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Partially drawing from autobiographical elements, Remaining Lives is a glimpse of the immigrant experience through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. Filmmaker Luiza Cocora takes us on an intimate and affecting journey. Cocora gave further insight into the making of her debut film in a recent conversation with Toronto Film Scene. Remaining Lives screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 5 at TIFF 2015.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

Feeling trapped between the past, present and a virtual world.

What inspired you to make this film?

In terms of the narrative, I was inspired by bits of real stories that happened to people I know. On the conceptual level, I was inspired by my experience, by the acute feeling of distance — of rupture from my old self — that I felt when I moved to Montreal from my home country of Romania.

What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?

As with my first film, I really enjoyed working with an experienced team and learning as much, and as fast, as I could throughout the whole process.

The hardest thing was the editing part. I had to let go of some scenes that were dear to me, but were less relevant to the story.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

I’ve always enjoyed listening to people talk about their lives. There are always those very precious moments when the people you’re listening to open up and start talking about something very personal — a particular event that makes them feel very vulnerable. It’s always an incident that’s completely banal, unspectacular, but at the same time, deeply human and touching.

I wanted to create a story about such an event — about an everyday life moment of extreme fragility. I wanted to make a film stripped of any artifice, in a context where nowadays we see so much sensationalism on the screen that we tend to become immune to it.

The immigrant story has been told before. What do you think makes Remaining Lives stand out?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the film is about the feeling of distance. Of course there is the physical distance between the characters’ country of origin and their new home, and that is what a typical immigrant story is about. But beyond that, my film explores the concept of distance in a context where new technology has a strong impact on human relationships. Through social media, Internet and videogames, people are getting used to a new way of being alone together. In my film, there is also the idea of distance between two people that are physically together but, at the same time, separated — each one alone in his/her individual bubble. There is also the idea of the distance from one’s self, as it is sometimes easier for a person to escape into a virtual reality than confront his/her problems.

The fact that the whole story is seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, who has no interest in technology whatsoever, adds to the originality of the film.

What will you be working on next?

I just received a SODEC scriptwriting grant for my first feature film. It is a story about a woman from Montreal who accepts, in exchange for money, a marriage of convenience with a stranger, so that he can get Canadian residency. In order to convince the authorities that their relationship is sincere, the two of them create a fake love story, under the strict guidance of the real girlfriend of the guy. But all three of them end up getting trapped in the lie, which slowly becomes bigger than life. For my feature film, I’ll be working with Art et Essai, the same company that produced Remaining Lives.

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

I am really excited about the master classes of Jia Zhangke and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and seeing Zhangke’s latest movie, Mountains May Depart.

Also, meeting the other directors from the Short Cuts programme and making friends from all over the world is pretty fabulous, too.

With TIFF celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, what has been your best experience with TIFF in the past, personal or professional?

I remember watching the news about TIFF on TV when I was back in Romania. At that time, I would have never imagined that one day I would be at the festival, in the Canadian Short Cuts programme, with my first short film, which I directed in Montreal. This makes me realize how unpredictable life is, and that’s a good thing.