‘Aferim!’ Producer Ada Solomon on Romania’s ‘Secret’ History of Gypsy Slavery

TheWrap Screening Series: Director Radu Jude shot the film in black-and-white as an homage to the work of John Ford

“Aferim!” producer Ada Solomon stopped by TheWrap‘s Foreign Language Screening Series on Wednesday for a Q&A about Radu Jude’s Romanian film, which has been winning awards on the festival circuit since February.

Set in 1835 and shot in lush black-and-white, Aferim follows a policeman who is hired by a boyar (local noble) to find a Gypsy slave who ran away from the boyar’s estate after having an affair with his wife.

The film was shot non-chronologically in the southern part of Romania, according to Solomon, who said that the film’s location manager said they’d gone 7,000 kilometers while looking for the right locations.

The filmmakers also had to hand-craft many aspects of the production in order to keep with the specific style of the times. “Everything in the courtyard was built from scratch and we had to completely remake a house,” said Solomon, who also explained how Gypsy slavery is rarely discussed in Romania today, let alone taught in local schools, yet it continues to influence society in that country. Perhaps that’s because period pictures remain rare in Romania.

“After the fall of communism, it was not a habit anymore. The means we had in the Romanian film business didn’t allow for period films,” said Solomon, who continued to discuss the impact of communism. “In Romania, there’s a habit now to blame everything on communism. It’s not like everything was heaven before communism.”

“The prejudices you see in this film are so present today. The film launched a huge debate in Romania, where Gypsy slavery is a subject that nobody is talking about. Not the politicians or the history books in schools. If you let the bad things stay there and just cover them up, they will affect the whole body. They’re are still ashamed of it, but there’s no guilt, because it was what it was. But the guilt is ours — you can never integrate a minority unless the majority extends its hand and brings them in,” explained the producer.

Solomon said she has worked with Jude for 11 years and shared his interest in history. “He focuses on a microcosm of society and will never play with big heroes. His previous films dealt with family, but also conflict and evolution — how we inherit mentalities.”

“Radu is much more than a filmmaker. He’s an erudite intellectual who’s interested in sociology, literature, theater, visual heritage and filmmaking. He goes really in depth and reads tons of things that relate to the subject he’s developing. Only then does he take to the adventure of filmmaking,” said Solomon, who also praised the director’s eye for casting and his commitment to authenticity.

“Radu has a special flavor with faces. He seeks authenticity rather than actors who are simulating something. He also doesn’t like to shoot close-ups, preferring to shoot in long and medium shots” in order to better recreate the period.

Additionally, Solomon said the crew went to great lengths regarding the sets and costumes. “The real colors of the period weren’t as vivid as they are today, be it costumes or the paint of the walls. Everything was more faded, so we didn’t want anything to be too shiny. We were very accurate with materials. There’s no plastic used in the costumes, just organic textiles, and there were a lot of little props that were handmade by a magician craftsman we have in Romania.”

Solomon said that Jude wanted to shoot in black-and-white as an homage to John Ford, who has served as an inspiration to the director, though that decision provided its own set of unique challenges.

“Shooting in black-and-white is not easy today because you must order film stock very early. You can’t just ask for 10,000 more feet, you must pre-order it, because there’s no lab in Romania that’s still developing black-and-white,” she said.

Solomon also noted how filmmaking is becoming more international. She tried to raise money in France but couldn’t line up any financing. In the end, “Aferim!” was co-financed by Bulgaria and the Czech Republic to the tune of $1.5 million, with more than half the budget coming from public bodies.

“I’m always asking how I’m going to raise money, not just for the period pieces,” she said. It’s nice to see people take a risk with you. We developed the material in Budapest, postproduction was done in Czech Republic and the sound was done in France.”

“It’s important that every single film we make doesn’t just offer 90 minutes of entertainment or emotional experience, but that it raises some questions and leaves viewers with questions and interest in researching the topic,” concluded Solomon.