SECRETARY OF THE YEAR
Producer: Rea Rajčić / Eclectica (CRO)
Total budget: 860.000 EUR
Funding in place: Script development (HAVC) – 5.000 EUR
Training and markets: Pack & Pitch, best project award, Sarajevo Film Festival 2016.
Silva Ćapin (Osijek, 1989.) is film screenwriter and director from Croatia. She holds BA degree in Comparative Literature (Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Zagreb) and both BA and MA degree in Film and TV directing (Academy of dramatic art at the University of Zagreb). During her studies at the Academy, she directed short films with which she attended various film festivals. From 2014 to 2017, she worked at Croatian public televison (Croatian Radiotelevision, HRT) as a director in the Cultural, Children’s and Entertainment Program. Currently, she is writing and directing Radioplays for Croatian Radio (Croatian Radiotelevision, HRT) and is in preproduction with her new short film Horticulture and in development of her first feature-length Secretary of the Year (Best project of Sarajevo Film Festival Pitch and Pack program with the title On Leave). Her previous short film The Rudeness of a German Lady was a NISI MASA – European Short Pitch winner, and had a vivid festival life. It has premiered at the competition of Trieste Film Festival 2020., and was shown at relevant international film festivals like – Palm Springs International ShortFest, USA 2020 – competition for Best Comedy Short, FilmFestDresden International Short Film Festival and Cinemed – International Mediterranean Film Festival of Montpellier.
At the end of a long and successful career path, just before her retirement, school secretary MIRELA (63) is surprised by the news that she has been nominated for the “Secretary of the Year” prize. The prize is awarded during the annual seminar and training session for school secretaries and accountants. This event is held in the off-season, this time in the small Croatian coastal town of Karlobag, and Mirela can’t wait for the competition to show herself and everyone else that her life has meaning after all, even though she despises the atmosphere at these events.
She is cheeky and perky by nature, and she lives for her role of the go-to person for everyone around her. She is an expert when it comes to new laws and regulations, so she is often the saviour of her colleagues from other schools.
Guarding her side no matter what is her husband EMIL (66), a retired accountant who sees this award as Mirela’s chance to shine as well. Because he is retired, he will not be at the seminars, but will be Mirela’s right hand and number one supporter.
Mirela worries too much in general, and she tends to daydream and get lost in her thoughts. These daydreams are always reflecting her fears. When she arrives at Karlobag for the seminar, she feels a little lost. The other candidates have a solid background and various groups of people to support them and this is the first time Emil isn’t around. The senior-field- trip atmosphere at the event is not to Mirela’s taste at all. Soon it becomes clear that the young secretary JASMINA (26) is the most likely prize winner this year. She asks clever questions at the seminars, she understands the laws and regulations, and it almost seems like she was born with a law book in her hands. Mirela is at first angry, as it seems that her young colleague only needed a few years to reach Mirela’s level. Still, it seems that Jasmina is somewhat insecure. She feels dislocated in this off-season mess, just like Mirela. Along with their love for a nice floral pattern, their dedication to learning, and disagreements with accountants, Mirela begins to notice that there are actually many things they have in common.
In the hustle and bustle of the dinner buffet and to-go plastic containers, nominee photoshoots, seminars, and an array of wellness options, Mirela feels insecure. Her roommate, accountant Vera, feels bad for Mirela and decides to share a piece of information with her that she had so far kept secret – she herself received the prize years ago, and she reveals to Mirela that the prize is actually given out completely arbitrarily. The judges can’t possibly get a grasp of the work the nominees do each year in order to choose a winner based on their merit. Vera claims that she was a good choice because it had been long since someone living east of the capital, in Slavonia, an economically less fortunate part of Croatia, had gotten the prize. The competition is actually fake, as the judges give the chosen nominee the answers to all the questions. Mirela is shocked by this revelation and her whole world collapses. All the trouble she went through to advance her career will remain unnoticed, and her life will have been completely ordinary and wasted. She sees herself in a different light now, through the eyes of all the others – how naively ambitious she is and how she is using up so much energy for nothing.
After a wild night of partying, Mirela is hungover. She joins the others for a daytrip to the nearby island of Pag. Even though her reality was shattered, and she is hangover, she feels surprisingly well and relaxed on the way there with the boat. She finds a new friend in Vera. She phones Emil and tells him she dreamt of him and that it was super romantic how he surprised her with a breakfast in bed in her dream. She separates from the group as they arrive at Pag. She joins another group headed for an olive garden to go olive picking. Even though she is still a bit nauseous and feels rather weak, the beautiful nature all around her calms her down. She finds a special kind of peace under a big old olive tree, looking at the island of Lošinj from the shade. There she meets an older local who flirts with her with his shabby pick-up lines which were probably last time in use in the seventies, when he was a young man trying to pick up some German or Czech tourist. She is flattered and he seems harmless so she just enjoys the moment and gives herself some freedom to take pleasure in his compliments that are far from truth. She is embracing the moment and it is liberating for her.
Having returned to the boat, all the secretaries and accountants continue with their unbrideld behaviour. Mirela closes her eyes and is transferred back to the magical olive garden in her thoughts. Her daydreams no longer reflect her fears and anxiety. In stead, they take her to a place of calm. At dinner, she is surprised to see people from the Ministry looking at her. Soon, it becomes clear why they were doing that. The organizer of the event arrives at her room and explains how the journal “Croatian Secretary”, which is the main sponsor of the event, has been in some financial trouble for some time now. They urgently need new collaborators who would do some volunteer work for the journal. Since she is retiring soon, she seems like an ideal candidate for the position. To push her a bit in the right direction, he hands her the questions and answers for tomorrow’s competition. Mirela is shocked. It is all in her hands now. She is nervous as she doesn’t know what to do with the envelope. Finally, she decides to give the envelope with the answers to Jasmina and tries to push the envelope beneath her door but at that moment, people who are partying door to door come to the floor and Mirela runs away. She lays down in her bed alone squeezing the envelope tightly as she goes to sleep.
