The Ven Jemersic One: "It's never too late to start up something you've always wanted"
Updated: May 25
The director of A Century of Dreams speaks exclusively to IFA's co-founder Adam Kearns about his doc looking at the life of Slovenia's greatest inventor, Petar Florjancic. A delightful and fascinating production, A Century of Dreams took home Best Feature Documentary at IFA London 2020.
I always knew how to make a lot out of a little, and this creative improvisation intrigued me even more.
Ven, thank you for speaking with me. Can you tell me about A Century of Dreams and how you became involved?
I met Peter whilst filming an ad for the mattresses he was promoting. He managed to enchant the team immediately and convince us to make a feature film about his life. When you see such a vital 96-year-old man promising you a million-dollar deal, you get attracted. Peter promised to sell the film through his long-standing international connections and to leave that concern to him. When I read his biography it became clear that we should have made a TV series and not a movie. Peter's life was unimaginably varied and I could have expected that the Slovenian Film Center could not finance such a film. It would be impossible to finance the scenography, costume design, and filming in all the countries where he lived. The international fundraising would take too much time and this wouldn't be appropriate due to Peter's advanced age. Therefore I convinced Peter that we were going to make a documentary.
What do you think is Peter's greatest invention?
Peter's greatest invention was how to live life. There is no greater invention than this. He played at all or nothing. He's been lucky in life for sure, but his greatest strength is to persuade a stranger and convince him of the impossible. This is exactly what happened in my case and I made a film out of nothing, even though I was convinced that nothing can be done without resources. The entire team was powered by his enormous energy. I called him a few months ago and told him I was about to close one of my companies because I wanted to calm down. He told me he had just founded a new company, because he had new ideas on how to earn money. You get almost confused when a 101-year-old man tells you that.
What was the most memorable story that Peter told you during production?
Peter is a storyteller. He continually tells them. If we had lunch at a restaurant he would start telling his stories to the waiter. My favourite of Peter's stories is when he met Winston Churchill in the men's room of a prestigious club. Churchill gave him his cigar and stick to hold before went urinating. It was the moment when I felt his modesty and the joy he experienced at every moment of his life. Whether he was at a gala ball surrounded with the jet-set or in the role of a toilet attendant. However, he told us many more spicy stories I left out to preserve his reputation.
What equipment did you use to film?
Since it was clear we had to start filming immediately and we had no time to get better equipment we had to work with what we had. I also own a film equipment rental company. Being the director of photography as well, the image I get with Canon cameras is my favourite. It allowed a great performance in darker situations and organic skin reproduction. This type of camera is always convenient for low-budget productions. We were mostly filming on Canon C300 Mark II and C500 camera. For some interviews where I didn't want to miss certain moments, the C100 camera turned out very handy. Now we are proud to be the first owners of the new full-frame camera Canon C700FF. We used Canon's Cinema Primes lenses. For the lack of finances I had to record the sound myself. Without a story, you can work with the best film equipment in the world, but it won't bring you a movie. How do you think Peter would get on if he were a young man today?
He would be unstoppable. There are no people like him today. His self-confidence is so high that it sometimes gets in his way. My constant attempt to make a documentary about an outstanding inventor has failed. During filming, I found out that he was a man who invented things to earn money. The money, however, bought him a sweet stay among the jet-set of interesting cosmopolitans. He felt tremendously comfortable around them. Famous people accepted him because of his ability to impress them with his charm, naivety, and unique humour. His inventions, however, have always come from people's needs. If he noticed something wasn't working perfectly he always wanted to improve it. The solutions were, again, simple and effective. I was extremely surprised when I realized I have been using a lot of his inventions and wasn't even aware of it.
What advice would you give to someone looking for an interesting documentary subject?
I learned that the most important thing is a good team you have to trust completely.
There are lots of stories around us. Many of them are still hidden inside the people, others are in front of our eyes all the time waiting to be seen. During filming, I found out that we got countless stories from Peter, but when I started editing the film, I found out that stories don't mean having a movie. I missed the human side that Peter had hidden inside. He was always like a superhero in front of the camera. I wanted to know his fears and his life defeats, which he so successfully hid within himself. Therefore, the filming took several years. The film A century of dreams is my first documentary. As a director of photography, though, I filmed some. As a film director, however, fiction has always been more my thing than reality. Through the making of this film, I learned that the most important thing is a good team you have to trust completely. Our editor played an important role and managed to turn the ingredients I collected with the camera into a wonderful feast.
I hope you don't mind my asking, how did you approach the funding for your work?
According to Peter's age, I couldn't afford to wait a year or more for the state funds. So, I decided to finance all the production expenses myself. The mayor of Bled helped a lot giving us permission to film on many locations. The creative team worked for free as they were also captivated by Peter's life story. It was just a question of whether we wanted to be a part of it or not. While filming the key parts of his storytelling, I tried to get financial support from the Slovenian Film Center, but they refused it. I couldn't afford to travel to all countries he lived and film it there. Luckily, Peter had a lot of archive footage and also provided the original music he composed. I always knew how to make a lot out of a little, and this creative improvisation intrigued me even more. The film would deserve better picture and sound post-production. But if you listen to an old gramophone record from The Beatles where the cracking of the record is an integral part of the charm, you are always satisfied with beautiful melodies and band's energy.
How have you gone about distributing your film?
I started my own distribution. In a small country like Slovenia, that was not such a problem and frankly, you almost don't need a distributor here. We had a lot of support from the art cinema Kinodvor and they were screening the film for almost 7 weeks. This is really long screening period for the Slovenian situation. The film was mostly always sold out and besides that, I was especially happy also with the energy people brought out of the cinema. Some cried and others were even hugging me. Some went to see the film more than once. I was also surprised that the film was well-received by both the young and older audience. Even Peter says that his life sometimes seems like science fiction. The film is currently in the festival phase. Our film was accepted into 22 international film festivals and received 4 awards. Just as we were looking for an international distributor for a movie, the coronavirus happened and completely stopped the world. The movie theatres are empty and the smell of popcorn has long since faded.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Never stop dreaming. It's never too late to start up something you've always wanted. Involve people around you to join you on this journey. Live in the moment and remember to love both others and yourself.
I really enjoyed watching your documentary Ven, and thanks for submitting to IFA.
I recommend IFA festival to all filmmakers. Thank you for your wonderful communication I sometimes miss at other film festivals. And once again, thank you for the award. It means a lot to both me and Peter.