I really fell in love with India during my travels: Goran Paskaljevic

Goran Paskaljević is a Serbian film director, born in Belgrade. Directing his first short film Pan Hrstka in 1969, he has had an expansive and prolific cinematic career. Land of the Gods (Dev Bhoomi) is his most recent feature film. Set in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, it features the pristinely picturesque Himalayas and stars the endlessly watchable lead actor Victor Banerjee. We spoke to Goran at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival on his latest cinematic endeavour.

You have a longstanding relationship with the Toronto International Film Festival. What makes Toronto so special for you?

Toronto really is the most special festival in the world and it is growing so rapidly. I had my first film here 30 years ago. When I first came for the first time it was small festival, the festival of festivals. It started with one cinema and the first festival showed 17 films. Today it shows nearly 400 films and is one of the biggest and most important film festivals in the world especially when it comes to buyers and sellers, attendance by major film stars and setting the precedent for the Oscars race.

Where did the Dev Bhoomi journey start from?
They proposed me to be the president of the jury at the Goa Film Festival two years ago. Victor Banerjee was a part of the same jury, we met there for the first time. I had five or six of my films featured at festivals across India so I spent three months in India travelling from one festival to the other and exploring India as a tourist in between. I really fell in love with India during my travels. I had a great experience at the Kerala film festival, the audience there is great and they ask you intelligent questions. We are negotiating to open the film at Kerala film festival as an Indian premiere.

How did Victor Banerjee become a part of the project?
As you know he is Bengali, from Kolkata but he has a beautiful house in the Himalayas region, Mussoorie. He invited me to visit him there because we became good friends during the Goa Film Festival. So I went there to meet him and that’s where we started speaking about working together and how it would be great if we could find something to work on. He knew of my work and loved some of my films. Three days later I wrote a half page, basic story inspired by the serenity of the area and I asked him ‘what do you think about this kind of simple story?’ and he responded positively. We travelled a whole month through the mountainous terrain, staying in the villages, meeting the local people and slowly slowly the story spontaneously took shape.

How was the experience of shooting in Uttarakhand?

Rains weren’t a problem as much in the period we shot. It is such a gorgeous place but very dangerous to travel. For a distance of hundred kilometers you need four to five hours. Uttarakhand is different from the big cities in India. Crowds are considerably less, it is cleaner although breathing can be a challenge depending on the height of the village where we were shooting. It was a new experience for me. I met so many new people, it has a different work culture than Europe which I’m used to.