Hollywood icon monuments inspire film

Natassia Bonyanpour By Natassia Bonyanpour

March 18, 2015 at 4:24 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2015 at 9:15 a.m.

"A Monument to Michael Jackson"

"A Monument to Michael Jackson"   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

In some of the smallest, poverty-stricken cities of Serbia, monuments of Hollywood icons and American celebrities have replaced old communist leaders.

The citizens of these cities feel the monuments bring revitalization and acknowledgement from around the world to their humble towns, said Serbian born director, Darko Lungulov.

The director used the phenomenon as the plot for his film "Monument to Michael Jackson," which screens Thursday at the Victoria TX Indie Film Fest at the Leo J. Welder Center.

Get Out caught up with Lungulov to discuss his film, and how he arrived at deciding Michael Jackson should be the subject.

Tell me what inspired the concept of the film?

The idea came to me from the newspaper article in a small town in Serbia. A Rocky Balboa monument was built in hope to help the town. To me, it sounded like an incredibly crazy idea at first. But the more I thought about it, it felt very logical. Serbia is in a time where they are not conscious about who the heroes are. With recent civil wars in the '90s and World War II, the heroes are being revisited, especially if they were communists.

The film explores some serious issues, but there are still parts that make you laugh. So was it difficult to write a script like this?

When I first sat down to write this, I had determined in my mind it would be written as a straight comedy. But as soon as I got to develop the story early on, it was clear that it was going to be a tragic comedy. It does not follow the course of a Hollywood film. I think it is because of the current climate Serbia is in; I could not see it another way.

Tell me about the main character Marko. He seems to have a heart of gold, but everyone is a bit bothered by him most of the time?

I really wanted Marko to represent the story of every man. I wanted him to be guy who is kind of going through this grind of living in a country that is not doing well, but is a daydreamer. He has some kind of hope and unrealistic dreams in him. I wanted him to be a barber, a profession that is very archaic in a way. I chose an actor who I always wanted to work with and always admired him. As soon as I started writing the story, I wrote it as a role for him.

Why did you decide to go with Michael Jackson as the subject of the monument?

My original idea for the monument was, for some reason, Tony Manero, the character John Travolta played from "Saturday Night Fever." The pop icon was very popular in former Yugoslavia a long time ago, but then another other movie came out with Tony Manero from Chile, which was similar to my story. It made me think twice, and I remembered Michael Jackson living somewhere in the Middle East. Also, he would cause more controversial conflict and stir up a small town in Serbia because of his baggage. It was perfect for the source of conflict I needed for a good story.

Tell me a little bit about the action-packed helicopter scene?

That whole scene with the helicopter, police, hooligans and extras was filmed over the period of six days. It was something new for me, I had never done a bigger scene. It also involved a stuntman and flying. The crew really prepared for this to the detail, and we only had the helicopter for a limited time. It had to be coordinated between the helicopter with the main actor, flying and then down from the ground. It was pretty nerve-wracking to do.

How do you feel about screening the film in Victoria? Have you been here before?

Yes, I came to the festival as a jury member two years ago, and last year. I also came in the summer of 2013. I briefly taught a film school in two weeks at Trinity (Episcopal School). It was a great experience. Also, when I was editing the Michael Jackson film, I had a rough cut, and I asked Anthony (Pedone) if I could have test screening. I was curious about how someone would like a film from Eastern Europe. We had a test screening of the rough cut at the Johnson Symposium Center at Victoria College, thanks to Dr. Tom Butler, Patrick McLaughlin and Anthony Pedone, who organized it. It was about 25 people, and I listened to their reactions. I was looking to see if there was something that I found they didn't understand culturally. I'm glad we will be screening it again now that the film is finished.

What kind of reactions have you received since you've completed it?

This year, at the Santa Barbara (International) Film Festival, the film got best Eastern European Film. That was the United States premiere. It was really great. We had two extra screenings in Monte Carlo and the film won Comedy Special Mention Screenplay. It's a special thing for me, it's been a great, interesting journey that this film has created.


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