Talented 24 year-old filmmaker Sofija Sztepanov appears to have a humble yet dynamic perspective on her corner of the film world. There is also an excitement about the Femme Filmmakers Festival from her, as we discuss, in a thankfully encouraging manner, the online format of film watching and publicity. It doesn’t take long, by definition, to watch a short film, and everyone should feel the same. Sztepanov agrees, thankful for the selection of her new short film Tinder Will Understand at the #FemmeFilmFest, meanwhile she was at the Venice Film Festival as a young jury member.
Tinder Will Understand is snappy and witty, and rings very true on many levels during its mere 5 minute run-time. I certainly laughed more than once in that short space of time. “We showed it at the Raindance Festival,” Sztepanov proudly tells me, “and we had some amazing feedback. The best feedback, though, was that in the room there were around seventy or eighty people, and everyone was laughing out loud.”.
The magnetism of Tinder Will Understand is that it is a little bit awkward what happens between the young couple at the center. People probably do experience that sort of thing. Without delving into too many potential spoilers, the funniest bit for me is when he tells her his name, to which she mentions in slight concern that they might be getting too intimate. You have to be there. “That is very true of young people today,” Sztepanov adds, “that the intimacy between people is changing, or the way they experience it. Younger people will sleep together, and not know each others name, or care about it. That’s why I thought this had some relevance and truth to it.”.
Sztepanov is inspired by the likes of Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Sofia Coppola. “I know many of those are commercial, but that is some of what I like. I watch a lot of indie films, and prefer these. I like the absurdity, comedy, and social satire.”. The young filmmaker is half Serbian, half Hungarian, and she is quick to mention Emir Kusturica as a brilliant inspiration. Nice. “What I like about [Sofia] Coppola is the female narratives, she is trying to portray the female point of view. With Tinder Will Understand I tried to portray both male and female sides. My next film will be more of a female point of view.”.
Seemingly well-cultured, I pressed Sztepanov on her travels as a filmmaker. “I grow up in Hungary, and ever since I was a young age I was influenced by the Hungarian-Serbian cultures. And when I was 16 I moved to Montenegro which is in the region, and they basically speak Serbian-Croatian, which was an easy transition for me. After that, I moved to Italy for university. And since then I have been going to London quite frequently, as I write in English mostly. My next short will shooting in English, but we will make it in Italy.”.
So the production company, Action On The Side, is based in London? “Yes. I was going to London for a few workshops, they had a program that was weekend filmmaking. They chose my script, and we made the film.”. And what of the casting? And crew? Where did that help come from? “They [Action On The Side] helped me cast Tinder Will Understand. They did everything. The script was mine, and I said I would direct it, but most of the crew were involved in the workshop. And with the actor [Ryan Bennett], that was his girlfriend [Lily Smith] in real life. I liked the fact they already had some sort of intimacy, and in the movie perhaps this comes across faster.”.
Without wanting to embarrass the poor girl, I played it the naive card and asked what Tinder is for those in the world that don’t know. “It is an online dating application, I think that’s the description of it.” Sztepanov laughs, “You meet and match with people, you decide if you like somebody, and you let them know. And they check you out, and if you end up talking it is up to you what you do from there.”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. “Funny thing is, I have never used Tinder. I have had a boyfriend for 4 years, and so never got to use it.”. So none of the film is based on the candid filmmaker’s own personal experiences? “I get asked that question a lot. My boyfriend laughs about it as has to explain that he has not pulled a tampon out of me.”. Of course we both laugh at that. A natural comic moment to which Tinder Will Understand is sharply based.
There is a fine line between what is 5 minutes, and what could be 30 minutes as short films go. “Depends on a lot of things, like the topic,” Sztepanov chips in, “it was sort of like a sketch, it is pretty fast, so it doesn’t have to go on for a long period of time. It is a very common mistake for new filmmakers to make their films too long, they put unnecessary dialogue or action in it.”. I add that with short films I can be critical privately, like that could have been longer, or the disappoint that the experience was over so fast. If Tinder Will Understand would have done that it could have turned into slapstick, and diluted the humor. “Right. Five minutes was a really good time for this film.” the writer-director says, “When I first edited it, it is was seven minutes. The producer, who had more experience than I do, thought we should cut two minutes out. Honestly, I am really thankful for that advice, because it is better than it was at seven minutes.”. Amazing what difference a couple of minutes can make. “Yes. But just enough to lose people’s attention. You have rely on your instincts, but it is very important to get it right.”.
So what’s next for Sofija Sztepanov? Feature films, perhaps. “I have a new script. A much bigger topic, about feminism. A satire on extreme feminism, it is such an important and sensitive topic today. I want to create a more well-rounded picture of how it is now in the western world. This will be my biggest short film, biggest production, biggest budget. And after that, I would like to move onto features. Maybe TV series.”. I will be keeping an eye on what you do next, that’s for sure.