by Ruby-Leigh Smith
Take One Action’s ‘Take Aways’ initiative commissions aspiring film critics, creatives and/or community activists to conduct an interview with a filmmaker or protagonist from the films featured in our programme. By connecting young people interested in film and social change with the protagonists or directors/producers behind these films, this project aims to invite a reflection on the connections between local struggles and global realities, while showcasing the talent and insight of the authors and supporting the development of their own practice.
Ruby-Leigh Smith is a settled Romany Gypsy currently studying for her A-Levels in economics, history and politics. In her free time, she writes. Whether it’s essays for school, or interviews and articles for her music blog or stories which she publishes online. She is a self-professed audiophile, and hopes to have a career in music journalism after university, which she will be attending from September 2021. As well as writing for two music blogs, she also writes for a national magazine and a Beatles fan magazine as well as her school newspaper. This is her first film review, and she hopes to be able to do many more.
In January 2020, Roma filmmaker and director Radu Ciorniciuc took his first feature-length film, Acasa, My Home, to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, USA.
There, it won a cinematography award for the best world cinema documentary, and was nominated for another; the Grand Jury Prize for best world cinema documentary. It has won five more awards, and nominated for a further eight – to date. “Sundance was nice. It was an experience… it was amazing. [Sundance] was a very special place and I was humbled to be there. The screening room was packed, which was what I had hoped for.”
Acasa, My Home, follows a family of eleven; nine kids and the two parents, as they lived off of the land in the Bucharest Delta before being moved into a nearby city. The film then follows how the family adapts to life in the city. Shot over four years and then edited for a further two, it is truly a piece of art which has taken many years to shape into the masterpiece which it is today.
In an interview with the director, he described to me how he had watched the children grow up on the land and then adapt to life in the city. Radu Ciorniciuc said, “[upon seeing the children living in the city] they seemed to lose their outside-ness. The magic that they had had in nature was gone, for me. But then it dawned on me that they will always be what they were, and that a life in the city is giving them the best.
The film, to me, represented a culture which many have forgotten. Even those who are a part of the Roma culture have forgotten the way of life that the Enache family embrace; living off of the land. Acasa, My Home, depicts a family who have a deep connection to nature, and a deep love of animals. They fish for food, they hunt. They all care for each other. It was truly wonderful to see something which seemed so touching.
Nobody in that family was without something to do. “It was always supposed to be a family film,” said director Radu Ciorniciuc, “I wanted the family – but also the filming crew to have a safe place. Over the years, the children became quite attached, seeing us as friends. I wanted it this way. We filmed with a small, intimate crew and this meant that we had to give up elements of the production, but we kept more of the human element.” Indeed, there is a very intimate, very personal feeling to the film as a whole, but also each individual scene. With shots of the children’s faces and from close behind, it is like being perched one the shoulder, overseeing it all. It is truly a wonderful way of filmmaking, and something which Radu did not expect when he first approached the film, “at first it was research, but then we kept filming until we felt that we had a round story.” He then carries on detailing some of the difficulties which the crew encountered whilst filming, “filming in nature was difficult. The elements affected what fish could be hunted, and the ecosystem changed regularly. The family knew about it all, of course, but we didn’t. Everything kept changing.” But Radu asked for help, “by approaching people with more experience than me, I was able to overcome my challenges. I believe in collaborative work, and I believed that it was the key to finishing the film.”
The director grew up in Romania as a member of the Roma community, much like myself. I felt like we had something in common, and that I also had something in common with the Enache family, though the connection was perhaps not as close as I would have liked as I am settled in a house, and for twenty years, the Enache family were not.
Radu Ciorniciuc, too, grew up in settled accommodation, however he felt that he could sympathise with some of the difficulties which the family were facing, “my generation especially was very poor. I grew up in the 1990s, when there were not a lot of jobs. I remember living in poverty for at least a decade. There were days when we had nothing to eat,” he then mentions how this is like the Enache family, who hunt off of the land, “I think this affected me in lots of ways, and maybe that’s why I work in human rights,” Ciorniciuc has previously written for The Guardian and Channel 4 News.
The Enache family have seen the film around three times, “most recently at a park near where they lived originally [on the land],” Ciorniciuc tells when asked how the making of the film benefited the family, “one of my colleagues asked the mother what she thought of the film, and she said “I can’t believe the kind of life we used to live. My husband would go back in an instant, but I would not. My children have a better life away from that life.” Ciorniciuc himself told me that he was nervous about how the family would react, but that he was pleased with their reaction. “We gave the children cameras to photograph their first year in the city. We then took the photographs and published them in a book. With the proceeds, we were able to give the family enough money to buy a house and a little piece of land with it.” The Enaches, then, can once again go back to living off of their own land, which is about fifteen minutes away from their original location.
With this money, they can live as they want, and together, something which, as shown in the film, was at risk when the social services got involved regarding the welfare of the children. But they are still together. This wonderful, amazing film goes to show how people do not need a lot to be happy – and how the only thing which you truly need is love.
Take One Action’s Take Aways initiative is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s `Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and National Lottery funding from the BFI.