‘A hallucinatory moment’: Goran Stolevski on his unlikely rise in Australian film | Australian film & More Latest News

Goran Stolevski doesn’t like being in entrance of the digital camera. “That was the most uncomfortable 25 minutes of my life,” the Macedonian-Australian director laughs over the telephone, after a Guardian photoshoot in Melbourne’s Edinburgh Gardens. There’s one thing synthetic, he says, about sitting nonetheless, subjecting your self to the steely gaze of a lens. He glimpsed a check shot at one level and winced.

If the previous 12 months are something to go by, he’ll must get used to the publicity. In that point, Stolevski’s debut characteristic You Won’t Be Alone – launched in Australia this week – has ignited his profession, touchdown him a coveted spot in Variety’s checklist of administrators to observe earlier than it had even premiered in the US, the place it was met with a flurry of rabid acclaim. It was one in every of his two movies that screened at Melbourne worldwide film pageant in August; the opposite, achy queer romance Of an Age, opened the pageant – and has simply gained him Australia’s richest film prize.

“I think the last six weeks is more money than I’ve made in the previous three years combined,” he says. “I told [my husband] to take a holiday. You get to be the trophy wife now!”

Appearances – and their mutability – matter to Stolevski. His personal – cropped darkish hair, khaki T-shirt, silver chain – is a type of masculine cosplay, much less a product of selection than a strategic resolution. “How I look and dress has been shaped by trying to survive society without, you know, risking violence,” he says. “Or just the least stressful way I can possibly exist right now. But inside my brain, my feelings are like: watch this fucking movie! Do you really think of me as a man?”

Goran Stolevski walks along a shaded path in a park wearing a jumper and neck chain
Stolevski’s new film You Won’t Be Alone is an outlier from Australia’s ‘aesthetically conservative’ trade. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/The Guardian.

Gender (and, extra broadly, personhood) definitely turn into slippery in You Won’t Be Alone – the sinuous story of Nevena, a younger shapeshifting witch in a Nineteenth-century Macedonian hamlet with the flexibility to imagine the identities of different villagers. Raised in captivity and armed with little data of the world, she implants herself right into a sequence of distinct our bodies – a lady, a person, a canine, a toddler – performed by a number of actors together with Noomi Rapace and Australia’s Alice Englert. From every physique, she emerges transfigured.

North Macedonia can also be the place Stolevski spent his childhood, although he’s fast to dismiss any autobiographical studying of You Won’t Be Alone’s setting. (“If you transplanted my brain cells into another human being in a 19th-century mountain village anywhere, I would be accused of witchcraft,” he says.) He had a “simple” upbringing in Tetovo, in the nation’s northwest, the place he slept on a roll-out sofa in an residence with his mother and father and grandparents, earlier than shifting to Australia on the age of 12. “I was thinking we were moving to this metropolis – I pictured something like Manhattan, the way it is on TV … And then I was in suburban Melbourne.

“I didn’t realise it until I moved – everywhere was empty. I would walk for 40 minutes and not see another person. I mean, you see dog walkers and joggers –” He pauses for laughter. “… but I don’t consider them people. It’s really, to this day, chilling to me how there’s just no ordinary day-to-day life, bustle and movement.”

The world of the humanities … is fully made from wealthy individuals who uncover what injustice is in roughly 20-year cycles

Everyone in the housing fee the place he lived, in Melbourne’s Macleod, was issued a weekly voucher to the cinema, the place he started watching movies voraciously. Soon – like all precocious tween with a aptitude for melodrama – he was borrowing Battleship Potemkin from the video retailer, and renting Ingmar Bergman on the native library. “I never had any friends,” he jokes.

That sense of suburban sprawl – and the all-consuming want for one thing, something to alleviate its hollowness – finds its method into Stolevski’s second characteristic, Of an Age. Three teenagers, every burdened with the starry-eyed optimism of adolescence, share a weekend with lingering ramifications into maturity. Two of them fall in love as boys, and confront their relationship as males.

Stolevski’s breakthrough second got here in 2018 when, after writing and directing a string of brief movies, one in every of them gained an award at Sundance. “Just the second I got into Sundance, it felt like a hallucinatory moment … When I got the email, I was ironing my husband’s shirts. My mum called me straight away. And my dad was on the phone, and he’s like, what does this mean? And I’m like, this means I’ve made it, I’m gonna be a film-maker, I’ll get work from now on.

“And from the moment I uttered that sentence, through to 2020, for three years, I didn’t really have work.”

A name from Causeway Films – the manufacturing firm behind cult horror hit The Babadook – modified his fortunes. Said aloud, it resembles a fairytale: a producer from the studio requested for an inventory of concepts, learn the screenplay for You Won’t Be Alone in a single day, and determined it was the one.

You Won’t Be Alone is a horror film, although it adheres to neither the slasher tropes of its predecessors nor the cloying minimalism of latest “elevated” horror, which eschews bounce scares for thinky parables. There’s blood and guts aplenty, positive – the metamorphosis ritual alone sees Nevena carving into her sufferer’s flesh with blackened talons to extract their viscera – however a wide-eyed curiosity runs alongside the gore. Nevena, newly unleashed into the world, consumes all it has to supply: its bounties and its brutality.

That one thing as overtly weird as You Won’t Be Alone was made in any respect looks like a small miracle in Australia, a notoriously airtight – and, as Stolevski has described it, “aesthetically conservative” – trade.

A still from film You Won’t Be Alone featuring a woman being patted on the shoulder by a man
An bold directorial debut: You Won’t Be Alone concerned an ensemble forged, a world shoot, and a script carried out in an archaic Macedonian dialect. Photograph: Branko Starcevic/Focus Features

Any Australian director left of the mainstream is properly acquainted with rejection, typically shunned at residence in favour of staid fare whilst their star rises abroad. Plus, this was a beast of a film: an ensemble forged, a world shoot, and a script fully carried out in an archaic Macedonian dialect didn’t precisely make for an easy debut. Somewhere alongside the best way, Stolevski was supplied $3m by a distributor to alter the dialogue to English, a deal he promptly rejected.

“Australia [talks] about diversity all the time,” he says, “but then it also has to feel Australian, and apparently, things in a foreign language don’t.”

All these anxieties ebbed on set. After the drudgery of Covid lockdown, he discovered himself awed by the six-week shoot in a tiny Serbian city nestled amid mountains so verdant, so huge they might flip anybody non secular. “I was just traipsing happily across the most bucolic areas and dreaming up this story I’d written with no real limitations … [I] felt so overwhelmed. And lucky.”

I ask if there’s a unifying treatise to the 2 options he’s made to this point – and he solutions with a query: “Is there? … I’d love to know.” I provide one thing tacky in regards to the characters in each movies discovering passages out of desolate existences – suburban Melbourne, agrarian North Macedonia – by imagining lives bigger than their very own. “Yes. Jesus! Yes!” he exclaims. “Are you my therapist?”

The identical expansiveness underpins his disdain for the id labels generally used to shoehorn him into the guise of a queer film-maker, a migrant director. “I just find it something that rich people use to entertain each other,” he says. “I went to a working-class public school – I didn’t even think about [diversity] because that was just reality.

“[Then] I entered the world of the arts, which is entirely made of rich people who discover what injustice is in roughly 20-year cycles – and they always limit it to this way that becomes purely theoretical … [Through film], I want to feel like my soul is travelling to another place and connecting to someone else I might never get to know and meet.

“And if that person is another Macedonian-Australian gay kid, like, ew!”


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