Dejan Mrkic: Silence

Dejan Mrkic’s short drama Silence features a young musician who begins to tackle the fragility of her own identity when her hearing – and in extension her livelihood – starts to fade into a seemingly muted existence. We speak to Mrkic about screening his film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, which won Best Drama.

ASFF: Do you feel that your background in psychology has had an impact on the films that you make?
The films I make and will hopefully continue to make are always personal and an extension of me. They generally explore themes that I have personally experienced. I would say that my training as a Psychologist certainly has had an impact on my approach to filmmaking. Psychology and film are completely complimentary disciplines. Film is the glove and Psychology is the hand. Psychology is a very individual science. If we draw a film analogy, you might call it a character study. It’s about trying to understand a person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes and much more both past and present. It’s also about drawing a connection between past and present and studying our past lived experiences to better understand our present choices. Then one of my challenges is to place that character within a broader social landscape because we don’t exist in isolation.

As a writer, one of your initial tasks is to construct character. When I am writing characters, I draw on that knowledge of all the different elements we are made up of, and try to write rich and dense characters. Then as a director, you must be able to deconstruct character, pull it apart with your actors and then build it up with them by respecting their choices, experiences and giving them ownership of who that character is. They ultimately have to play the character so that ownership is so important. So this is one way in which I use my background as a Psychologist but there are many more.

ASFF: What first inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I definitely don’t have a cliché answer for this one. You know that one where your parents bought you a camera when you were 6 years old and you didn’t put it down and everyone thought you were a child genius. Although it is a great cliché. I migrated to Australia as a kid following the dissolution of Socialism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the former Yugoslavia followed by a civil war. The trauma and implications of that experience have never quite left me and have very much shaped my identity. That experience has fuelled a desire to use film as a platform to explore real people and real experiences.

The majority of movies made for the mass market today are squeezed into a traditional formula, i.e. the hero’s journey, for the highest return, fuelled by an obsession with celebrity. The guiding principle becomes, what kind of movie and movie stars will generate the most revenue, rather than what kind of films will challenge people to think about society more critically. That’s partly what inspires me.

ASFF: How do you feel short film festivals like the Aesthetica Short Film Festival contribute to the film industry?
ASFF is unique on the festival circuit as it offers filmmakers a holistic festival experience. You have access to films, masterclasses, panel discussions, networking events, and much more. It caters for everyone. ASFF also has such a rich and diverse programme and is exceptionally organised. ASFF offers filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their work, interact with audiences, meet other filmmakers and future collaborators, and learn from the best in the industry. But most importantly the rich and diverse programme gives filmmakers an opportunity to watch an exciting range of films and learn from others and help further shape their own sensibilities and direction as filmmakers.

ASFF: What were your highlights from the festival?
I did attend the entire festival and collect our award for Best Drama. Thank you once again to the jury and all involved. It was such a special experience with many highlights. I always find it encouraging meeting filmmakers from all over the world and sharing our experiences and just seeing how unifying cinema can be. It’s a universal language that gives us access and insight into the lived experiences of people from every part of the globe. I met filmmakers from Brazil, Slovenia, Italy, Lebanon and many other places. ASFF is so well organised that I have so much respect for the entire team. I know how much energy, passion and love goes into bringing ASFF to life every year so a big congratulations to you all. York is such a magical and historic city that having a film festival as its centrepiece is another highlight. To be able to use such amazing locations and host filmmakers from all over the world is very special.

ASFF: Your film Silence provides an insight to the life of someone who suffers from hearing loss. Why do you feel it is important to explore this subject and what do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
DM: Hearing loss is underexplored in film. Too often films that explore experiences of marginalisation and oppression, across gender, race, sexuality and disability, deal predominantly in stereotypes, portraying these groups as entirely homogenous. Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities have been historically marginalised from participation within society and the arts and they experience a host of other psychological and socioeconomic challenges. The rates of mental health issues are often amplified not because of any inability but because of the structural barriers and stigma they are subjected to.

We wanted to create a narrative which spoke to these overarching structural issues, but is also character driven. We hope the story is simultaneously universal and also textured and specific. The film also explores the gendered experience of oppression. In pre-production, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community spoke to us about the gendered experience of hearing loss, linked to cultural beauty norms. Therefore, there was a desire to challenge the reductionist portrayals of women that have traditionally dominated film, beyond merely the passive object of the male gaze, towards one that captures the full spectrum of female agency. Our film Silence aims to support these messages and show that being on the deaf spectrum, having hearing loss should never define a person.

Watch the Trailer for Silence:

ASFF 2017 is now open for entries. Submit here:

1. Dejan Mrkic, Silence.