Interview: Oana Ghiocel- “Romanians are still looking for an identity”

Just a week ahead of the TEDxBucharest conference, interviewed Oana Raluca Ghiocel, one of the speakers at the conference. Oana Ghiocel is a documentary filmmaker based in Boston, USA and Bucharest. She is nowadays producing a feature documentary on the origins of the bear cult, together with Cristian Lascu, the editor in chief of National Geographic Romania, after having previously produced a documentary about the old history of the Bucegi Mountains . She is an award winning media producer, consultant and screenwriter.

What are some Romanian characteristics with which you most identify yourself?

I would say that my Romanian characteristics have been an advantage for me living in the United States: deep creativity, thoughtfulness and analytical thinking, contemplative nature and attitude, a desire for individual perfectionism and perfectionism in my work, a desire for a balanced life, and being family oriented, giving much value to intellectual thinking and a certain level of idealism, and being understanding and appreciative of nature.

What are the main points highlighting the real Romania versus Romania as perceived abroad?

Romania perceived abroad is something of a contradiction, and a mixture of different, somehow superficial things: it is an ex communist country where corruption still pervades, a country with a variety of economic and political problems, in a state of turmoil and confusion (yet to develop a strong unitary identity) a country of ‘exotic’ gypsies and dirt roads…

At the same time abroad it is perceived as a rural country with incredibly beautiful, idyllic nature and traditions, a country of legends and myths; Dracula and Transylvania stand out and are known by pretty much any foreigner who visits Romania.

The inside view paints Romania somewhat differently: it is a country of serious, hard working, profound thinking communities, and very creative and talented people who take the art of the conversation to a level of artistry sometimes.

To what extent do foreigners understand the heart and soul of Romania?

I feel that foreigners understand the heart and soul of Romania sometimes better than Romanians, who, absorbed by everyday life and chores, forget to appreciate the uniqueness of Romania: its ‘untouched’ nature and very old traditions which are really what should define Romania. But foreigners (reading Lonely Planets guides, etc.) look for what makes Romania unique and stand out – the things that you don’t find in the West: the wild and virgin nature, the carriages driven by horses, the rich cultural heritage of different communities, medieval fortresses, country roads, incredibly rich biodiversity, etc. I feel that sometimes foreigners know better the history of Romania (Old European cultures for example) than the Romanians living in Romania.

Do you feel Romanians are still soul searching?

Yes, I feel Romanians by nature are very spiritual people that are looking for an inner balance, yet to fully emerge. I believe Romanians are still looking for an identity, and have not decided yet how to perceive themselves fully or how to be perceived abroad. I feel that is the reason why outside Romania is seen as a contradiction, arousing ‘mixed feelings.’ I feel that Romanians will be soul searching until they find a better more profound identity that defines who they are (especially in their eyes.) Romanians are still yet to identify themselves as a strong people and nation and make their real values stand out. I feel they are expecting the foreigners to give them this value- I feel that is a mistake. You, as a country should take control and define yourself on your own merit based and on your own real values, if you let others define who you are then you put yourself in a very vulnerable position, at the mercy of their comprehension, which is always superficial, and so lose control and much confusion can arise out of this state… confusion seen in the individuals “Who am I?” and in the nation.

How could Romania better advertise itself?

Definitely a must is to promote its deep cultural, multifaceted, multi-millenia of history and traditions through a lot more films (both documentaries and fiction); make fiction films about these old traditions, legends and myths and adaptations after Romanian poems and novels. If Romanians start to see their own cultural values and talents stick out more, they are likely to become more interested in being ‘Romanian’ and see higher value in their writers, sculptors, poets, history, etc.

Such films should be sold in as many venues as possible, and abroad in cultural centers and institutes.

Also, promote the Romanian Diaspora that lives outside Romania- and the Romanian scientists and others who moved abroad and had incredibly successful careers in their chosen fields! I feel that if more Romanians found out of more successful stories coming from Romanians living abroad they would believe more in their own community of people and create higher standards in their goals and life priorities.

Personally, I feel that playing the card of a Very Old, Primordial Identity can be extremely fruitful in establishing a Romanian Identity for more Romanians but also for the Outsiders. I think it should be capitalized what is truly unique in Romania: the Neanderthal legacy and heritage, Old European cultures, the Carpathian Sphinx and the megaliths of the mountains, the extraordinary caves, the incredible rich and very long history, traditions and customs that are truly singular in Europe. Romania as a spiritual nation with a very deep heart and soul, and that should become what Romania is known for. That will make Romania different and stand out. The Carpathian Sphinx and ‘The Thinker’ of Hamangia should be the emblems of Romania both outside and inside Romania– and the strong relationship between man and nature that in some parts of Romania is still intact. To raise more awareness of these values there should be a more fluent and solid cultural exchange with European and other world nations; online communities that favor such exchange and are more interactive to raise awareness both for Romanians and foreigners.

TEDxBucharest takes place on November 16 at the Palace of Parliament. More about it here

Interview by Corina Chirileasa, [email protected]

(photo source: Oana Ghiocel’s Facebook page)


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