“If I haven’t heard it personally or haven’t met the man who carries the story – it did not find its place in the movie”
This is how Jovan Boseovski began the conversation on his film “No minorities – Ballad for the Macedonian diaspora” when I asked why he chose and described the events the way he did.
Jovan is a Macedonian born in Canada, whose father left Macedonia in the 1950s and continued his life across the ocean, marrying a Macedonian woman who he met there. Growing with his grandmother, Jovan learned the Macedonian language as his first, followed with English at school, and he regularly listened to the stories of his ancestors, as well as of those around him.
Channelizing the desire to prove that Macedonian minority exists in Aegean Macedonia and at the same time to cover some of the most important events in the Macedonian history through personal stories, Jovan wrote a film scenario and offered it to the respective people in the industry. After realizing that he would have to change words and statements if he wanted to get the needed finances , he decided to micro fund the project, as well as direct it along side with Renjie Li, and not compromise the original thoughts he had at the beginning of his journey.
The filming took place in three locations – Canada, Macedonia and Greece, for a period of 2 years and the beginning of the pandemic partially influenced some scenes to never be recorded. However, working with what he had, with all his soul and energy, Jovan finished the film and its premiere is set for 27 August in Toronto, followed by screenings all around the world where Macedonians live.
Jovan, let’s start from the beginning of your life story. Where were you born and what’s your father’s connection to Macedonia?
Jovan: I am born in Toronto, Canada and have lived here my whole life. However, my father immigrated to Canada from Macedonia in 1957 from Gradesnica, Mariovo. My mother is from a small village called Dolno Perovo on the north side of Lake Prespa. They met in Toronto through mutual friends.
You grew up with your grandmother and learned the Macedonian language. Do you think this advantage helped you more in the past, when you were growing up, or now, when you are reconnecting with your roots and fellow Macedonians around the world?
Jovan: I don’t know if the language “helped” with anything other than understanding the culture and identity. There is a certain directness to the language. Because my grandmother and grandfather lived with us, I don’t every remember being “taught” the language. It was the way I communicated with Baba Jana and Dedo Trajko.
Macedonian was always a part of me. In that regard, your question is not worded correctly – I don’t think I ever “reconnected” with my roots. Makedonski teKorenite sekogas beya so mene.
“No minorities – The ballad of the Macedonian diaspora” is a “micro-Budget, self-produced movie about the history and sufferings of the Macedonian people in Macedonia, the Aegean Macedonia and the modern day issues. Let’s start from the script – how long did it take for you to finish it and how much of it is based on real people and events?
Jovan: In a small way, I feel like the script has been in development my whole life. It is based very loosely on an endless stream of stories that I have heard growing up. The film is truly only the tip of the iceberg. Some stories from my Dedo and Baba, some from my father through his experiences coming to Canada through Greece and the refugee camp in Lavrio and others from close friends and family from Aegean Macedonia.
Much of the modern experiences are personal experiences. Although the stories were always known to me, it took me about 6 months to organize, develop the story arc and write a script that intertwined the past and present. I did as good a job as I could with the limited resources we had.
Why did you refuse to make amendments to the script and instead decided to bootstrap the movie on a micro-budget?
Jovan: This is a very important question. Could I have accepted the offer from a larger production company to sell my script? Yes. Unfortunately, they began discussing the changes they wanted to make to the story. Thankfully they began discussing changes before I signed the contract!
My gut feeling told me that I owed it to my ancestors not to compromise on the integrity of the story just to make it more sellable to a mass audience. This is OUR story, a MACEDONIAN story. From the perspective of MY FAMILY and FRIENDS. I would not have been able to live with myself had these stories been diluted any of the histories we have witnessed as a Nation and a Diaspora.
The movie was filmed in Canada, Macedonia, and Greece. It follows a modern-day story of Lidija, a girl born in Canada from Macedonian parents, and is intertwined with present and past events, both connected to Lidija’s family and the Macedonian history, through the story of the two Macedonian soldiers Ilcho and Pero. It seems like you aimed to cover a big period of the Macedonian history within 2.5 hours. Why are those details important to you?
Jovan: First off, if didn’t hear the story from someone that I knew personally or touched, it wasn’t part of the historical aspects of the film. This is why we do not go further back than 1910 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. So really we only cover the modern history of the Macedonia, but the period that saw a fundamental Chasm in Macedonia and the Macedonian people.
My Baba was born in 1912 and my Dedo was born in 1914. We all know what happened the year between that which they were each born. So the factual “flashback” stories that I heard, begin and end with them. My father’s story is told though the eyes of “Ilche and Pero”.
My father, Ilia, deserted the Yugoslav army and left Macedonia in 1957 for a better life. He didn’t return until 1983. He simply wanted a better life – on his terms. Canada provided him with that which Macedonia under Socialist Yugoslavia could not.
Finally, the story of Lydia tells the perspective of those who are born outside of Macedonia, but raised in the Macedonian culture (or at least the “Hybrid” culture). These stories are a common perspective of the children of immigrants. Many children of immigrants from various cultures that watch this film can relate to Lydia.
How did you find the filming in Macedonia like? Did you get any help from the locals, and what were the biggest challenges there?
Jovan: I have to admit, going in to filming in Macedonia, I expected the worst. I could not have been more wrong! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone that assisted us in Macedonia. Kai odiv, vratata otvorena! It was an amazing humbling feeling.
The people in and around Resen, Bitola, and Ohrid were amazing! I like to think that maybe it was all the Macedonians my father helped when they arrived in Canada. He would always say “Pamti, pa vrati”. Whatever the case, I will remember and return. When I make my next film I will do everything I can to shoot there again, help the economy and give jobs to people there. Hopefully with a much bigger budget for my next project. Hint: It will involve Goce Delchev!
It seems as this movie is a personal expression of Jovan. Of your memories, of your heritage, all the emotions carried in your family throughout the decades. Why was it so important to you to get the story exactly the way YOU wanted and what’s the outcome you’re hoping for?
Jovan: Its not a personal expression of me per se. It is an expression of different generations of the Macedonian Diaspora and how they experienced the history. Some directly that lived it. Some that experienced it through the stories of their loved ones, and others that have passed on folklore. It was important that I tell the stories as accurately as possible, because, mostly, they are the stories entrusted to me by my family.
Unfortunately, my Father passed away in June of 2018 just prior to the start of filming. The film is a dedication to him because his life was dedicated to his family and his community.
In my teenage years after hearing the same stories again and again you begin to tune them out. Sometimes it takes someone outside the culture to awaken you to the fact that the stories are remarkable and must be told to a wider audience. After my kids were born and the stories began to be retold, it dawned on me that I had taken them for granted. With out the encouragement of my wife and kids, I would not have developed the story, written the script, or shot the film.
What does Macedonia mean to you?
Jovan: I don’t know if all children of immigrants feel the same about their respective “heritage”, but there is something ancestral about Macedonia for me. There is a certain pride, a certain confidence in the heritage for me. Its like an eternal foundation that grounds you. As a proud Canadian, my father raised me to be proud of all aspects of my heritage.
The past being Macedonian, the future being Canadian. We can always look to the past, but as they say, “Samo Napret” we move forward in Canada.