Svetlana Cemin is a writer, director, producer, and the founder of 610FILM, an art-house film production company.
Her vision is to create experimental art films as well as documentaries and feature films that promote the work of artists and art in general.
She was born in Belgrade, Serbia, and has been living and working on the New York-Paris route for many years. Prior to becoming an award-winning filmmaker, she worked as an internationally renowned fashion model and actress.
Her recent director and producer credits include: Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche (Winner Best Experimental Documentary – Chicago Indie Film Awards 2020; Winner Best Experimental US and International Film – Venice Shorts, 2020; Winner Best Documentary – Toronto Short Film Channel Festival 2020; Winner Best Documentary Feature – Los Angeles Film Awards 2020; Winner Best Experimental Documentary – New York Film Awards 2020; Honorable Mention – Hollywood New Directors 2020; Winner Best Documentary – Montreal Independent Film
Festival 2020; Winner Best Experimental ARFF Amsterdam 2020; Official Selection – Lonely Wolf: London International Film Festival, 2020; Winner Best Experimental Film – Vegas Movie Awards 2020; Winner Best Feature Documentary – German United Film Festival 2020; Winner Best Documentary – Tokyo International Short Film Festival 2020; Winner Best Documentary – New Wave Short Film Festival 2020; Winner Best Documentary – Washington Film Festival 2020; Official Selection – Kalakari Film Festival 2021; Winner Best Feature Documentary – Roma Short Film Festival 2021; Official Selection – Cift Festival of Toronto, 2021; Official Selection – Seoul Internation Short Film Festival, 2021; Winner Best Feature Film – Experimental, Dance & Music Film Festival 2020; Winner Best Documentary Feature – Rome Film Award 2021; Winner Best Documentary Feature – New York Tri-State International Film Festival 2021; Best Documentary and Best Woman Director GIMFA, Brazil 2021; Official Selection – Paris International Short Festival 2021; Finalist – Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival, 2021; Official Selection – Vienna Indie Short Film Festival, 2021; VdR Film Market
Visions du Reel CH 2021; Official Selection – Austin International Art Festival, 2021; Official Selection – Cult Movies International Film Festival, 2021;) Father Arsenie (Official Selection Beldocs, 2020; Official Selection VIVA, 2020; Official Selection Cyprus Internation Film Festival 2020; Official Selection Bridges International Film
Festival, 2020; Official Selection at the Kalakari Film Festival 2021; Honorable Mention- Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival; Official Selection-Zolotoy Vitez (Golden Knight)- Russia- 2021; Official Selection-Serbfest-Moldovia) Adam Fuss, A Landscape of Imagination Winner of Best Documentary and Audience Award at the Hollywood New Directors Film Festival 2018; Official Selection at the March Film Festival Belgrade 2018; Official Selection-London International Monthly Film Festival 2021) BURN (Official Selection 2018 at the March Film Festival Belgrade 2018) Madeleine Hatz, A Royal Vagabond (Official Selection BANEFF 2019; Vienna Art Week, 2019) Metamorphosis ( Media Library at the Visions du Réel,2019; Vienna Art Week, 2019); and Laura Kaplan, Love Is All That Matters (Winner of Best Experimental Short in BANFF Stockholm 2017; Winner Best Short Film LIFF 2017; Special Mention One-Reeler Short Film Competition 2017; Official Selection-Big Sur Film Festival 2021).
Hello Svetlana! You are a writer, director, producer, and the founder of 610FILM, an art-house film production company. So, when did it all start for you? What was your very first job in the industry?
Svetlana: I founded 610Film at the beginning of 2015 when I had just returned from Paris after a long absence due to personal reasons. While I was in Paris, I began writing many short stories and I felt that working as a producer and a director was much more appealing to me than returning to acting. Once I came back to New York, I felt that I could transform these stories and ideas onto the screen. I’ve always considered myself an artist, but I had a hard time finding the right form to explore my artistic expression. I began my acting career when I first arrived in America, after having had a successful career as a model. My first role was in Oh! Dubrovnik, a play by Johnathan Bolt, performed at the Circle Rep Theatre company. I played the lead role, Elena a Bulgarian actress. After spending some years in off-Broadway productions, I entered the film industry in 1997 when I played in Clair Dolan, an indie film directed by Lodge Kerrigan which showed at the Cannes Film Festival.
What were some of the early lessons you learned, even at this stage, that you still draw on today?
Svetlana: I learned many valuable lessons, mostly on the respect for work, discipline, and the need for complete dedication to the project. But there are still a few challenges, mainly around building strong relationships that will carry the project together. I am a team player, and in spite of some major setbacks when I began founding 610Film, I always made sure to appreciate my relationship with my crew and with the people involved in the project. Working closely with my team at every level of the production was the key to accomplishing my creative endeavors.
