At first glance Labina Mitevska looks like a vulnerable schoolgirl, but the opposite is more like it.
In the last year of her high school she wanted to see the shooting of a film in Macedonia. A couple of days later, director Milčo Mančevski asked her to accept one of the main roles in his new movie.
She came home and told her mum: "If those film people call me, I am not home. They want me to do this acting and I don't want to do it."
It took her parents two days to persuade their daughter to try it. Her debut movie Before the Rain has already brought her fame and was Oscar nominated in the category of non-English speaking movies, and won (Zlaty lev) in Venice in 1994.
Beside her acting career, she studies the history of art and archeology in Macedonia. I met with Labina Mitevska in Roudnice nad Labem, where she was shooting her latest movie, a German production.
THINK: You are back in the Czech Republic again - What are you working on right now?
LABINA: I'm very happy to be back in the Czech Republic. Actually, one of the reasons why I accepted this film was because it was about a Czech girl who is taking a young boy to Berlin. It's a road movie and I think it has a very good story. I had a dilemma whether I should work this summer because I had some other offers and later I am planning to work on one Italian movie but I liked the script and somehow my heart is still in the Czech Republic.
THINK: While you were in Prague shooting Samotáři (the Loners), what were your favorite places to visit?LABINA: I went to only one club while I was here. I loved Prague so much and I was more interested in opera, theatre, ballet or a concert. Everyday I was out exploring Prague, but not clubs. I was trying to learn more about the culture and after walking in the streets of Prague, I loved to go for a coffee. My favorite place used to be Slavia by the river where I could see the castle.
THINK: Czechia and Macedonia - do you find any similarities between those two countries?LABINA: When I was very young, I was always interested in film and theater and I grew up on the stories of my father, who used to let me watch Czech films and tell me how good the Czech cinema was. I always had a great appreciation for Czech cinematography and my dream was to work here one day. When I met Petr Zelenka, I really liked his work and when he offered me to be in his film, I immediately said yes.
THINK: Did you always dream about becoming a famous actress?
LABINA: No.. no.. no. I am coming from a very art family, my father is a painter, my brother is a sculptor, my mother owns a gallery, and everybody in my family had a talent for something but I never had a talent to paint or sculpt and that made me somehow frustrated. I was trying to find myself and I started being very close to the theatre and to film.
So when I was eighteen, I heard that they are shooting this film in Macedonia and I went there to ask if I can volunteer for one day just to see how the shooting is going. I never really imagined my self in front of the camera because when I was younger, I never really appreciated actors.
THINK: How did you get this role in Before the Rain?
LABINA: Milčo Mančevski came to me and I thought he was going to need me to stand somewhere but when he gave me the script to read, I started panicking. I thought they were crazy, I couldn't play such a big role. I didn't think that I could do this, but there were many people around me who believed in me, believed in my acting.
So I decided to devote my self to acting, but I promised myself that I am only going to do projects that are interesting. So far, I kept this promised and I am very happy with all the films I worked on. I am also very careful because when I play a bigger role like in the movie I want you, I usually take break after that. In this case I went to America to study for one year.
THINK: Why did you choose the Indian cultures?
LABINA: I was always interested in native Americans as well as Tibetans because they had to fight for their land. In Macedonia, there is also constant fight for our land, everybody wants to have a piece of the Holy land. And it's very interesting how their history and philosophy is reflected in their art, their pottery, weavings and sand paintings. I find many connections between Macedonian culture and native Americans. I wanted to get out of Europe for a while and explore a little.
THINK: What do you think about American cinematography?
LABINA: It's very hard because I am too big a fighter for European cinema. I am not a fan of American movies.
Everytime I do a film, I want to challenge myself, I want to act in different languages. I think Europe should open and should be more international and there should be more co-productions. I never acted in my native language - I did Samotáři, now I am doing a German film, next I am thinking about doing an Italian film. I must say that it is much harder to act in a different language but it is challenging. I want to show that we should do it like this here in Europe and this is the only way how we should fight against American industry.
THINK: How do you choose your roles?LABINA: I think that most of the time I follow my heart. I am usually working for small films with not too big budget. This film, which I am working on now in Germany, is a road film, very good story. The director (Michael Baumann) came personally to Macedonia to ask me to be in his film and I thought he was very talented so I agreed.
THINK: Money and fame have great power to change one's character...
LABINA: That's one of the things I fear. After Before the Rain, I was traveling so much, visiting all the festivals, meeting famous people and somehow I was disgusted by all the parties, big stars, their ignorance, losing personality.
I realized one can be so easily changed that I promised myself I never will. I don't think I changed. I know I have more power now but I am using it to help other people. I don't use it purely for my self and I hate when someone does that. I hope I didn't change...
THINK: How would you like to spend your free time?LABINA: I would spend it with my family, I am very connected with them. When I can, I always come home and see my relatives and my friends. Now we established a small company with my brother and my sister - the foundation is called Sister and Brother Mitevski - we made a short movie called Veta. My sister directed it, I acted and produced it, and my brother did the set design. It was filmed during January and February in Macedonia and post-production was done in New York. Our foundation also tries to help young Macedonian filmmakers and support art.
THINK: Are you interested in working in this field more closely?
LABINA: Yes. I am trying now to get more connections to other foundations so we can do another project because I think it's very important. In Macedonia, we don't produce many films and for young actors it is very hard to move from theatre to film. I would like to organize a workshop where they could experience acting in front of camera. I had a great luck that I succeed but for other young people it is very hard. I believe that in Macedonia, there are so many talents who should get a chance. We are trying to help. The more people we can help, the better.
THINK: What are you doing when you are not shooting or thinking about new projects for your foundation?LABINA: I read a lot and I have to take couple exams at my university so I am trying to be a good student. Every time I am back in Macedonia, I go to the library and study. Trying to catch up with all my reading. After passing those last four exams, I should have my bachelor's degree from history of art and archeology.
THINK: Are you thinking about studying any further?LABINA: I would like to get my master's degree in documentary film. I want to connect history of art and documentary film. I was thinking about studying visual anthropology in Manchester instead of Macedonia. I heard that there is a very good program.
THINK: You have traveled a lot. Where do you see yourself living for a longer period of time?LABINA: Except Macedonia, the only other country I really enjoyed was the Czech Republic. For me all the western countries are too perfect, everything is too organized. They are beautiful but the people are cold and it is hard to feel like you belong among them.
And the southern countries are too big of a mess. I find the Czech Republic very interesting because it is in the middle, you have here some western organizations but the atmosphere here is still more open. I like that combination.
I also love London and England in general but that's may be because I have so many friends there. I am often in London. Still I am not sure where I would like to settle down. I know I want to be close to my family.
THINK: Do you believe that every person has its own destiny in this world?LABINA: We all have destinies, which cannot be changed, but a person can influence it very much. The way that we are shaping our life is coming from us. I believe that when something "wants to happen, it will happen." I am not really religious but I definitely believe in something.
I never grew up in religious traditions but I appreciate it. Everyone is believing. Living on Balkans, I think that one of the worst things is religion. I wish that we could have unified religion in this world because then there would be no conflicts among nations. I appreciate Islam, Buddhism, Christianity - every religion but I don't think that it should be the main thing in a person's life.