МИРНО ИДЕМ КРИВИМ ПУТЕМ (QUIETLY, I WALK THE WRONG WAY) is comprised of a collection of Instagram story posts taken with an iPhone during the pandemic year 2020. reflections on isolation, separation, and distance - as felt in remote locations of interior alaska and a village on the island of lesbos. the film’s presentation is supported by AND THIS IS THE STAR, an intertextual correspondence between IVA RADIVOJEVIC & SIERRA PETTENGILL and LANGUAGE IS MIGRANT, a new piece of writing and illustrations from IVA RADIVOJEVIC.

SIERRA PETTENGILL: this film is made between alaska and lesvos, greece, the two places where you lived out the first year of the pandemic. how does the location change the way you write?

what is that? is that a bird?

IVA RADIVOJEVIC: it’s the cicadas that i sent you.

now they're fully awake. it's dry and they're fully awake and it's so loud.

i'm supposed to re-record a voiceover and it's impossible. i have to wake up super early before they start or really late at night when they die down.

you're asking about how does the location change the way you write? a lot of my writing is done by being with people or on a train, or even in a coffeeshop listening, listening to conversations. In alaska, it wasn't really possible because, for one, it's so cold, -30F for three, four months so you're not really outside. And you're not really in coffee shops because of corona. it was coming more from the things that i was watching, reflections and things like that. Because nothing was happening. then, of course, in greece it’s the opposite of that because you're outside most of the time. it's summer. it's a culture that exists outside anyway.

so in that way, it changes. and you can see that in alaska: i called A, and A said this thing. it's based on interactions that happened in that way rather than in person.

SP: yeah, right. you do start to feel a community come into the film when you get to greece. the community's taking care of a child. you're getting a little bit closer to people, even though there's still a distance.

it's funny that you say that nothing was happening because yes, that is true in some way. but your film is full of stuff happening! i think of the team of sled dogs going by. there are all these ants swarming. you’re hiking. the world is really moving, which is part of the confusing, paralyzing thing about the pandemic.

IR: yeah, this stuff is happening all the time. even when you're staying still, things are happening. like the cicadas. there's a process. i'm here, i’ve been here quietly but suddenly, the cicadas woke up. so now there they are. suddenly the shells that they leave behind, they're everywhere, all over the garden.

SP: i am really interested in why you chose to narrate this film in serbian. i know it's the first time you've ever done that. can you talk through your process of how you came to that?

IR: mmmm, when you have to leave your country involuntarily, you then, for the rest of your life, live as a foreigner in other countries. even if you return to your country of birth, you're still a foreigner in that country because it's been so long.

obviously, it's a film made during the pandemic so there's some kind of isolation that happens in general. In alaska, the feeling of isolation can be enormous. it was also a very foreign place to me. then i was coming to greece and I was coming back to the balkans, where I'm from.

i think there was something about diving into serbian as a way of belonging or going back. out of this isolation in foreign lands, wanting to feel some kind of a routine or a familiarity. also, since i did return to the balkans, it marks a new chapter, a new beginning, i was just starting to think about what does it mean to be back in the balkans? even though I'm not in serbia, i am in the region where I grew up. i'm in greece and it’s home, in a way, and i speak greek and all that, but there's still an element of foreignness. then i just keep wondering what does it even mean to be where i'm from?

the next film i’m thinking about and developing is going to be in serbia. so, i think i’m slowly going backwards and it felt natural to tune into that.

SP: yeah. the fact that you’re from a country that doesn’t exist anymore, that’s another layer of exile, that there is no returning. it’s not there.

IR: right. i still refer to myself as yugoslavian, because that’s the country i left. it feels odd to have to choose between serbian or croatian. all my creative expressions are about foreignness or in-betweenness, those liminal spaces, different ways to belong or not belong or what does it mean to exist in one language or in another language? then also about making connections because when you can’t return to something, then it’s about creating new connections or relating to things in a new way.

we’ve been reading édouard glissant who talks about how to live or be in relation to. so how to exist in a new place without grabbing, without having to understand but instead living in relation to.

SP: geoffrey oryema’s song makambo comes back a bunch of times in the film, a song of exile. you and i made drawings to that song earlier this year, and i’ve thought about this song so much since and i was surprised at first to hear it in your movie. and then i wasn’t...it feels like it is somehow - the way only that music can do - inextricable from this year. 

