This is a big week for filmmaker Nemanja Bala ’02, who has the U.S. premiere of his first feature-length film, Love Hunter, tonight in New York City.
The film, fresh from several film festivals around the world, is the story of a former Serbian rock star who drives a New York City cab at night to finance his first American album.
Bala, 36, who majored in cinema studies at the University of Hartford, directed, wrote, and produced the film with his brother, Brane.
The film is based on many real events from the life of the main character, Milan Mumin, who stars in the film and is from Bala’s hometown in Serbia.
"He was a big deal during the ’90s, kind of like Tom Waits in terms of style, though with a rougher sound. He sang in English, and was a voice of a young generation fighting the then-oppressive regime in Serbia,” Bala said.
His story resonated with Bala’s own struggles as a filmmaker and immigrant trying to survive loneliness and feeling like an outsider while trying to make it as an artist.
Bala, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif., came to the University of Hartford on a tennis scholarship, happy to leave his war-torn country. He initially considered majoring in international studies, but that soon changed.
"I walked into [Professor] Robert Lang’s cinema class and loved it because it still had all those things—history, language, psychology—which I wanted to explore. That’s when I thought, ‘Studying films makes sense for me,’” he said.
He remembers learning about the psychoanalytic approach to films in Lang’s classes and about film form in Associate Professor Michael Walsh’s courses.
"The combination of the two was perfect. I basically learned a lot about the rich history of film before I attempted to make a film. And I think this is important.”
"We also shot small, 16mm films in the cinema department and edited them. I also took classes at the [Hartford] Art School with [Professor] Gene Gort and explored video art. I loved that too,” he said.
Lang, who still keeps in touch with Bala, described him as quiet, charming and resourceful with a gift for getting along with people.
"He seemed instinctively to know what successful filmmakers know: you need other people—you cannot do it all alone—but you also have to be self-reliant,” Lang said.
After graduating from the University, Bala went to Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program. He made some short films, which were competition finalists at Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Tribeca All Access, and he wrote scripts, but this is his first feature-length film.
"It is a film that I could make on a very small budget, and I feel that it’s a perfect first film. I always like the first films of my favorite filmmakers. They are often risky and more creative than later films when more money is at stake.
"I also wanted to make a film that takes place at night in New York. New York at night is my favorite place on Earth,” he said.
The weeklong premiere at the Quad Cinema in New York will determine where the film will play next and to what extent.
"I hope it will show in Connecticut. It’d be great to play at cinemas that I used to go to as a student—Real Art Ways or the cinema at Trinity College. I loved those,” Bala said.