Sophie Vukovic’s narrative feature film project “My Best Friend’s Baby,” her take on non-traditional love and family, won the top Works in Development prize of Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s industry section, Eastern Promises, this week. The project, budgeted at Euros1.65 million ($1.68 million), is produced by Eliza Jones and Markus Walta’s Grand Slam Film, whose porn industry drama “Pleasure” – produced alongside Erik Hemmendorff at Plattform Produktion – was selected by Sundance and was distributed in the U.S. by Neon.
Vukovic’s story centers on Damir, a gay man in Sweden and his roommate, Sara, a lesbian friend from Croatia, who’s intent on becoming a single mom. When they embark on a trip to more traditional Balkan surroundings for the wedding of Damir’s cousin, things get complicated fast.
Vukovic says the story is not autobiographical, but definitely built on personal experiences.
“The idea for the film came from a desire to create images of a queer family and intimacy that we have not seen before, images we did not inherit from mainstream culture,” she says.
“Early on, I knew I wanted to make this film a love story about friendship,” Vukovic adds. “I want to explore that kind of love in depth and in as much complexity as other forms of love.”
Damir and Sara “are not just making a family outside of heterosexual norms. They’re not a romantic couple, so they’re double outsiders in terms of traditional ways of building family.”
Her characters are taking on “unexplored ground for them, and for us as an audience,” says Vukovic.
As a writer, she says, the idea seemed intriguing. “This felt fresh to me. Today we’re questioning traditional notions of gender and family, but we don’t really have a roadmap for what new constellations could look like. The film follows this bumpy, winding path of two best friends trying to figure our how to be parents together and trying to not totally ruin their relationship along the way.”
Having been born in Croatia, and growing up in Sweden, Vukovic feels she’s had a particular perspective on traditions and relationships. “This in-between perspective is often in my films and here it’s in the collision of Damir and Sara’s world and Damir’s family’s more traditional one.”
Calling the project “very much a Swedish film in its core story and tone,” Vukovic says her team plans to cast its main characters in Sweden. “But we want to have both Swedish and Croatian creative crew and talent around them. The shoot will be split between Stockholm and a Croatian island, which of course will be a challenge – but is crucial to the story, as it is the journey the two main characters make.”
The film will start in Sweden, then travels to Croatia “at a point where Damir and Sara’s friendship begins to be transformed by their pregnancy.”
She sees the island setting as transformative, Vukovic says, “and the atmosphere of the Adriatic island village as almost casting a spell on them. They will not return to Sweden the same. This location has its specific rhythms and melodies. I want to use them to build visual elements that carry the characters’ emotional journey in a visceral way.”
Her goal in terms of tone is naturalistic, she says, “with humor in the situations that arise in the daily rhythms of the large family that Damir and Sara become part of during their stay on the island.”
The geographical shift will at times turn the characters’ plans on their head, Vukovic says. “I want to have a playful tone in the storytelling. It’s a film where our notions of family and gender roles can be turned upside down through a light-handed approach.”
With casting also set for Croatia and the surrounding region, Vukovic says she plans to use “a blend of professional and non-professional actors. My background is in documentary and I’ve often worked with non-actors before. Casting the right people is an important part of setting the right atmosphere of a place and a certain time.”
Vukovic says that her goal in making “My Best Friend’s Baby” is “not to depict what it’s like to live in parts of Croatia where traditional points of view dominate or are gaining ground. That’s for the very talented generation of Croatian filmmakers to do. My film is about the specific clash that comes from experiences of migration and living in a diaspora: the sometimes starkly opposing viewpoints of generations in the same family.”
The subject offers more than enough richness, she adds. “Even though I believe in the freedom to choose to live as you want, it is complicated. Among my family in Croatia at least, the individual is not in focus. It’s the collective. Decisions are made together and your actions will impact the whole family, not just you.”
What fascinates her, says Vukovic, is “the contrast between these different ways of organizing how we live together in society. I think there’s something to be gained from throwing them in a boxing ring together. Damir and Sara end up really caught between conflicting perspectives on how to define family, but they grow from it.”