EUFCN Location Award 2020 Finalist: Prilep Area

A willow tree bends without ever breaking, tying together three stories set in North Macedonia. In the first tale, a medieval couple hopes for a child through rituals, prayers and sacrifices.

The Prilep Area is one of the finalists of the EUFCN Location Award, the annual prize for European film locations organized by the European Film Commissions Network (EUFCN) in collaboration with Cineuropa. The location was submitted by the North Macedonia Film Agency

Producer Jane Kortoshev explains the vital role of the landscape around the city of Prilep, in Milcho Manchevski’s feature film Vrba (Willow), a tale of love, trust and motherhood over centuries.

The nearly deserted Mariovo plateau once bustled with life. Abandoned stone houses are all that remains of Mariovo’s more than two dozen villages, deserted in the 60s and 70s. Volcanic rock slashes the landscape with a harsh, graphic quality, described by director Milcho Manchevski, who made the area internationally known thanks to his films (Before the Rain, Dust, Mothers, and Willow ), as ‘biblical’.

“The locations are absolutely characters in the story,” says Jane Kortoshev, producer of Vrba (Willow). “It is the case in all of Milcho Manchevski’s films. There are two types of dynamics with how the use of locations in his films is perceived by the audience: The Macedonian audience takes a lot of pride in his films and perceives them even as part of nation-building. The foreign audience sees Manchevski’s films – and the locations – as both a representation of this tiny country, but also as something universal.”

Willow  is composed of three tales about three women and their strong desire to have children. Two stories are set in present day, while the first chapter is set in Medieval times and was filmed in the evocative area surrounding the city of Prilep, with vast fields of grain and craggy outcroppings.

“The story of Willow  needed the vast space that Mariovo and Treskavec offer. We needed to see a different reality from the modern reality we are living, where everything is crowded and small. These locations were contrasted by the urban contemporary setting of the second half of the film. We wanted the viewer to feel detachment from the world through these never-ending landscapes.”

The locations not only add value to the director’s vision but are an essential part of the story. The sight of a willow tree symbolically connects the three tales.

“Throughout the film, the locations directly help the rich symbolism – for example, a dry broken tree seen through a window, the barren landscape itself with its black and gray volcanic rocks, the centuries-old man-made holes in the rock.”

Choosing to shoot in the area around Prilep was easy for the production. Director Milcho Manchevski grew up in North Macedonia, a place he calls home.

“He has filmed there on previous projects. He has a special bond with those landscapes. We still had to scout specific spots for specific scenes. We travelled there dozens of times and made thousands of photos. In addition to picking the right locations for specific shots, we had to arrange for the construction of several sets. It was a two months long process.”

Filming on mountaintops and rocky soil was a bit of a challenge for the cast and crew working on Willow.

“For a scene on the mountaintop of Treskavec we had almost the whole crew chasing sheep and goats on the mountain top. In another scene, a pair of strong oxen chased the two main actors.”

“On another occasion, everything was ready for the camera to roll. We had artificial rain, but at that moment the water truck decided to stop working. This even before we could do a single take. As the location was not so close to civilization (about an hour or so), it was going to take a long time for a replacement truck. We couldn’t wait that long, so we moved to another scene. We shot the rain scene on another day. There was also a situation where we converted an old stone village into a medieval village – removing antennae, electrical wires, plastic coverings, and more. The sheep and goats seemed to be easy at first, but then we realized that they all had plastic tags on their ears and we had to remove those or count on expensive CGI effects in post.”

The elegant stone bridge in Zovich, the stone houses in Shtavica and the open, rocky landscapes of Mariovo and Treskavec served Willow  to great effect. Milcho Manchevski’s film is the North Macedonian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards®.

The general public has now the chance to vote for their favourite location among the 5 in the EUFCN Location Award shortlist: Banská Štiavnica for Dracula – Slovak Film Commission (SLOVAKIA), Lake Resia near Curon for Curon – IDM Film Fund & Commission from South Tyrol (ITALY), Moritzburg Castle for Charlie’s Angels – MDM Film Commission (GERMANY), Pažaislis Church and Monastery Complex for Catherine the Great – Kaunas Film Office (LITHUANIA), Prilep Area for Vrba (Willow) – North Macedonia Film Agency (NORTH MACEDONIA)

One lucky name will be picked among the voters and will win a trip to the winning location.

The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 98 European film commissions and film institutions from 31 different countries.