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Goran Stolevski, writer/director of Of an Age

Focus Features releases Of an Age in select theaters on February 17th, 2023.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally?

Goran Stolevski: I think that provoking someone is entertaining, isn't it? To me, entertainment is experiencing things intensely. My ideal viewing experience is when the screen is like a magnet and you can't take your eyes off of it. It's a single emotional throughline that you can't look away from. I'm just looking more for emotional intensity in both directions: to elicit it from the audience as well as to have it on screen so that it's there to connect with. It's really about maintaining that magnetic connection between the viewer's eyes and the characters' eyes.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What does the term "cinematic" mean to you?

GS: Feelings that you can connect with no matter where you come. If something very specific takes place where I grew up---because only a limited population knows these specific things---there's something deep and underlying there that someone can connect to in Argentina or in Korea and actually feel it just as intensely and it feels worthwhile. That's what, to me, is cinematic. Also, it's something that's transporting, so it should feel real and authentic---some stories should---but it still feels like it takes place in a different realm emotionally.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide how to capture emotions throughout the film through words, images and silence?

GS: In this case, what they're saying in dialogue is usually quite different than what they're thinking or feeling on the inside. I think that if it matches too closely--if what you're saying is what you're also thinking--then I find that to be very uncinematic and not that interesting to watch. What that means to me is that during the silences, no matter how brief, there's a whole other kind of dialogue going on in the eyes. The real dialogue is happening in the eyes. It's unspoken. I think that that's what I think of capturing emotion. I sat down with all of the actors and we went through the script line by line. I explained what I was thinking, where I was coming from and what's the subtext of every word that I wrote. Then I told them that they could ignore all of it, but that I want them to know exactly where I came from and they have complete freedom to skip over bits, to shape over them and to improvise, but it's more just so that they know what the shape was and also in the details of the world of the characters and the story that's becoming more real. My job is just to create that universe for them to inhabit. If they have enough information, then they could just look at it and take their time. When I say, "Action!", they don't have to start acting straight away; it just means that the crew is ready and we're shooting. Then the feelings can come through the actors, and it's only when they feel that something is right---that the moment is right---that they speak. They have all the time in the world. There is a lot of improvisation. On the way to the improvisation they say a lot of the lines as written, but it feels like they found their own way to them. I think that in looking for the way and understanding the world of feelings that they're working with, that's when you get the flickers of looks and glances. When you write them into the script, they just sound stupid. They need to happen on their own.

NYC MOVIE GURU: You did a wonderful job of knowing when to trust the audience's intelligence, emotions, imagination and patience. Which of those was most challenging for you to get right?

GS: It's really encouraging to hear that. A lot of the time I was worried about cutting too fast or shots going too quickly. One of the challenges with the car scenes was that it's a car and it's moving. We shot it in real time on a real road. Sometimes, midway through a line in one take, the car is moving and the assistant [director] is not. It limits how long a particular take can be--not for reasons of feeling or performances, but for reasons of practicality. I hate it when that gets in the way. I don't want to allow it to make the film go too fast because I think that it's really important to stay with feelings. Also, I think that cutting too fast has its own charm and quality, but a rhythm needs to come from within the story. A shot needs to last as long as it's alive, but you, ideally, want it to be alive as long as possible. It's quite tricky when it's two different people. I want to be very close to them and feel like I'm in the characters' skin. For Kol, in that car, the entire world is like Adam's eyeballs. The entire world is happening there.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How introspective do you think Kol and Adam are?

GS: I feel that a lot of Kol's introspection happens off-screen---not in the time that we spend with him. There is some of it. There are moments when he's clearly thinking about something. It's quite tangible. It's not a magical thing; it's happening between our minds and we're all constructing it somehow, but it's really hard to organize it. I approach filmmaking not as---this is going to sound so pretentious!--you know the way that Jackson Pollock used to paint in terms of splash painting? If you throw paint, it lands in a certain way. After a while, you can kind of control it in a very specific way, but if you try to do it without splashing, it feels fake. I think that's what it is with feelings. I create the environment, I orient people in this direction, then let them go, and then find the feelings. It's kind of controlled, but at the same time, if you're too specific about it, it becomes shallow and flat, essentially. I think that Adam gets to be a lot more introspective in the period described within the story. A lot of Kol's introspection is in the time that passes in between.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What film do you think would pair well with Of an Age in a double feature?

GS: I was doing a promotional screening at a beautiful theater in San Francisco called the Vogue Theater. My favorite film of all time is playing there next week: L'Atalante which is super-obscure, but there was a poster next door to the entrance that said, "Coming soon," and I was like, "This is what's playing next??" That film, in terms of romance in what was for them a mundane setting. it's not overly stylized, but it has poetry or at least I think that it does

NYC MOVIE GURU: Of an Age is filled with poetry. I believe that poetry is often a form of protest for or against something.

GS: That's so beautiful! All I've ever needed in life is for someone to say that to me, so thank you!

NYC MOVIE GURU: You're very welcome. In my opinion, Of an Age is a protest against hate.

GS: Exactly!

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