Reflecting on the past: student documentary shines light on grandmother’s young life in communist Romania

THE JOURNEY FROM being a teenager into full adulthood can be an overwhelming experience, but when you start to make comparisons between your own experience of this new stage in life and the experiences of the generations that came before – with a global pandemic added into the mix – it can be overwhelming.

Yet this is the experience a third-year QMU film and media student Roxana Capris turned into a fully formed idea for a short documentary. After turning twenty last summer, Roxana found herself not only reflecting on her own teenage years, but also making comparisons to those of her grandmother, when she turned twenty, not only in a different time and country, but in a world almost unrecognisable today.

Roxana and her grandmother are both from Bucharest, Romania’s capital and largest city, but the similarities of their youth essentially end there. For Roxana’s grandmother, who entered her twenties under communism in the 1960s, the thought of going abroad to study would have been unimaginable. The freedoms of the west were, at the time, a distant dream. It was these differences that Roxana wanted to explore in her debut short film ‘Twenty’.

“I was always planning on making this film”, said Roxana, but it was perhaps this unique situation that allowed her to come up with the concept and to turn this dream into a reality. To do so, Roxana applied to the QMU’s Student and Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund and successfully secured funding to cover the costs of flights,
equipment and production costs.

In September 2021, Roxana, alongside her partner Markuss (also a QMU film and media student), flew out to Romania and quickly set about immersing themselves in her gran’s world and capturing this on film: this included everything from asking her gran to reflect on her past and what she may have done differently, to painting the white wall of her apartment blue for visual effect (before having to paint it back again!). Roxana even surprised her grandmother with an appointment to get matching tattoos – something else that would never have been possible in her youth!

Roxana explained: “I wanted to tell the story of my grandmother’s early twenties and invite the viewer to reflect on their own time turning 20. I turned 20 last August, during the Scottish summer. But I am a university student, in a country where I wasn’t born, in a world where I have the freedom to live where I choose.

"At my age, my grandmother was already divorced and a mother. It was a time when women weren’t encouraged to pursue an education or a career. She lived her twenties through a drastic communist regime which left her only dreaming of what life in a different country could look like."

“I have always been fascinated by my grandmother’s stories and I wanted to share that with a wider audience. And, thanks to the generous support from the Student and Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund I was able to make this documentary possible.”

On returning to Scotland, Roxana had the daunting task of editing all the footage – a job made all the more difficult due to a technical error that resulted in the original file being deleted and her having to start again from scratch. This hard work paid off, however, as not only was she happier with the second cut, but it was also selected
for the New Visions Short Film Competition at the 2022 Edinburgh International Film Festival. “In a strange way, it was all for the best”, she mused.

This success has only continued, with Twenty having since been screened at the Eastern European International Movie Awards, and even making an appearance at the St Andrew’s Film Festival.

As Roxana’s star continues to rise, so does that of her gran – more audience members fall in love with her at each screening. Roxana joked: “It’s more her film than it is mine!”