Afterwar Director Birgitte Stærmose Talks About the Nature of Truth in This Interview

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In the wake of Afterwar’s screening at Sydney Film Festival, Ruby O’Sullivan-Belfrage spoke with director Birgitte Stærmose about the impact she hopes the film has, the nature of truth, and how truly annoying the question of genre can be.

Afterwar broadens the notion of the language in which cinema can speak to a viewer. Featuring a stunningly subversive soundtrack from Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen and Erik K Skodvin, it soars over audience’s attempts to categorise and classify it. Stærmose is not only aware of this but Afterwar shows its audience just how much they are normally allowed to hide from accountability. 

Afterwar began as a short film, in the years following the Kosovo war at the turn of the century. Some 15 years later, Stærmose returned to the relationships she forged with Kosovo’s youth to document the continuation of their stories in a feature-length film. Afterwar’s protagonists speak to us directly about their lived reality in a post-war Kosovo. They also act out scenes from their lives, sometimes alongside other hired actors, and sometimes with participants’ real family members. This structure builds a unique impression of story – a sensation of real and intense connection with the film’s subjects, or actors – the people, really, behind whatever label the crime of analysis will beg we use to comprehend them.

If time could talk, it might whisper in the in the tones of Afterwar’s confidences. We get to watch Gëzim, Xheva, Shpresim and Besnik grow from children into fully formed people, with families or faiths of their own. As they look down the barrel of the camera to speak directly at us, their gazes take on the quality of daylight shining through the back of a curtain, showing us the fabric the cinema screen is made of – the apparatus we are using to learn intimately of their struggles and stories.

The soaring victory of Afterwar is the dignity we bear witness to, in the presence of such ubiquitous hardship. We learn that in affording others our attention over a sustained period of time, understanding can shift from tokenism to empathy. In an era that is filled with content clamouring for our attention, we learn it is people’s dignity that is at stake when we don’t listen to stories told in deeper time.

In between the gaps of genre sit stories that may be able to make a claim to authenticity. Afterwar embodies this quality in spades. Stærmose knows that “with all filmmaking, the question of what’s true, and what’s not true is a really important question – always, no matter what you do”.

Ruby O’Sullivan-Belfrage

Through film editing and writing, Ruby holds a space for ideas that explore the universal in the personal. She gleans creative energy from the synergy produced at the intersection of disciplines, particularly that of film, sound design and writing. Ruby’s screen work has been featured in Iceland's RVK Feminist Film Festival. She is the founding editor of Deco Radio, an audio journal that places sonic and literary artworks in conversation. Ruby has a background in film production and cinema studies. She works and plays on unceded Wurundjeri land

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