Sonja is a poetic portrayal of the story of the sightless artist Sona Zeliskova, who despite adverse fate found her life journey in art and ceramics. A favourite amongst our Ones To Watch staff picks, we spoke with filmmaker Maroš Milčik to find out more about their process.
How did you first hear of Sona’s story?
At the end of 2016, I was looking for inspirational stories by craftsmen and artists from Slovakia to create a documentary series of short films. My friend Juraj Vozar told me a story about Sonya, who immediately grabbed my heart. Our team has not managed to get funding to shoot the original documentary series, but I did not want Sonya’s story to remain unspoken. After several interviews with Sonya, I decided to shoot the story using my own film language.
What made you decide to tell Sona’s story from a poetic narrative / visual approach?
I enjoy experimenting with the picture and the sound and I usually attempt to depict the story in an abstract way. The main theme was that Sonya, through her loss of sight, lives in a world which she creates for herself. We focused on capturing the main theme in the audio-visual form, and so the story is told abstractly.
The visual approach was chosen and created during endless discussions between me and the cameraman Gašper Šnuderl, at the end of which we came to the conclusion that we will shoot some parts of the film with special infrared technology.
Tell us about the process of using infrared technology within the film?
The infrared camera is capable of capturing a wide spectrum of light, even rays invisible to a human eye. This technology is mostly used in industrial cameras for filming pictures in the dark. But when this technology is used during the daylight, you end up with some very uniquely coloured pictures which do not reflect the picture you see in reality. We applied these characteristics to our benefit. The footage was transformed to the black and white tones which created reversed colours spectrum in such a way that the day-time sunny sky became pitch black and the leaves on the trees became bright white. By using this method, we created a surrealistic black and white footage without any post-production interventions.
Infrared cameras are not standard equipment; there are only a few manufactured pieces. Initially we wanted to shoot using the Arri Alexa camera, however, we found out there are only two pieces in the world, one in LA and one in London. Fortunately, there was a number of very skilled and smart people working on this project. Our camera technician Michal Kulhavý dismantled the camera and changed the filter in such a way that the camera only captures the infrared light.
There is a great deal of symbolism involved in the storytelling including the use of nature and natural elements. What was the reasoning for this?
Sonja, together with many other blind people, sense the world in a very specific way. To some extent, they are limited by their loss of vision, therefore their perception of the world comes from their imagination and their inside “voice”. The story is being told from a subjective point of view. Sonja always loved nature, which inspired me to embed this into the storytelling. This idea influences visual metaphors throughout the whole film.
Can you tell us about the sound design choices you made for the film?
Sonja’s storytelling is abstract. The sound structure plays a key role in building the atmosphere as well as the dramaturgy. When you close your eyes and listen throughout the whole movie, you realize that the sound design and the music sets the pacing of the film.
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