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EXCLUSIVE | Talking to...Yelena Popovic - director of the fascinating film Man of God : "Without peace, without faith, life is more meaningless and to convey this in an honest way, I think it can help people."

EXCLUSIVE | Talking to...Yelena Popovic - director of the fascinating film Man of God : "Without peace, without faith, life is more meaningless and to convey this in an honest way, I think it can help people."

Man of God is not just a movie. It's a joy. An opportunity to be with ourselves, with our soul, with our faith for 109 minutes. I believe that the theme of religion is indispensable in art. Especially in contemporary. And I think a film like this in cinemas is a real event.

What the director does Yelena Popovic, the actor who gives life Saint Nectarios, Aris Servetalis, and the whole team, especially now, close to Christmas, the holiday that means joy, is truly wonderful! We all need time for our soul too. So don't miss out on a personal impact film that will at least give you a bit of respite from the daily mad rush.

Today, on Christmas Eve, Daily Magazine has the joy and privilege of having an open and honest, heart-to-heart chat with the director of this extraordinary film for all of us, Yelena Popovic. Originally from Serbia, living in the United States and currently living in Greece, Yelena Popovic is the beautiful man of art who wanted to bring people closer to God through the story of St. Nectarios written and directed by her. So enjoy with open hearts! 


Hi, Yelena! A real joy to talk to you today! I had the joy of seeing your film, Man of God, in the cinema and it was indeed an overwhelming experience. To begin with, tell me, what made you choose the story of St. Nectarios for this film and if the Saint had a certain impact on you as a person.

Thanks for this interview and nice to meet you! The answer to that question is simple. Even though I am an Orthodox Christian and I can say that faith has always played an important role in my life, I never thought I would make a film about St. Nectarios. But I have always wanted to make films, to inspire people, and there was a moment in my life, the death of my father, that made me want to get closer to God and make a film with a religious theme that would inspire people to glorify God. A year after my father's death, I was in Belgrade and went to a monastery where I found a book about St Nectarios. At that time I didn't know much about him. I had heard about him and I knew I wanted to learn more about his wonderful story. It was an incredible experience for me to read his story, like things made sense, it was like being flashed, because it was a personal experience on many levels and that's how I knew a good film could come out, that the story needed to be told, especially in the present. I felt inspired to make this film to bring God closer to people's hearts. There was a need within me to express that. And 10 years later, with the help of God and St. Nectarios, things happened. 


In a cinematic world full of special effects and Hollywood characters, what place do you think religion has or should have?

In the world of cinema, unfortunately, I think films with a religious theme are not very well received. Either they are perceived as weak films or as some kind of propaganda. That's why, when I made this film, I wanted to tell the truth about several issues that we all, regardless of religion or ethnicity, face as human beings. Although the world has always been complicated, I feel that in contemporary times, even more so, we all want to see truthful films and stories like this. I believe that without peace, without faith, life is more meaningless. Life is difficult anyway, but with God close, it is the only way it can make sense, that is my opinion. And to convey this in an honest way, I think it can help people. 



How difficult or easy was it for the entire cast to work on such a significant film that is Man of God and what can you say was able to unite you all on set?

I have some fantastic memories of the whole process of creating this film. One of the most wonderful things was that people really believed in this project and were very open. Whether they were very religious people or people who knew less about religion, they all believed in the story. We were very united in the sense that the work on this film was all of our work, all of us, actors, cinematographer, costume designer, make-up people, etc. There was a really nice shared energy on set. I generally enjoy working with actors, being a stage director and working in theatre, but on this production the energy union was very intense and I can say that I personally miss everyone. 


What is the purpose of this film and what are the messages you wanted to convey to the whole audience with this film?

I am very happy that the film has reached Romanian cinemas, but it is already playing in different parts of the world and I can answer this question from the feedback and messages I have received from people in different countries about their experience of the film. In general I can say that Man of God has a healing purpose and I am happy to hear that on different occasions. Even before I set out to make the film I intuitively felt that I wanted to help those in pain. And it seems to have some impact on that level, which I'm very happy about. And I think that's the most important goal of this film. I also think that this film and the story of St. Nectarios has the potential to move us. Because bad people are enslaved people. Free people are people who take responsibility for their actions, free people are people who can forgive. We all talk about freedom in these times, when we struggle and think about how to be free. And true freedom is when we can forgive and when we can live our lives without being too affected by the situations around us. True freedom is what the Saint lived who had a hard life, was unjustly slandered and persecuted to the end, but remained a free man in spirit and victorious in the end, which is an important point.



We know you have a special connection with Romania. What do you like best here and are you thinking of choosing Romania as the location for your next film?

The first time I came to Romania was for the premiere of the film Man of God, in early December, when I was able to visit the church of Saint Nectarie in Bucharest, and I felt here a kind of incredible peace, that people are very kind, I liked the city. And if the opportunity arises, I would love to do something in Romania. In fact, I can't wait to come back and visit your country again, because I felt very special in these places.







Now, talking about yourself as a filmmaker, what made you choose this career from the beginning, how can you describe the perspective of a woman director in your country?

Before this film, I had directed another film, it was a smaller production that I shot with one camera, but it was a very good experience for me. When I wrote this script, I said from the beginning <>, because it was a special story for me that I could convey something special to the audience. At the same time, I studied acting, I'm also a writer and directing this film, with all the people who trusted me, I felt good about being a director. If I were asked what you like to do and what you are best at, I would say that I feel I am doing a decent job as a female film director, which gives me real satisfaction. 

I have never felt inferior as a female director, perhaps because I have never been put in a position of inferiority. The level of superiority blatantly expressed I think shows a low spiritual vibe no matter what, it's just another form of discrimination that I've never addressed or been exposed to. I think we women are very capable, very creative, and I always say this to empower women - obviously if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you don't have to tolerate it, but I think inferiority is mostly a state of mind, a mentality. I feel this, perhaps, also through the fact that I left home to build my future from a young age, I had to be and have been both a woman and a man for a good period of my life, I have always felt that Jesus Christ is my best friend, which has always given me strength. 

I'm very happy to see an increasing presence of women in the world of filmmaking, creating wonderful things, and I love working with women. In fact, so many women were part of the Man of God project, we had an incredible female energy on set. St. Nectarios had a great respect for women, in the times when the discrimination you're talking about was very present, he never had these limitations. In fact, he was not afraid to defend women and to sacrifice himself for the women around him, at the monastery he created in Aegina, where he was always ready to watch over them, to help them and to lead them on the right path. 

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What do you want from yourself, the public and the industry for the future?

I hope I have enough strength to keep going, I have a few new films in mind, a few scripts I've written. I love working a lot on projects where I feel a real connection, being honest in my projects and moving people on some level. Also, my husband and I own a company, through which we produce films, so I don't want to direct a lot, but rather meaningfully for myself, but I also have the ambition to help other artists produce their own projects. 


We're on the threshold of Christmas. How will you spend Christmas this year and what would be the perfect gift from Santa?

God willing, I will see my eldest son, Michael, who lives in the United States, at Christmas. He will visit us here in Greece, and together with my husband Nikolai, I wish him a peaceful and joyful holiday. And, because I don't get to see my son as often as I would like, the Christmas family reunion will be the best gift from Santa. 


Finally, what message do you want to convey to the public at large, especially in Romania?

I send you much love and I urge everyone, especially the audience in Romania, to seek the love within themselves and the peace that only God can give us and hope that we can all find true meaning in our lives and have the strength to do what we have been given. 



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