Jimmy Bontatibus interview: The inner workings of ‘A Muse’

A Muse

Jimmy Bontatibus’ new film A Muse arrives this week, and it’s not like any other independent movie that you’ve seen before. The ambitious storyline spans multiple countries and time periods, all of it woven together to create a memorable tale.

But how exactly does one make a film that wide-ranging? Where did the idea for A Muse come from to begin with? What inspired Jimmy’s love of filmmaking in the first place? I got to know both the picture and the man behind it in my latest interview.

You’ll be able to stream A Muse for free starting on June 12, with the movie available for two whole weeks. Find it on the film’s official website and learn more about it and about Jimmy Bontatibus in our interview below.

Brittany Frederick: A Muse has different timelines and also takes place in several countries. Many filmmakers would shy away from such a complex idea, so why did you decide to go with it?

Jimmy Bontatibus: A lot of people did, if I’m being honest. It was one of those things [where] when you’re pitching it to people, people were just like, “Why?” Which is a valid question. It kind of started in a couple of different places.

I think the initial very, very early idea came when I was in high school, in an art class learning about the artist Yves Klein and the anthropometry piece where he was using these women as paint brushes and creating this live spectacle. It was controversial and still is, all of the gender politics of it. It was just so interesting. The initial idea, as a high school student, I was like I want to make a film about that, which would have been a period piece in France from the sixties. It would have been this big, expensive thing. But when you’re in high school, you’re not thinking about that. You’re like, “That’s a cool thing. I want to do that.”

Right after high school, I moved to Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina for film school. I was there for a year, and the film school that I was in wasn’t totally stable. It became a question of whether it was going to continue after my first year, so I decided to drop out of it. But I figured while I was in a unique place in the world, I might as well try and make a film. I made my first film in Bosnia.

That’s where I met Mersiha Husagic, who plays Mia, essentially the lead in A Muse. We made this film together for a very, very low budget in Bosnia…She’s Bosnian by heritage and was born there, but at the time, she was living in Hamburg, Germany. I asked her if I wrote you a script for Hamburg, where you’ve kind of grown up and built your career as a performer, would you be able to help me find the crew and essentially help me produce the film? She said yes, and she did.

From there, I kind of took this idea of an Yves Klein film and I’m like, what if I could plug it into a more contemporary setting with the connections that I have. At that point, setting it in Europe was a more logical decision because the majority of the connections that I had formed in film school and through Mersiha were in Europe. That’s where it started.

I spent about a year working on drafts of [the film]. Then we decided to expand part of the film into Romania as well, because we had this Romanian character in it. There’s a decent-sized Romanian population in Hamburg, so we were doing research on where people were from and were like, all right, Romania makes sense. There’s a really kind of robust film scene in Romania, a lot of great Romanian actors, a lot of great movies coming out of Romania, and it got to a point where it made sense to flip the narrative a little bit.

Even though when you take a step back you’re like whoa, that’s an insane thing to do, and in retrospect it was, it never felt like it at the time. It was a series of very calculated decisions of how do we take this story and this idea and the way that it’s growing, and make it feasible with the resources that we have right now.

BF: When you look at the finished version of A Muse, are there parts of the film that stand out to you? Aspects of the movie that you would highlight to viewers?

JB: It’s interesting, had I spent less time on the film I may have become more attached to certain aspects of it, but by the time that the film was actually made, it’s not like there’s one like scene or one shot or anything that I’m like oh, we spent so much time on this. It’s been a long time coming. When you spend so much time working on all of this, you kind of become less attached to things. By the time we were editing the film, if something wasn’t working, we’d just be like yeah, take it out. Let’s rework this. Let’s restructure this. Whatever we need to do to get the film to its sort of best form.

In terms of story elements, something that we were always really trying to do throughout the film is draw a line between a piece of art and then, generations later, people who have a relationship with that art and how it kind of spread to the rest of their lives. That was an idea that we had from the very beginning…[and] one thing that I made sure to kind of try and communicate to everyone working on it. I’m excited to embrace the challenges and let the film change, but this is the through-line that started this movie and let’s see if we can make sure that that exists through everything.

BF: What is it about film that makes it the artistic medium you want to tell your stories in? Where did your original passion for filmmaking come from?

JB: It’s something that’s been just a fixation since I was a little kid. My mom has photos of me cradling VHS tapes like they’re stuffed animals or something…It was always a thing that I was moving towards. Gradually, as I got older, it became something that I completely submerged in, and ended up dictating a lot of the life choices that I made.

It was just always film. It’s something that I’ve lived my life on, like it’s a religion, and I couldn’t tell you where it came from, but it’s always been there.

BF: Is there anything that you’re hoping people take away from your film? Any particular thing you want to leave them with like you’ve been inspired?

JB: I’m just happy for whatever people want to get out of the movie. If people see it, that’s great. So much of art is just giving it away to people and letting them have their own relationships with it.

It was an insane thing to do, but it wasn’t impossible. And I do meet a lot of other young filmmakers who are always kind of waiting for something, like “Oh, I’m waiting for this one actor to be a part of my movie, and I can’t shoot it until then,” or “I’m waiting for this specific thing I need.” My response and something I’ve always felt really strongly about is that there’s always going to be an excuse to not do it. At some point you just have to take that leap. It’s risky, but you just have to do it.

People should make movies and people shouldn’t be afraid to make movies with the resources that they have. Especially right now. We’re all stuck in quarantine. We might be doing this for a while. We’ve all got phones. We all have tools to make films within our homes and with the people that we cohabitate with. I’m super-excited to see what filmmakers are able to do with this time.

If there’s one thing that people can get out of the story of A Muse, it’s that this is doable and you should do it if it’s something you feel passionate about.

A Muse premieres on Vimeo this Friday, June 12 and will be free to watch for two weeks using this link.

Article content is (c)2020 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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