Spotlight: An interview with Erik Jasaň ("Recall")
Meet Erik Jasaň, a visionary director from Slovakia. He graduated in dramatic arts from the Conservatory in Bratislava and has a background in media production. His short films premiere at renowned festivals and reflect his commitment to sensitive topics.
Jasaň's directorial finesse reached a pinnacle with the world premiere of his music video "RECALL" at the 45th Denver Film Festival. He is a co-producer of the award-winning film "THE WALLEY OF THE WIDOWS," which clinched the Doc Around Europe Award at the 38th DOK.fest Munich.
Join us as we unravel the layers of Jasaň's creative process, his directorial notes, and the profound impact of his music video, "RECALL."
Before we talk about Recall, we'd like to know more about your background. What sparked your interest in filmmaking when you were growing up in Slovakia?
I was born in Košice, in eastern Slovakia, into the family of an accountant and an engineer. I probably picked up the artistic genes from my mother’s family, considering that each of her family members played some kind of musical instrument, and from a young age I drew at an art school, and I was involved in acting, reciting, dubbing and theatre.
As an acting student at the Conservatory in Bratislava, I performed at the National Theatre in Košice in a performance of “Na skle maľované”, where I played the main character Jánošík. I studied acting, and while studying acting I had theatrical attempts at directing. Later I met a cameraman, Matej Jánošík (DOP for the RECALL music video), who aroused my interest in film. I acted once in one of his films as an actor, and our paths later crossed as a creative duo – director and cameraman. So far, we have shot more than 10 film projects together. Later, I studied film and media production at the Higher Vocational School of Film in Košice. And at the moment I am engaged in the creation of film music videos, I direct feature films and I joined several film documentaries as a co-producer. One of them, The Valley Of The Widows, recently won the FIPADOC prize – Doc Around Europe Award at 38th Dok.fest Munich. I worked as 1AD and Casting Director for the feature-length docu-drama THE CARS GANG, which will air on HBO.
You have participated in many film festivals, including the Denver Film Festival and the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, which is a US Oscar-qualifying festival. What are some of the memorable milestones in your career so far?
Unfortunately, we couldn't attend the festival in Denver or the festival in Bengaluru in person. In both cases it was because we were shooting a new film. However, we recently learned about the selection of the RECALL clip for the 22nd annual Miami Short Film Festival and we are considering attending this festival in person.
But I believe that the most important milestones are yet to come. We are currently waiting for the world première of the short film THE PROFESSIONAL PARENT, which was co-produced by Slovakia (dog 95 film factory) and Romania (ROVA FILM – Marian Crisan – winner of a 2008 Palme d'Or). French distributor originefilms, represented by Olivier Berlemont, is in charge of distributing the film. The film received support from the Slovak Film Institute, and was also supported by Litfond Slovakia and the Košice Regional Office.
Let's talk about your music video, RECALL. You collaborated with Patrik Krivánek (co-producer). How do you think you divided the responsibilities?
Production of the music video itself took place in Slovakia. Patrik Krivánek joined the project in the post-production phase, which was divided into several parts. As a producer, Patrik provided us with audio post-production, and as for video post-production, he provided editing. Hairdressing was performed by Spanish hairdresser Ona Bartoli. The sound design was done in the London studio Sound Disposition. Sound design was done by Antek Rutzcynski from Poland. Patrik and I have been friends for many years and we are also helping each other with upcoming projects we are both planning. Patrik was also 1AD for the aforementioned short film The Professional Parent.
How did you proceed with casting?
First of all, the story of RECALL is the story of a woman who finds herself at a crossroads where she has to decide whether to defy her alcoholic husband or remain obediently sitting in one place. Her motivation to find her lost son is stronger than her fear of risking another fight with her husband. I was looking for an actress with red hair for the main character, because the fire that flares up in her is a certain metaphor for the story. Like a car explosion, so I wanted a hair colour that would resemble fire in a way.
In the character of the husband, I was looking for a typically entitled Slovak man who takes little care of himself, or his relationship with his wife and child. Marek Geišberg is a very charismatic actor who knows similar types of characters well, so I had no doubt that this character was perfect for him. Tatiana and Marek are well-known actors in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Both are known in Slovakia as both artistic and commercial actors, which is why the choice fell on them.
Were there any unexpected challenges during filming? And how did you go about creating the car explosion?
Before the filming, we did pre-shooting with a smaller crew and acting students who portrayed individual characters from the clip. Then we edited the material and edited the script so that we could work with the budget and at the same time manage to shoot everything we needed in 2 days. On set, we all knew what we had to do. Production went really fast.
The car explosion was processed through VFX. The overall visual effects were created using classical methods of the multi-exposure camera technique, which helped to create the light atmosphere of a burning car. Intricately planned, the visual effects assets were meticulously captured using a high-end professional camera. This precision in capturing references ensured that every nuance and detail found in the scenes was preserved, providing a rich source of information for the subsequent creative processes. Yet, the journey through post-production was not without its challenges. One of the most demanding aspects of it laid in creating a seamless and realistic interplay of light, as the fiery blaze interacted with the surrounding forest environment. Achieving this level of authenticity requires ingenuity and a profound understanding of visual dynamics. By employing compositing methods, we managed to make sufficient adjustments to the flames and smoke, which were then implemented in the final shot.
