Scriptwriter and teacher of creative writing Donna Banicevich Gera has just come back from two wildly different experiences—one in Vienna, the other in Croatia.
In Vienna she talked to the NZ Studies Conference about a short film she wrote set in Castlepoint. The central image in the film—called Rip—is a totem pole with rubber jandals nailed to it titled “The home of the lost soles”.
‘The film’s about a young girl drowning. After filming we returned to take down the totem pole but the locals said, “Don’t—it’s meaningful to us—this beach is dangerous”. The locals even resurrected it when it blew down in a storm and continued to add jandals. It became an iconic part of the community and that’s what fascinated me—a film image taking on a life of its own.’
Donna says working with images is an important part of the workshopping process when she’s teaching scriptwriting to students. ‘I ask them to enter the world of the film in their imaginations and think about the significant objects that will be presented visually to the audience.
‘Writing a really good script is different from writing a really good novel because you need to learn to write visually - thinking about what the audience will see playing out on the screen to tell the story,’ she says.
“The home of the lost soles” is an image that’s also intrigued travellers to the Wairarapa coastal settlement and while the totem is no longer there a quick google search comes up with numerous photos.
After presenting her paper in Vienna Donna went on to spend a week at a creating theatre seminar held in ‘a Croatian piece of paradise’—a centuries old monastery on Skoljic, a little island off Preko, which is off the coast of the Croatian town Zadar. Alongside others of Croatian descent—from Switzerland, Germany, Canada and around the world—she was part of a play which well-known Croatian director Nina Kaleflin moved from words on the page to performance all within the week.
‘To see how she used the text to produce the final product was inspiring and will help in my teaching and own writing.’ In the play an Ostrich—played by Donna—keeps poking its nose into what’s happening, until the villagers decide to put it on the menu for their banquet.
On the Saturday night the play was performed to the locals who rowed to get there.
‘The island is such a beautiful setting. There’s no accommodation other than this 15th century monastery. They have beautiful gardens and vineyards and it’s very special to be asked to stay there.’
Now that she’s back, Donna says she’d love to write another script (play or film) about Croatian immigration—this time about someone going from New Zealand to Croatia to explore their Croatian roots.
Donna teaches scriptwriting at Whitireia NZ and is the current Vice President of Playwrights Association of New Zealand. Her work has been produced for radio, page, stage, and screen, with her stage plays being presented in New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Austria, the USA, and Alaska.