Goran Stolevski’s 'Of an Age' to open MIFF

Film director and screen writer, Goran Stolevski
Film director and screen writer, Goran Stolevski

by Sarah Hall

After a decade working in relative obscurity, Australian-Macedonian writer-director and VCA grad Goran Stolevski has landed in the film industry in a big way. With thirteen feature-length screenplays in his pocket, and an uncompromising artistic vision, he has hit the ground running.

Stolevski’s second feature film to be released this year, Of an Age, has been selected to open the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) next month. Of an Age is a  queer coming-of-age drama set in the Melbourne suburbs in 1999. It follows the romance between a 17-year-old Serbian-Australian ballroom dancer and his friend’s older brother.

His first feature You Won’t Be Alone, which premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance Film Festival is also on the MIFF program. Shot in Serbia, You Won’t Be Alone is a supernatural folk story set in a 19th century Macedonian village in the dialect of Stolevski’s grandparents, starring Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) in the role of a shape-shifting witch.

I spoke to Stolevski on Zoom, in the lead-up to a casting and location-scouting trip to Macedonia for his third feature.

“So far the casting has been a massive challenge,” he said.

This is partially because Stolevski’s films tell stories of people from backgrounds who tend to have limited access to the arts. Most of the characters in this latest film in development are Roma, and there are very few trained Roma actors.

“I do write diverse stuff…Not because I want to, it just comes out of me.”

"And then the challenge comes in casting these diverse projects while working in unjust industries and societies that are not very conducive towards diversity. What's great though is that you end up uncovering incredible, singular humans, both to work with and to be friends with."

Since graduating with a Master of Film and Television from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2008, with a self-deprecating laugh, Stolevski describes his journey in the industry as “mostly very sad and unsettling.”

Between 2008 and 2019 he was either working a day job or was unemployed.

Still from Goran Stolevski's film 'Of an Age

“I wasn't getting much work in industry, but I was making a lot of short films and writing a lot of features.”

“By about 2017, I was still persisting, but it was embarrassing to tell anyone about it.”

Things turned around when Stolevski’s short Would You Look at Her, won Best International Short at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival… but only just.

“When I got the prize at Sundance in 2018, I thought my life was made,” he said.

“But the grand total of Australian production companies that contacted me was one. That said, it was the best one, so I’m happy."

That ‘one’ was Causeway Films.

Stolevski sent them eight scripts, and was surprised and excited when they showed interest in You Won’t Be Alone.

“In pitch form ... I mean, if you're nothing and no one and it's just this paragraph summary, it sounds pretty weird and esoteric.”

Yet his uncompromising ‘weird and esoteric’ artistic vision may be the key to his recent success. He turned down a $US3 million offer from a Hollywood distributor to shoot You Won’t Be Alone in English, but it has been a commercial and critical success.

“It goes to show there is still something to be said for proper art that's an expression of someone's vision, and how that can also be a commercial product,” he said.

The time he spent working away from the spotlight took a certain passion and tenacity that may have bolstered this uncompromising artistic vision. When I told him I was excited about his film career, he remained humble.

“That makes four people. You, my parents and my husband. Excellent! My fan club expands.”

Now with back-to-back features being produced, Stolevski is working through a catalogue of scripts he wrote at a time he was embarrassed to refer to himself as a filmmaker.

“Before any of this [success] happened, I was just seen as this esoteric, weird dude who does things with subtitles.”

“I'm surprised by what has happened.”

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