Interview with director Mihaela Cristina Istrate
Mihaela Cristina Istrate is an emerging director, producer and music composer – she grew up in Florida and graduated from University of British Columbia in Theatre & Film Production. In 2010, she composed music for a documentary titled Kosovo: Can You Imagine, which won a Silver Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival.
Her musical compositions have also been featured in over 20 theatrical shows and received high acclaim in The Vancouver Sun for Gormenghast – directed by Stephen Malloy. Her first short film “No Good Deed” was selected and screened at Overcome Film Festival on October 2017 and received a Recognition in Filmmaking Achievement. No Good Deed is also being considered for 6 film festivals in the U.S including California Indie Film Festival. Her second short film “Recon” is currently being considered in 9 festivals in the U.S including San Francisco International Film Festival.
Mihaela enjoys working on movie sets and her approach is to always challenge yourself, have fun and work as a team and improvise as much as possible while doing it because that’s when great ideas get made.
Why did you get into filmmaking?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a filmmaker. From early childhood, I was so caught by movies and their power over me and other lives. But my love and passion for filmmaking was uprooted my upbringing in Romania’s communist times. I was born in Bucharest, Romania and during the 1980s, my father was in the army at the time when my sister and I were children. My mother owned several bakeries with my father and while he was deployed at war, she would teach us how to bake cakes and desserts. During one cold and stormy night in December, there were bullets flying at our house and my mom ran out of the kitchen with me and my sister to hide us under the couch. I still remember the sounds of so many bullets buzzing around me that it felt as if there was an earthquake. It was on Christmas Day when Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed. In Romania’s communist times, everyone had a job, and everyone had a house but any access to information was forbidden. People weren’t allowed to read writers who didn’t have Ceausescu’s approval or even allowed to travel abroad or have friends from abroad.
With the war almost ending, my parents sent us to a private gymnastics and ballet school, music and acting lessons. Since then I always got involved in anything creative and artistic in school which then became my outlet in life and motivated me to become a creative person.
How and where did you learn the craft of filmmaking?
I learned filmmaking in university, I changed my course of studies several times from learning German and French languages to theatre and film, it took a while to graduate and wasn’t quite the student with the best marks. I had ideas that I thought were great and kind of felt rejected by my professors and some of my peers. After graduating and holding a diploma in my hands, I felt that school wasn’t enough to pursue my dreams as a filmmaker and financially I wasn’t going to make it. Having lived through financial hardships and sharing a small apartment with my mom and sister, I never had enough money to buy equipment or software to get my films made, and that is when I decided to volunteer my time on film sets doing various positions from acting to production coordinating and even carpooled with other filmmakers since I couldn’t afford transit. I tried modeling and acting agencies but just didn’t feel confident enough. Having made some money from several gigs, I made my first film ever as an ultra low budget project. I met some great people in the film industry and not so great people as well, but I felt more determined than ever to continue the path I chose as a filmmaker. I knew deep inside that Directing and Producing was my calling.
Where did you derive your passion for making military films?
I think my father was the main reason I got into making military films, he served in the Army for quite some time in Romania. And family members from generations before were war veterans and policemen. Their stories never got told or heard in the media or on TV, but I got to hear firsthand what life was really like on the battlefield.
Who is your favorite or inspirational person?
The person I’ve always looked up to has been American female director and producer Kathryn Bigelow. When her American war thriller The Hurt Locker came out in theatres, I was blown away by the movie and that a woman could direct a military movie. She became the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director for The Hurt Locker. I really enjoy her films as she makes movies that go right for the gut. She’s also one of the reasons why I take pride in my military filmmaking.
What inspires you the most? What in particular made you make this film ‘No Good Deed and Recon’ ?
I’m inspired mostly by people who dream big and have a vision. I feel that I fall into that category, I have always been a big dreamer since I was a child and have a vision in everything that I do. As an artist, it’s important to dream big and visualize even if nothing is happening for you right at this moment. I have always dreamt of joining the military and maybe someday I will, but I have always gravitated towards making films about it. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with it, when you’re on the film set, it just feels surreal like everything is real and it’s happening right before your eyes. I also have friends that are veterans and enjoy listening to their stories and that ultimately gives me the inspiration to dream big and make things happen.
What is your success secret as a filmmaker in the film festivals? Which festivals were you accepted in and please tell us more about it?
Usually, I don’t give out my secrets but what I find helps the most to push the success of a film in festivals is targeting festivals that you know will appreciate your category of work and doing your research is key. I find that it’s also not enough to just submit online, contacting festivals and establishing relationships with key contacts also helps. How you position your film from a marketing standpoint is important, you need to go out there and talk about it, it’s never enough to just submit, you have to hustle everyday. I am humbled that my film No Good Deed was officially selected at Overcome Film Festival Season 2017, which is the first festival that the film was screened at. There are a few more festivals that is currently in consideration status and I’m very hopeful that it will be accepted again. I’m also very excited for audiences to watch the first film I’ve ever Directed and Produced and eagerly see the emotional responses to No Good Deed. My second film Recon is also being considered in film festivals as well and was recently playing in The Royal Theatre in Toronto, Ontario.