I’ve read somewhere that the films that inspire you as a director are Nostalgia by Tarkovsky or Medea by Passolini. Could you expand on that a bit, what is it about these that influence you?
Svetlana: The most important element in a piece of art is the way the vision is executed, that is what inspires me. In both of these films, the stories are told in mysterious, powerful, and poetic ways, making them universal and very memorable. They both strikingly mingle between the conscious and unconscious worlds and work on multiple levels of reality. I find that Tarkovsky and Passolini have a magical touch to their creative expression and they fully explore dreams and the subconscious. There are many other great directors whose films I admire, but I feel deeply connected to this type of work, besides the fact that I love the voice of Maria Callas, and symbols of Greek mythology, because I’m uncurably nostalgic.
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Svetlana: I try to stay very alert during the creative process and I don’t necessarily work on the basis of ideas themselves, since they come and they go. I go along with the themes that inspire me and try to make the right choices that will achieve my initial goals. I improvise a lot. Everything is spontaneous when it comes to my work. My method is organic and depends on various circumstances, so I try to stay focused and flexible in order to move forward.
How do you keep up with the latest creative tools and technologies?
Svetlana: I find what is happening with technology in our everyday life fascinating and a bit overwhelming. I try to follow what is going on in the media but I don’t put too much focus on it. The pandemic made social media and many applications and interfaces necessary for me in my private and professional life; but it still feels like even though it brings us closer, we are still far apart. I find this quite intense and I avoid being too involved with the virtual world and try to stay grounded in physical reality.
How influenced are you by current trends, if at all?
Svetlana: I usually treat them as a quiet observer and enjoy seeing what is going on, but I’m not influenced by any trends. The process of creating something unique is what interests me the most and I think many trends step away from that. I find the creative process to be something personal and spontaneous, and I try to discover the true motivation and meaning behind my ideas. With trends, I find this more difficult and cannot associate to them as organically.
Your film “Metamorphosis” will be featured at Berlin Film Festival. Tell us about the birthing process of this film.
Svetlana: I am very happy to announce that it will be shown at the Berlin Film Festival this year because it all began in East Berlin in 2015 where I shot part of Metamorphosis in a famous LGBT hangout called The CLUB, which has unfortunately closed down. I was incredibly inspired by the performance of Taylor Kendall aka Olympia Bukkakis, whom I had met on my first visit to Berlin in December 2014 when I was in the casting process for the film. He is a fantastically talented drag performer from Australia who has been living in Berlin for many years. His life was in danger many times because of his sexual orientation, and I found his resilience truly inspiring. While I worked with Olympia on this project, I coincidentally met another interesting artist Steff, who was transitioning at the time and had his first solo art show in the same space where we were filming Olympia. Then I felt that combining Laura Kaplan, a New York-based eccentric artist with strong sexual energy, into the film would fit perfectly. I felt that the three intimate portraits of a Berliner, Australian and New Yorker would make perfect sense because they had the same levels of authenticity, intensity, energy, and heroism. I’m happy that a new burst of energy has been given to this very exceptional story lately by other festivals such as one in Berlin most recently.
You’ve received a lot of awards so far, what is your favorite one if you could choose?
Svetlana: It’s hard to tell since I cherish all the recognition that has been given to my films, especially last year when Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche received more than 22 international awards. If I had to pick one that touched me the most, it would be my very first award from Stockholm in 2017 for the experimental short film Laura Kaplan, Love is All that Matters, for outstanding female achievements in art and art promotion in BANEFF.
I also felt very honored when I was invited to participate as a guest of honor at the Vienna Art Week in 2019 where I screened my two films Madeleine Hatz, A Royal Vagabond, and Metamorphosis.
How has your work evolved over the years?
Svetlana: Several years ago I was making short experimental films. My last three projects are feature documentaries and are much more structurally solid and comprehensive. In a way, yes, it has evolved because I have expanded the films, but I have kept the core concept intact: to focus on the creative process of the artist. The artists that I built the stories around – Laura Kaplan, Madeleine Hatz, Olympia Bukkakis, Steff, Adam Fuss, Monk Arsenie, and Saint Clair Cemin – all taught me valuable lessons in creativity and endurance as we collaborated in opening their interior lives and artistic process on camera. I shot in China, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Serbia, the USA, the UK and I feel deeply grateful that the artists and the crew that I worked with were in tune with my vision. In the beginning, I faced challenges and setbacks, but as we went along, many doors opened up and now I feel much more peaceful because a lot of the struggle was burned out positively through the work.
What is your timetable for future projects?
Svetlana: I was planning to start a new project earlier this year, but back in November last year, I tested positive for Covid and took time to recover. I had to become a little more flexible with my timetable. Hopefully this coming fall my new project will take off.