A Romanian documentary filmmaker trained in the US, Oana Ghiocel tackles in her work local history and geography. Her latest film, Immigrants under Earth, which is currently in the production phase, follows Romanian speleologists in the 1980s to uncover a world of explorations, discoveries and unexpected freedom.
The idea for the film came while shooting The Bear Cult, which investigated the relationship between humans and bears from prehistoric times to the present. “I realized how many beautiful things were discovered in Romania by some special people […] explorers, speleologists, of whom little is known in Romania and even less outside,” Ghiocel says on the premise of the film.
With more than 50 hours of interviews gathered, the film will be a medley of stories of a “generation of adventurers” who, between 1979 and 1989 established many speleological groups and mapped an impressive number of caves. She asked them not only what were their most important discoveries but also the stories about the most relevant and beautiful moments they lived. “I realized that an important thread was that most of the things they were speaking most passionately about were happening in the 1980s. It was Ceausescu’s ‘golden era’,” she explains. Times of repression and deprivation, which can be read in the accounts of those interviewed, who, during long hours of explorations, were using many times old or improvised equipment. The difficulties of obtaining updated exploration equipment, which meant contact with someone residing outside of Romania, the danger of being caught on the wrong side of the ruling regime but also important discoveries are all part of the fabric of the film.
“I understood that a very interesting film can be made on the theme of immigration, not only immigration underground, a metaphorical one because of Ceausescu’s repression. […] They felt the need to have a free space where they could explore infinitely, without any borders. You can go anywhere because underground geography is different,” she explains, while referencing the title of the film, Immigrants under Earth. For some of them, immigration actually happened, as was the case of bio-speleologist Serban Sarbu, appearing in the film. He left in 1987 for the US, where he also did a PhD, but came back to Romania after 1989 and continued researching the Movile cave. Another character featured throughout her films and a key person in the development of the most recent production is Cristian Lascu, the former and first chief editor of National Geographic Romania. “Because of him this film is being made,” Ghiocel explains.
Accompanying the on-site shooting and interviews in the film will be reenactments. New shooting will take place in spring and summer and Ghiocel says she hopes to be able to finish production by end-summer.
Besides uncovering facets of Romanian cave exploration, the young Romanian hopes the film will shed a different light on Romania, as it was the case with her previous productions. “Foreign friends I brought here were impressed with the beautiful places of Romania, the mountains and the rural part. If there is something truly interesting and they want to revisit it, it is this folklore part,” she says. She highlights the “joy of seeing that it is possible to find places detached from the world, such as Maramures, the Apuseni Mountains, various areas in the Bihor Mountains, the Trascau Mountains, places that are absolutely magical.”
Apart from the new documentary, she is also working on a book gathering material related to the subject of The Mystery of the Carpathian Sphinx and also a sequel to the film. The plan is to have the book out within the next six months and published in the US. All in all, following her passion and interest in the subjects she approaches. “If you ask me why I did it … it is passion, desire, why do you like one thing and not another? I was simply passionate.”
You can watch an English-subtitles teaser of Immigrants under Earth here. Other productions are available on amazon.com or the iTunes store.
By Simona Fodor, Associate Editor, [email protected]
(photo courtesy of Oana Ghiocel)