Country
Venezuela

Andrés Correa Guatarasma

Venezuelan-born journalist and playwright, Andrés Correa Guatarasma has covered news from more than 25 countries. He has been based in New York City since 2007.

In 1993, he graduated Cum Laude in Social Communications from UCAB, where he later became a Professor of International Journalism after finishing a MA in Foreign Affairs. Since 1992, he has written for El Universal (one of Venezuela's main and oldest newspapers); AP/Associated Press (the largest news agency in the world); Agencia EFE (the major multimedia news agency in the Spanish language); and El Diario NY/Impremedia (the oldest and largest Spanish newspaper in the USA).

He is a member of the NY Foreign Press Center; the International Federation of Journalists; the Dramatists Guild of America; and the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, a branch of “Real Academia Española” (RAE), the official institution responsible for overseeing the use of the Spanish language in the world.

He has written nine plays in English and Spanish, five of which have been finalists in the National Competition of Repertorio Español NYC. He has also been a collaborator of Sundance Institute (Theater Lab Selection Reader) and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), and has written scripts for TV and radio.

  • Interviews

Teona Strugar Mitevska: “My interest in directing came out of frustration”

Director Teona Strugar Mitevska is having an “exciting” time in her life, related to the title of her last movie, The Happiest Man in the World (2022).

In her case, the happiness is literal, unlike her characters that meet in a speed dating event in Sarajevo looking for a Saturday break but end up in a spiral web of twists and emotions of different tenure, including absurdity, when a woman reconnects with the man who had shot and almost killed her 30 years ago, during the ex Yugoslavia war. Soon, wounds reopen and religious tensions resurface for all the participants.

The Happiest Man in the World, a coproduction between North Macedonia, Belgium, Slovenia, Denmark, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, was presented in the 25th edition of the Taipei Film Festival, after being nominated for the Horizons Award at Venice last year. Mitevska created the script along with Elma Tataragic, for whom the story is almost biographic.

Mitevska was born in 1974 in Skopje, Yugoslavia -now Macedonia-. She began her career as a child actor, later studied Film at NYU-Tisch School of Arts, and started directing in 2011. Her previous feature, God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya, competed at Berlinale 2019.

We interviewed Mitevska by email between Taipei, New York and Brussels, where she currently lives.

Your last movie is based on true events, but it also has a varied group of characters. What part of the story or which characters are based on real events, and which ones came from your imagination, own experiences and research with Elma Tataragic?

The base of the film is the real life story of Elma. During the siege of Sarajevo she was shot at, just like (the leading character) Ajsa in the film is. She spent days in a coma, and thankfully survived. She was a teenager then, similar age as the youth we see dancing in the film. This misfortunate event deeply traumatized her.

Even stranger is what happened after the war, when during a theater workshop that integrated different ethnicities from the region, in a session of `tell all` she met the man who probably, with 98% probability, shot her. The elements used in the film like the blanket, address, date and time are the actual details of how they recognized one another. And Elma stayed in contact with this man for years after. One can imagine that this is something that takes time to process, digest. They shared the same references in music, literature, the same history.

After all Serbians, Bosnians, Croatians, Macedonians… we were all part of the same country once and it is this war that separated us in the cruelest of ways. So basically the core of the story derives directly from reality. Then of course we had to reinvent the structure, place it in a form and time frame that satisfies us. This is why Elma came up with the idea of speed dating, and I with the idea of one space -the hotel- and the limited time frame of a day. We wanted to start the story with something universal, something anyone can relate to: Love.

This movie is a drama, with splashes of comedy. What was the intention there?

The humor came naturally during the process of rehearsals, although I must say that during the writing of the story the beginning set up -the questions and answers- felt quite funny to us. It is an absurd situation after all. The questions posed are at the first moment generic and then we go into the cultural, religious reality. It was a way for us to explain the context and the history of this horrible war the characters have gone through. I love situational humor, the one that comes from the absurdity of the situation; it is a way to speak of serious matters with certain humanity and lightness. It is something that comes natural to me, writing dialogue within these restrictions is a passion of mine.

The performances look quite natural. How was the casting process, and how much liberty did the actors have during the shooting?

I tried to find the truth of the moment and it was very important that everything was as natural as possible. I wanted to give the viewer the impression of “newness”, as if what they see on the screen can happen only now, and not a second before or after. For this to be achieved we had to rehearse a lot, so all 40 characters (17 professional actors and 23 non-professional) in that one room act/react as one organism. So we built each character individually, not only the main protagonists: Asja and Zoran, and then we went into the collective research. Since all the 17 actors are Bosnian it was essential to share and include their personal perspective on everything that happens. They are the ones who lived through the war, it is their material. After this process, Elma and I inserted this into the script itself. This kind of detailed preparation gave us so much freedom during the shooting itself, space to improvise. Casting is another thing, in order for me as a Macedonian to be true to the material I did a long research and took testimonials from war victims for months. During this time, I parallel did the casting. The primary idea was finding the two protagonists first, and then building from there when creating the troupe. And that is exactly what we did.

The title of the movie is very ironic. How was it created?

The title came before the script. I love long titles, I thought this one is provocative and yes ironic, somehow it felt good to me.

 

You were a young adult during the Balkans war (1991-1999). Do you think that defined your life and creative process forever?

Indeed. I left my country for the United States when I was 17, and I never went back. After the 11th of September (2001) I moved to France, and today I live in Brussels. When you leave at such a young age, you stop belonging to the one you were once part of as well as the country you are in. Especially when this separation is connected to a violent act like war or destruction of a country. I grew up in Yugoslavia, and then Yugoslavia was no more. The sensation of loss is deeply installed within me, something I will never be able to shake off. Maybe it is for this reason there is often the sentiment of longing for what once was.

You were born in one of the smallest European countries. You were a child actor. When and how did you decide to make/write movies?

I was born in Macedonia indeed, but at this time the country was part of Yugoslavia, so it wasn`t one of the smallest countries then. Today after the war and division, it is exactly that! My interest in directing came out of frustration: as a child actor I often did not agree with the choices of the director. Frankly I found it quite frustrating. I remember I was 12, and doing a TV commercial, when I said to myself: “I am sick of being told what to do, I must go behind the camera and be my own bow”. That’s how it started. Of course it took me a decency to have the actual courage to see myself as a film director. It was not the obvious choice for a profession for a woman in the Balkans, but I managed. Look at me today!

What memories do you have from your time in NYU-Tisch School of Arts?

I started NYU Grad in 1998 and finished in June 2001. It is the school that taught all I know about cinema! Boris Frumin, Yvette Biro were my main mentors among others. They are my Gods!

What is your next project?

I am in the pre production of Mother, my first film in the English language. I am immensely excited!

You did not come to Taipei, but you attended the Venice Film Festival last year. Do you enjoy film festivals and how do you decide which to attend?

Festivals are great and quite gratifying, but they require quite time and energy. It is not so easy to keep the balance between work-creating the next film and traveling, and basically enjoying yourself. At one moment we must let our baby -the previous film live, while we concentrate on the next baby -the next film. I would have loved to be there in Taipei, hopefully with the next film.