A poetic contact with filmmaking- Interview with Ana Lolua about her first student documentary

Since last year CEU has been offering documentary filmmaking courses for its students. Each semester without any prior experience students can delve into the hard work of making a documentary and expand their academic interest. Ana Lolua together with Danielle Johnson created their first documentary titled Contact. The film is a black and white poetic exploration of contact dance that with the help of interviews brings closer to the audience not only the art form but a particular lifestyle as well. We asked Ana about her experiences as a filmmaker starting from zero.


Why did you decide to take up a documentary filmmaking class?

When I decided to apply to CEU Nationalism Studies I looked at the curriculum and I was quite shocked to find a documentary filmmaking class. I was like really, filmmaking? That’s not something typical you would expect for this program. It sounded a little bit out of context, but also something cool and exciting that I’ve never tried in my life. I used to have a camera but I took only amateur pictures, I never attended any filmmaking or visual class. The only creative thing I do is that I write poems but nobody reads them except my close friends. So why not take a creative class and have the opportunity to train myself and acquire technical skills? I thought of it as something enjoyable so I made up my mind to take this class even before coming to CEU.

And did it turn out to be true?

As I expected, it was really great but very challenging at the same time. You’re very motivated to produce a quality work because it’s your own, people are going to see it. You don’t want to be ridiculed so you’re trying hard to make it as good as possible. There’s this German expression I really like called “Kopfkino”, which means filming a film inside your head. I’ve done it many times in my life when dreaming or recalling a scene. I would shoot an entire imaginary film but wouldn’t know how to do it in practice. This came handy because it’s actually not only about operating buttons but you also need a vision. What makes it easier is that it’s a group work, I was lucky because my partner was more experienced than me. But group work can lead to disappointments sometimes, it’s tough to make compromises because it’s also something personal. I really have an emotional relationship with the film, it’s a huge effort and somehow you become connected with it even if it’s not a quality piece.

As you’ve mentioned having a filmmaking class is quite unusual in Social Sciences. How do you see the relation between art and academia? Did your view on this relation change after you made this film?

This conflict between the two is also a personal struggle for me. If you are willing to be involved, if you have a specific perspective, and if you want to create then you become partially an artist. You have this image that academia and art are two dichotomous, contradictory extreme parts. I also used to hold this stereotypical view, which is true to a certain extent. Academia has formal rules to follow, whereas I struggle with structuring my thoughts. Art, on the other hand, allows experimentation, the free flow of ideas. There’s a point, however, where they cross each other and filmmaking taught me this. When you plan the film you have deadlines and several stages to undergo, thanks to which I really became a disciplined artist. These frames are very useful, they push you to do something.

In the description it says Contact is a poetic film. What does “poetic” mean for you and how does it come across in your film?

To be honest, I’ve familiarized myself with different genres only recently so I haven’t internalized them, but I think there are no clear lines, not even between documentary and fiction. It’s poetic in a sense that it’s not a traditional documentary, we experimented with scenes a lot. We got the clear idea of how the film is going to be like only when we started editing. It’s a documentary in a sense, that nothing was staged, these people were really dancing in front of us and opened up their world. I’m so thankful for them sharing their feelings in such a short span of time. However, it’s not giving you information or educating you, it just explores how people feel about their dance and how did it affect their lives. It’s about art performance so it’s about art in general, which, for me, is very poetic.

photo: Contact

Do you regard documentaries as not an art form, then? Do documentaries have to be about showing facts and exposing issues or events in order to be classified as documentaries?

It depends on a documentary, of course. For me a film in general has to evoke some emotions, I have to somehow relate to it emotionally. There has to be something visual in it, something powerful, something that gives me an “aha” moment. I have to feel strong about it. Sometimes even if you stick with the rules and you fit into a specific genre of documentary you can still create something powerful. Art has to touch you and get you.

Are you planning to continue with documentary filmmaking in the future?

Right now I have finished another project with a different group. It wasn’t my idea per se but it’s the work of all of us about a special puppet theatre.  So, again, it’s a documentary about the power of art and performance. I’m mostly excited for the editing part, it’s so fascinating how you can create your own story from raw footage. As with Contact that we decided to structure around playfulness and enjoyment, hopefully, this next project also comes across as something playful and gives the feeling of self-fulfillment.

Ana’s new film Creatures of Light will be screened tonight at the CEU End of year Student Documentary Film Screening. Don’t miss the opportunity to see some excellent films!

Luca Sz.