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MIDPOINT 2020

Dora Šustic and Maja Pek-Brünjes • Director and producer of Afterparty

“Unlike most TV shows about female friendships, we don’t shy away from feminism; we explore it”

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- We asked Dora Šustic and Maja Pek-Brünjes, the winners of the MIDPOINT TV Launch HBO Award, about their future plans for the series Afterparty

Dora Šustic and Maja Pek-Brünjes • Director and producer of Afterparty
Director Dora Šustic (left) and producer Maja Pek-Brünjes

In their series Afterparty, which recently scooped the MIDPOINT TV Launch HBO Award (see the news), Croatian director Dora Šustic and producer Maja Pek-Brünjes, of Antitalent, are gearing up to tackle some controversial issues as well as female solidarity. Or, as they note, solidarity in general.

Cineuropa: Why the decision to address issues such as abortion or reproductive freedom? Thinking about the recent protests in Poland, it's certainly a very timely topic.
Dora Šustic:
At first, I wanted to write about female friendship inspired by my own best friends and our turbulent twenties: endless parties, hangovers, love triangles and romantic disappointments. I was afraid of being political because I didn’t want to preach about feminism – I wasn’t sure how to combine the intimate story with broader political momentum and social issues, such as sexual freedom and reproductive rights. On the MIDPOINT TV Launch development programme, we found the necessary balance. We decided to approach these issues on a personal level, showing the inner lives of young women within a patriarchal system. We learn how shaming, abuse and a lack of sexual education influence their own sense of self and the world around them – it's devastating that we still see the humiliation and abuse of female sexuality. Our decision to explore, in dramatic terms, unwanted pregnancy and abortion was driven by the desire to open a dialogue between pro-life and pro-choice currents, to try to understand the motivations of both. Needless to say, while drafting the story, I discovered my own courage to be political, just like our main character.

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Maja Pek-Brünjes: It doesn’t feel right to create a series dealing with female themes without exploring the most important issues, especially coming from a country where those are the leading topics. The protests in Poland are very timely indeed. They also confirm that our show is both local and universal, and that we were right to follow our intuition.

There is a lot of talk of female solidarity these days, so how do you show that, especially when faced with conflicting viewpoints?
DŠ:
Well, our show is all about female solidarity, or solidarity in general. We portray friendship as a safe space where women are free to explore their sexuality without shame or guilt. It's a support system through which we educate and learn from each other – a school of self-esteem, as one of our characters would say. It's not always peachy; friends challenge each other ruthlessly. To quote James Baldwin, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

MPB: When we talk about female solidarity in real life, I am afraid it's mostly within certain groups: mum to mum, businesswoman to businesswoman, feminist to feminist. Outside of these groups, there is plain trashing and brutality, not much different from that which you might find at a football stadium. In Afterparty, we explore the will to listen and understand the other side, regardless of their lifestyle, economic status or political views.

Since the 1990s, nobody has been surprised to see women discuss just about everything on screen, but what was your main interest here? Also when it comes to your work with the actors?
DŠ:
We follow our four heroines as they “sober up” from a decade of partying and begin to take responsibility for their own position in society. The idea is to show the reality of young, urban women who are very different, but what they have in common is their growing preoccupation with art, politics, activism and social topics. Romance becomes a distraction for them, not a purpose. So, unlike most TV shows about female friendships, we don’t shy away from feminism; we explore it, deliberately, including both its good and flawed sides.

MPB: Our characters are not going to break the fourth wall, but they are relatable. Whether big or small, their problems feel real. One of the qualities of Dora’s writing is that she is almost cruel to her characters. She is not afraid to let them fail or find themselves in absurd situations.

What will the next step be, also considering the pandemic? This year, series certainly proved to be the winners, even the ones tackling serious issues.
MPB:
Everything we’ve done within the project so far has been through our own investment. In terms of outside financing, we only have HAVC's support to take part in MIDPOINT TV Launch, so the award is going to be used to cover some of the costs that we have incurred so far. We are looking at international broadcasters and markets, so we teamed up with another Croatian production company, Drugi plan, for the financing and sales of the series. Luckily, the pandemic isn’t affecting the writing process or the negotiating, and we hope to reach the end of it by the time we are in preparations for the shoot.

I think the best series always tackle serious issues – take Orange Is the New Black or The Bridge, for instance. At Antitalent, we are big fans of the Danish model: they listen to what is, or what is going to be, an important topic, and they plan their development accordingly. None of the TV series that they produce burdens or bores people, but they made a conscious decision not to ignore reality.

DŠ: We are looking forward to assembling the creative team and to developing and writing the first season. As Maja said, the pandemic isn’t affecting the writing. The quarantine is a good time to dwell on new ideas and bring the old ones to fruition.

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