18 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Director Anna Rodgers and Producer Zlata Filipovic discuss Two Mothers
15 Feb 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Anna Rodgers and Zlata Filipovic
We spoke with Anna Rodgers and Zlata Filipovic about their latest short documentary Two Mothers. The short received funding and support from the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund.

Anna Rodgers and Zlata Filipovic, co-director and producer of the IFTA-nominated How To Tell A Secret, are one of five successful filmmaking teams to receive the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund. Each team produced a short documentary between 8-12 minutes long with a budget of £30,000 that was released on Netflix’s YouTube channel ‘Still Watching’. As part of the process each team underwent training from specialists at Netflix who provided coaching and hosted workshops covering all aspects of production including legal, creative, HR, production and finance. 

Rodgers and Filipovic’s Two Mothers is described as follows: “An unusual bond compels an Irish mother of twins to travel to war torn Ukraine in order to rescue the woman who carried her babies.”

We sat down with Anna Rodgers and Zlata Filipovic to discuss their introduction to the story of surrogacy and solidarity explored in their short, their experience of pitching their short to Netflix, and the upcoming projects they have in development.

IFTN: How did you first learn about Cathy and Ivanna’s story?

ZLATA: “I was doing a documentary series for Virgin Media with Tyrone productions, which was about surrogacy. I previously did a series with them on Irish couples going through fertility treatments and as a result of working on that, I had an idea to do something about surrogacy. We were working on that in 2018/2019, and following a number of Irish couples going through surrogacy, One of those couples was Cathy and Keith, who were just at the very start of their journey.”

ANNA: “Zlata and Cathy stayed in touch because they got on so well and they had children of similar age, so when the war broke out in Ukraine, Zlata contacted Cathy to say ‘How is Ivana? Have you any news from her? Is she safe? Are her children safe?’.”

ZLATA: “I personally went through the war in the 1990s in Bosnia, so it was all very reminiscent for me. I was really thinking about Ivana and her family. Then one day Cathy just said, ‘I'm actually off in three days time to Romania. I've organised for people to bring Ivana and the kids towards the Romanian border from Ukraine, and I'm just going to go and get them, because I can't bear that they're there and I can provide a place for them to be safe while the war is going on’.”

ANNA: “Once we realised that she was serious about doing that, we said ‘We have to make a film about this’. It was happening very quickly. Usually building finance for a documentary takes months, if not years. Initially, we went to RTÉ and they gave us a little bit of development funding, which allowed us to capture things for a couple of days, which was great because otherwise we wouldn't have got the beginning of the story.”

ZLATA: “All we could tell Cathy is turn your phone landscape, and be safe, and take care. We were there when they landed at the airport on a very late flight from Romania back to Ireland, and their story of living together as a blended family, bound through surrogacy and war, began.” 

IFTN: What drew you to making a documentary about this story in particular?

ANNA: “You read a lot of stories about surrogacy and how surrogate mothers are treated, and concerns for their well being and exploitation, which is very important. We need to look at that. We need to question that. All of that is an important part of the debate around surrogacy. But seeing the connection between Cathy and Ivanna, you really don't have any concerns there. It's very clear that there's a beautiful reciprocal equity in their relationship. There's love there, there's care there, there's respect there. They're like sisters, really, and yet they were complete strangers. They met through Cathy being sent her profile by an agency in Ukraine. She said when she saw it, she just knew. It's kind of like a love story in a way.”

IFTN: What can you tell us about the selection process for the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund?

ZLATA:  “I saw that Netflix were running a short documentary scheme on the theme of connection, and well, there has never been a story of connection as incredible as that, between Cathy and Ivanna.”

ANNA: “So initially, they just asked for a logline and synopsis. Very brief. It was open to anybody really, you didn't need to have a huge amount of experience. Although we are experienced documentary makers, our films haven't reached audiences at the level that Netflix would open us up to."

“So we sent it in, then we got to the next round, and we had to provide a bit more information at that stage. We sent in more of a full treatment of the documentary, and we sent video. Thankfully, because we had done that initial filming, we were able to send quite a nice video that gave them a really strong sense of the story.”

“Then we got selected to go over to London to pitch. It was very nerve wracking, but very exciting at the same time, going into the Netflix building and pitching to a panel of Netflix staff, commissioning editors, and Oscar-winning filmmakers.”

IFTN: What is it like working with a major streamer on a short project?

ZLATA: “We had a fantastic experience. We had a big bootcamp day, learning a lot about how you work with Netflix, how Netflix, do things. We've done projects with Screen Ireland, we've done projects with different broadcasters, so this was another kind of ecosystem we were entering and learning about. It was very supportive.”

“We also had a lot of support from WDM, who are kind of a PR company that work with Netflix, and our supervising producer Libby Hopper.”

IFTN: How exciting is it to get to share this story across Netflix’s social platforms?

ZLATA: “Very exciting! We're so delighted that we got to make the film. It’s a testament to Cathy and Ivanna who at different times supported each other. It's a film about generosity and human spirit and people being good, so it’s a really uplifting film even though it contains some very sad things in it.”

IFTN: Following Two Mothers, do you have any upcoming shorts or features in the pipeline we should keep an eye out for?

ANNA: “We have two features in development. One is a feature drama that we are in the process of writing with writer/director Shaun Dunne, who I directed How To Tell a Secret with. Shaun came to me with his idea for this feature, so we're developing that with him and Screen Ireland. I’m very excited about that, because feature drama is a bit of a departure for us because we're much more known for our documentary work.”

“And then we also have a feature in development called The Last Balkan Cowboy, with a director Dragana Jurisic. Zlata is producing that with me, this is the area that she is from. She's from Sarajevo and left during the war and came to Ireland. This film is also looking at that period of the war. The Last Balkan Cowboy is about Harry Jackson, who was a Western film director in the Balkans, and disappeared during the war, as did his films.”

“Dragana is returning to her former native lands, known as Yugoslavia at the time, and going back to Croatia and Bosnia to retrace his story. And through that look at the wounds of war, look at how divided her community is, and try to bring people together through the art form of film. She is recreating one of his western films, bringing together people from both sides of the ethnic divide as such, to engage in a filmmaking process.”

“I’m also directing a children’s thirteen-part hybrid project about Brent Geese. I’m obsessed with them, they’re amazing creatures! Last summer, I got to go to the Arctic, to Resolute Bay to film with the Inuit population there, with hunters, to go on these little planes out to remote uninhabited islands searching for Brent geese, and with a couple of amazing biologists and  scientists too. That will be on RTÉ Jr. It's a hybrid of animation and documentary, so again, a new departure for me!”

Two Mothers can be viewed here:

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