I was visiting my grandmother, Sidika, in Bosnia last summer where she approached me with a piece of paper. She had gotten a friend to type up her experiences in childhood during WW2. During the war her house had been occupied by the Germans — an officer and his family lived on the second floor of her home. The Nazis had occupied Bosnia for a while, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to bring their families with them. Sidika quickly befriended the officer’s German daughter, named Erika. It was the classic tale of unlikely friendship between two opposing worlds. It was this story I knew I wanted to explore in film.
I approached my friend and long-time collaborator, Jessie Posthumus about writing a script that could capture this story. I then approached other key creatives in my program, my producers Marissa Bergougnou and Aldo Mauro, cinematographer Ben Wong, Production Designer Taylor Aymer, Sound Recordist and Designer Alana Raymond and Editor Ryan Hookway.
Once we had a creative team assembled, the easy part was pitching our film to our professors. The hard part was actually making the film. First, the film is set in Bosnia, during WW2, and the spoken language is Serbo-Croatian and German. Our biggest obstacles were financing, locations and actors. Period pieces are notorious for being very expensive, so we had to find a way to pay for the film. We decided to crowdsource, using Kickstarter, in order to fund the film. We were able to reach our goal thanks to the generous contributions from our families, friends and other supporters online.
Next, we had to find a location that could double as the Bosnian countryside, with a house grand enough to accommodate two wealthy families. We were lucky enough to film at the Black Creek Pioneer Village, where other period films have been shot before. Once we had the location, we had to find period-accurate clothing, furniture and props. This took months of research and sourcing, but eventually we were able to find pieces that both fit the time and were exciting to look at visually.
Still of the short film, Erika.
The final and most crucial step was finding actors to portray these characters. We were set on using the original languages so we tried to find actors who already spoke Serbo-Croatian and English. This proved to be very challenging, and as we were pressed for time, we ended up casting English-speaking actors who were able to learn the languages for the film. I was lucky enough to cast actors with whom I strongly connected to and which brought these characters to life in ways I couldn’t have imagined possible. The two young girls who played Sidika and Erika blew me away – the natural talent and energy they brought to this film really made this story compelling and heartfelt. The film was really a labor of love. All of the departments on my team worked tirelessly to make it a reality and I am exceedingly grateful to have worked with them.
We were honored to receive eight awards at our annual Ryerson University Film Festival – including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound Design, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and the Women in Film Award. I am very proud to have been able to tell this female-driven story, and I will continue to create films centered on young girls and women, as well as supporting fellow female filmmakers. The film industry is overwhelmingly male-dominated, but I am hoping that will change soon. Meanwhile, I focus on doing my part to increase representation and further stories that feature complex and well-rounded female characters.
Erika will be playing on August 11 as part of 9th annual Toronto Youth Shorts’ Opening Night programme, Under the Surface.
Written by Hanna Jovin for Toronto Youth Shorts.