Interview: Darko Štante, director of TIFF world premiere ‘Consequences’
Darko Štante was born in 1975 in Ljubljana. He graduated from the Faculty
of Social Work at the University of Ljubljana. At the moment, he is finishing his master’s degree program in film directing at the Ljubljana Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television. In the past, he has worked as an assistant director on various commercial productions and has authored his own AV projects.
In his first feature film, Consequences, director Darko Štante examines Slovenian male youth on the fringe of society; broke and desperate and clinging to tropes of masculinity led by Matej Zemljič’s stunning turn as Andrej, an 18-year old who is sent to a youth detention center by the courts and who harbors a secret sexual identity. It’s an intimate and explosive film, richly detailed and portrayed, teeming with equal parts rage and anger and pulsating sensuality.
Consequences is a world premiere in the Discovery section of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
I had a chance to talk to Darko Štante about why he made the film, the complexity of the production and casting process and how Slovenia is more progressively pro-LGBTQ than most people probably realize.
EA: First, congratulations on your first feature showing at the Toronto International Film Festival and BFI Film Festivals! I understand Consequences is the first film from a Slovenian filmmaker at TIFF in nine years.
DS: Thank you. Yes, it’s true. Consequences is the first Slovenian film to play TIFF since 2009.
What was your inspiration for this as your first feature?
I was inspired a job I had working in a youth detention center in Slovenia. I witnessed the daily routines, the endless conversations with the kids, and many apathetic employees. There are still currently many old and outdated educational approaches that don’t consider the depth of the emotional distress of the youths and the contemporary factors which contribute to many of their behavioral disorders. Sometimes it was frightening to see the point of view my colleagues at the detention center had on several topics regarding raising youths. With the current escalation of intolerance around the world, and as I witnessed in Slovenia, I was inspired to make a film to address these social problems.
I simply thought: someone from inside this world has to tell the story of these youths and their situation in a humane and sensitive way. I wanted to take into account the surrounding of the kids, how they feel, the emotional distresses of growing up, and how these factors contributed to their social intolerance. How does one survive in a dangerous world where you can’t trust anyone – society, your friends and even your parents?
What the production process like for you on Consequences?
We had an incredibly thorough and complex process of research and preparation to re-create the world of the film authentically.
My main concern through the preproduction was how to build a fictional environment that would reflect my real life experiences. I knew it had to be authentic and raw. So we spent a lot of time just talking about how we imagine individual things like the main characters Andrej’s room at home, specific places in the youth detention centre, the wardrobe of all the individuals etc. We also spent a lot of time looking for locations that felt authentic.
However, I spent the most of my time dedicated to working with the actors. We worked and rehearsed for over six months before filming. Sometimes every day of the week. We spent a lot of time analyzing the script, the characters, doing exercises, changing things, and sometimes just hanging around getting to know each other and feeling comfortable.
I was worked in great detail with the camera department and the editor to create strong storyboards. By the end of the preproduction everybody was incredibly prepared, so the shooting was a success.
Everyone in the film feels very grounded and committed to their roles. Tell me about the casting process. Matej Zemljič as Andrej is especially compelling. Was there any difficulty in casting gay characters?
The casting process was quite difficult. In a small country like Slovenia it’s more difficult to find young actors who could play these roles, and who could also reflect my vision for the characters. After first looking for non-professional actors, I decided it would be easier to focus on trained theatre actors from the Slovenian Academy for theatre, radio, film and television.
First I decided not to cast actors in specific roles. Everyone in auditions went through a specific process of trying all the main roles. I just wanted to get a sense of their energy and how it would fit into my vision for the film. I knew Matej the lead actor from working together on another project, and after auditioning him – I knew he was the right one.
Honestly, it was harder to cast all the other characters. In our country there are a lot of great theatre actors, but very few with work on film. So it was a big challenge to find the right actors who could bring naturalistic performances to the big screen. After our lengthy yet successful casting, we immediately started rehearsing.
Something that fascinated me was how the boys could go from using ‘f****t’ as a taunt or insult but then also be seemingly ok with Andrej being gay. Is that representative of how Slovenian youth feels about homosexuality in 2018?
I don’t think so. In my opinion Slovenia is not as open or tolerant as the media suggest.
Slovenia follows most international initiatives concerning human rights, LGBTQ rights, gender quality etc. But in reality we are a divided nation. Ljubljana (our capitol) and some other urban points are more socially liberal, but outside of the bigger towns, there is unease and many conservative social values.
This became very clear a few years ago at the beginning of the refugee crises. As the government decided to open borders for this humanitarian crises, many Slovenians disagreed. At this time right wing parties became more extreme and populist, and their goal was not only to deny refugees, but the denial of rights of many other citizens. And this is a very dangerous moment right now in Europe. Many young people have embraced the values of extreme politicians, especially socially vulnerable youths.
Slovenian youth is in my opinion are currently in an extreme atmosphere when it comes to tolerance and acceptance of sexuality and other human rights values. They are divided between the general respect for universal human rights which they are taught in formal institutions, and the populist extreme ideas launched through some media.
Also, in Consequences we portray youth living on the fringe of society. A lot of them are living in socially outcast families, and feel threatened. Because of this they feel a misguided hostility toward others, especially the privileged – and a lot of hidden intolerance rises to the surface. And that’s frightening.
Slovenia is actually ahead of much of central Europe when it comes to LGBTQ rights and protections. The Ljubljana LGBT Film Festival is the oldest of its kind in Europe. Do you hope your film helps broaden the exposure of how progressive Slovenia is?
Slovenia is in my opinion progressive about LGBTQ rights and protections in a formal governmental sense. Since our independence we’ve had left wing governments who respect human rights. But there are a lot of socially and politically conservative people who oppose this. In 2015, a national vote refused to provide equal rights by law to LGBT people, which is a strong commentary on the Slovenian people. On the other hand, Slovenia has a progressive record of supporting LGBT rights compared to many other European states with even more extreme levels of intolerance. It’s frightening that in these times some world leaders suggest political campaigns of fear of others that is similar to those at the Weimar republic in the beginning of the 1930’s.
My biggest hope is that our film will broaden the space for acceptable speech about the reasons for intolerance, hatred and violent behavior toward those who think and act different.
Darko, thank you so much talking with me today about Consequences.
Thank you for your interview, Erik. If I can add one more thing, I would like to say that my hope is that all audiences in Toronto will come to see Consequences. This story is universal, and is for anyone interested in social dramas, LGBT and human rights issues worldwide, and the struggles of young people to grow and flourish in the world.
While my film is dark and gritty and reflects with truth some of the current problems young people and our institutional and family systems face today, and I’m hopeful my film can help in a discussion to create lasting social change.