Emil wakes her up with a breakfast in bed. Mirela isn’t sure if she is dreaming or not. It turns out that Emil came to see her compete, he couldn’t resist. He says that he got rid of the envelope with the questions which he found by her bedside for her not to worry too much before the competition. Mirela is in shock but doesn’t say a word about the real nature of the envelope, she sees that this is for the best.
The competition is held, and all around are flashy dresses and fancy hairstyles. The organizer holds a grand welcome speech, the competition starts, and Mirela closes her eyes, only to find herself once again in the olive garden. The sound of the competition continues but Mirela is at her calm place – beneath the olive tree, looking at island of Lošinj. By her side are Emil and a local who tried to seduce her. She is ready to start the competition.
The portrayal of school staff in Croatian cinematography is not seen often. Secretaries, especially, are completely ignored workers “from the shadows”. However, as is the case in any micro-environment, the world of secretaries is one filled with intrigue, rivalry, their own celebrities, and status symbols. By diving into the world of secretaries and accountants, we can uncover the problems, as well as the prestige of this unknown world.
The motivation for this story lies in the fact that both my parents spent their lives and careers as school secretaries – my father in an elementary school, and my mother in a high school. I spent my entire childhood listening about changes in laws, new collective agreements, and all sorts of data entry. It was therefore to be expected that my instinct would be to get as far away from the field of education as possible when choosing my career path. However, as I myself got to know and understand what exactly it means to be a worker, I came to see that it is just a reflection of what I’ve been listening about my whole life – something I had given up on too soon. Discovering the details of this world has helped me understand the principles by which our entire society functions. My love for the people working “from the shadows” has supported the basic idea I had and helped it grow into a feature film script.
As this is a comedy, the supporting characters and the situations they create are portrayed as the opposite of the main leading forces of the protagonist. Mirela despises inaction, partying and partial solutions to issues. She has a very serious vision of herself and she believes that she is the one holding down the fort – without her, everyone’s work, as well as private lives would fall apart. However, she soon finds out that the prize (the role of which was to legitimize her importance) is given away based on entirely unfounded and made-up
reasons. Her disappointment leads her to change her attitude and she realizes that she shouldn’t take herself, nor life in general, so seriously.
The goal is to make a comedy which portrays its characters in an endearing way, but without making fun of them. The humor is seen in petty human traits which are shown in their adapted, appropriate forms. The characters show their greed by filling plastic takeout containers with extra food from the buffet and they go through many colors of envy and jealousy while preparing for the “Secretary of the Year” competition. Still, even with all the humor and comedic situations, our focus remains primarily on the protagonist. She is having a hard time finding her way in all this, so she uses a couple of days of the training to find the meaning of her own life.
Towns on the Croatian cost look significantly different off-season. The small percentage of locals spent most of their time inside, and the centers of these towns are often under construction, in preparation for a new tourist season. In these conditions, the cost of rooms and boarding is significantly lower than during the summer and high season, making these destinations desirable for the organizers of various seminars, festivals, and similar events. The small town of Karlobag on the Croatian coast is interesting for two reasons: Through the small town goes a very busy highway instead of a boardwalk so it is not well adapted for tourists; and due to a large distance between Karlobag and any other larger coastal city, it is still very much bound to Gospić, a town in the continental part of Croatia, separated from Karlobag by the mountain range Velebit. This makes the location of Karlobag rather interesting. As there is nothing at all to be seen or done in this town, the participants of the seminar are forced to turn to each other. However, the protagonist, refusing to become part of the rowdy group, has to turn to herself.
Seminars for school staff always include a daytrip to a location in the vicinity of the place they are staying at. The closest location is the island of Pag. During that trip, the main character has already given up on the role she has been playing her whole life and she is trying to learn and experience new things. She goes to an olive garden, splitting off from the group, and this brings her peace and balance which she will retain until the end of the film.
DIRECTION AND STYLE
From the direction point of view, the film is meant to include memorable faces with overdone and flashy hairstyles, as well as colorful costumes and scenery. This is because these seminars for school staff are practically senior trips for adults. All the greyness of their workplace is, if only for a couple of days, replaced by spending time by the sea, bringing life into the off-season. On the other hand, the humor would not be elevated. The goal would be to bring humor about by giving the actors room for miniatures with their looks, pauses, and the ways they reply by relying on comedic skills, rather than grimacing or overacting.
From a character point of view, the film would rely on titles such as “Woman at War/Kona fer í stríð” (2018, Benedikt Erlingsson) and “Gloria” (2013, Sebastián Lelio). Visually, it would resemble films like “Holidays by the Sea/Ni à vendre ni à louer” (2011, Pascal Rabaté) or “Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar” (2021, Josh Greenbaum). The tone would try to resemble humor in films like “Another Year” (2010, Mike Leigh), “Sideways” (2004, Alexander Payne), “Macadam Storyes/Asphalte” (2015, Samuel Benchetrit) and “Beware of Children/Barn“ (2019, Dag Johan Haugerud).