Can you talk about your real-life experience that inspired the vision for Recall?
I come from eastern Slovakia, where sometimes alcohol is cheaper than some foodstuffs. Men drink their pay away and some women live in oppressed positions. I have heard many stories of women who were oppressed by their men, or even beaten, but kept silent about their trauma. For a long time, I wanted to make a music video that would be like a short film. I am currently shaping up as director for music videos with a cinematic expression/look. I wished to raise awareness about this topic because domestic violence only becomes an issue in society when it happens to someone famous. But these little dramas also happen behind closed doors in ordinary homes. They simply are not written about in the media.
Why did you decide to shoot in 4:3 format?
To focus on the acting. I feel that when the 4:3 aspect ratio is used, I can focus more on the actor than on the surroundings, which I naturally feel.
"Recall" opens with a shot of a broken plate followed by a woman sipping soup. Moments later we discover a rush of blood over her eye and a torn image separating her husband from her and her son. This image accompanies us throughout the story and will become significant in the process of the mother's transformation. It seems that the more the mother looks at the picture, the more she understands what she must do to succeed in making a change and possibly finding her son. Can you tell us about the messages you wanted to convey with these themes?
The story gradually reveals the secrets of the main character, the Mother, and her environment. You have already indicated the important milestones in the music video. I would perhaps add that with this clip we could potentially encourage women who are going through similar situations not to be afraid of cutting off their previous life from their husband who is abusing them in any way.
One of the most powerful moments in Recall is the sudden transition from reality to flashback. Artistically, with the torn image, it is done wonderfully and narratively it will surprise and touch the hearts of the audience. Can you take us through the preparation and building phase of the story?
For me personally, the most powerful moment is the woman's decision to set fire to the car in which her husband is sleeping. It really takes a lot of courage. My goal was for the viewer not to be surprised and instead to understand her action. Just like in the film Amour by Haneke, when the husband ends his wife’s life after a long period of suffering to relieve them both of their suffering. The viewer may or may not condemn this action, but should understand it. As for the story, I wanted to create a classic three-act film, in which the explosion of the car will be the highlight – as a metaphor for her flaring up and leading a certain rebellion against the husband.
In the first flashback, we perceive the mother's positive memories of a place in the forest where her son liked to go. In the second flashback, we see memories of unpleasant events that later drive her to set her husband on fire in the car. But yes, of course, the change in mood is surprising, it definitely throws the viewer off emotionally.
A mother looking for her son in the forest takes a path that is no less important than her destination. To find her son, she must break free from her abusive husband. Sometimes what seems easy physically to just get up and leave is much more complicated emotionally. Have you encountered similar stories in real life?
Yes, I have. I knew a woman who went to the police after being beaten by her husband. Well, halfway to the police station, she changed her mind. I see her relationship as toxic. Her relationship is linked to the social class and environment she is in, and her destiny is determined by where she was born. It is partly also the result of how the thinking of people who are in a similar social environment does not shift from generation to generation.
In an incredibly simple way, almost without the use of visual effects (except for the fire in the forest) that exist in many music videos, you manage to tell a fascinating story that leaves the audience asking again and again: what happens next? In addition, an emotional relationship is formed with the main character, an abused mother who is searching for her son in the forest. What is your magic secret to building a simple story that will stay in the hearts of the audience?
Subjectivity. I try to write my stories in a way that allows us to focus on one main character, whose behaviour and relationships influence the characters around her and the environment in which she grew up. Ibsen argued that a character is characterised by heredity and the environment in which they grew up or find themselves. If I want to sympathise with a character, I have to put the character on the edge where it is difficult to decide which direction the character will go. The character must be at a certain crossroads. I love the character Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky. The viewer may sometimes condemn him, but can always understand him. And if a character that is negative also has positive characteristics and vice versa, then I believe that the character is real. No one is inherently good or bad. People cannot be categorised like that. And what is likeable to me may not seem so to someone else. The director should be able to tickle the viewer, to provoke them, to get them to explore their limits because people only discover who they are by living outside their comfort zone. And this is how it is in my life, as well.
What inspired the musical choice of the song?
Atmosphere. Gradual gradation. From the beginning, this song attracted the attention of the team as it is structured dramaturgically. However, I am glad that the music group DENNYIAH allowed me to edit the sound side of the song as well. We used two meaningful pauses in the story where the actor’s action was dominant. We entered the track with a foley artist and added a new mix to it.
What is next for Recall?
Recall is slowly ending its festival tour and we are trying to introduce Recall to some VOD and TV stations that broadcast music videos. Recall was streamed on the dafilms VOD platform as part of the AZYL SHORTS Best Projects selection. We are currently negotiating with TV stations that broadcast music videos. And Recall has currently been submitted to some Oscar-qualifying festivals, we'll see.
How can our readers follow more of your work?
Follow me on IG: @erik.jasan
Dennyiah - Recall (Official video)