your stomach. But boy does it come with a feeling of satisfaction on top of it.

Am I the only one…?

Point is, everybody lives for something. Therefore, everybody and everything has a story. There are no bad stories. Only bad storytellers.

When you first got your hands on the camera, where did you aim it?

Aimed it at my cousin sitting by the kitchen table. He placed playing cards on his eyes, squinting them to hold them in place, and filled his mouth with more cards, making him look like a monstrous card-creature with large card-teeth. I don’t know, I can’t explain it better than that. It was stupid. We laughed.

A part of me wishes we could have put make up on him too so that he would’ve become a… Card-ashian.

I’ll see myself out.

In photography, what's your favorite style?

Simple, pure, realism. Street photography in most cases. But the stylized ones aren’t bad either. In that case, playing with a simple light and see what you can accomplish is pretty fun. The simpler, the better.

Any advice for young filmmakers?

Stop performing. You’re wasting your time. Nobody is going to appreciate you for “being a character” when you’re sitting and home doing absolutely nothing to achieve your goals. Cut down on the parties, and instead put in the work. Sit. Read. Watch. Create. And after that – develop an eye for business. You will be a “poor artist” if you expect the work to come to you instead of chasing it.

The “poor artist” stereotype is overrated, sorry. You have no excuse to not earn money from your passion in 2021.

So get to work.

Benjamin currently works as a filmmaker and photographer in Stockholm, Sweden, where he founded his own production company Dizdarević Film.

Follow Benjamin's work on Facebook and Instagram.

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