IR: that song first comes up in the film as part of the excerpt from sarah maldoror’s film about léon dumas, right? it's a really beautiful film if you haven't seen it. and so as the song comes up, the lyrics are, "three rivers run in my veins."

first of all, the song itself has this longing quality. the fact that you’re traveling with it because it is about a person in exile, always looking for a home.

and also, there are those “three rivers that run in my veins”...i personally think about yugoslavia. i think about cyprus, which is where i grew up. i think about having spent so much time in the us. three rivers.

(pictured: left ‘makambo’ iva radivojevic)   (pictured right: ‘makambo’ sierra pettengill)

SP: i wanted you to send me or tell me a serbian folk tale or a poem or a fragment of something. i know it’s your childhood language so what do you associate with serbian? where does your brain go when you think about that language?

IR: well when you say that, i immediately think of two songs. they are children’s songs but they’re both communist songs - actually, socialist songs, because yugoslavia was never communist, it was socialist.

we would sing it every time we went into a tunnel and it goes (у тунелу у сред мрака, сија, сија звезда петокрака…) “in the tunnel, in the middle of darkness, there is a five pointed star that’s shining bright”, okay? in serbian it rhymes. the five pointed star is guiding your way in the dark. and then the chorus goes : “death to fascism and freedom to the people.” this is a children’s song.

SP: oh wow - can you pull it up online?

while you look...This is a question coming from someone that doesn't speak any other language fluently: you speak three languages, and can exist in each of them fluently. Is there a way of assigning what languages come up for you in what situations?

IR: i was reading about glissant, and he purposely chooses to speak French in a very specific way that is not perfectly french because he’s from Martinique. he's sort of assigning his own heritage to french, like a refusal. it's kind of like having an accent. If I really wanted to, i could probably speak in american.

SP: right, but fuck it.

IR: right, why do that? or sometimes i drop my articles. i know that there’s supposed to be an article there but it’s just how it wants to come out, i know that it’s not correct. we don’t have articles in serbian. again, there is a refusal to speak it perfectly because then you’re assimilating, and furthering away from yourself...to speak serbian for me feels very naked, in a way. but at the same time, it’s a way of hiding in an english world. if i was narrating this film in english, it would feel much more vulnerable to me, because it’s personal. i’m almost hiding from the audience. not hiding, but adding a layer of distance.

SP: where you can say the things that are very raw.

IR: yeah, and it’s almost like i’m saying things but i’m saying it at a distance from you so i can retain some space where i can be safe in a way. i have this practice where i write every day, even if it’s minute notetaking or observations. but i do write every day. that happens in english and i actually just started, since i’ve been here, to do it more in serbian. it’s beautiful to travel between languages because you exist differently depending on which language you speak. the different ways in which the sentence structures work open up different realities.

for example, if a language doesn’t have gender pronouns, or if a language doesn’t have the future tense, but only past and present - what a way to exist in the world!

translating from english to serbian is interesting because serbian starts to take on new life. to me, serbian vocabulary is richer because i can use five different words that are nuanced variations on the same thing that wouldn’t necessarily translate into english. depending on the nuance of the word, it changes a little bit the texture of the whole sentence. so translating to serbian opens up a whole new world...the sentences themselves wake up in an interesting way.

it makes you think, “what is it i wanted to say here in the first place?” it becomes a little bit more pointed. it allows me to fall in love with the language again.

SP: the film is like a mission statement. It's really beautiful. it feels like a bridge to whatever you do next, both in film and in life.

IR: somehow, these documents are important. personal documents are important as markers of some sort. I guess I could have easily said, "this is a bit too personal," but even if it's just cathartic for you and me, it may be enough.

SP: it's taking seriously the images and thoughts that matter to you in your life as being enough and being important and being worthy of arranging and documenting.

IR: and processing, yes.

SP: yeah, processing. taking that process as seriously as you do. of course, what matters more? It feels like an imprint for living for me. personally.

IR: poetically.

SP: i’ve thought a lot about how you choose to include jill and her health in the film. i don’t want to reduce her to a symbol, or a stand-in, or a literary device or anything. but it is noteworthy that it’s the only narrative propulsion that you put down and pick back up. and that’s how the film ends, with her. it feels like a very deliberate choice.

there’s a lesson to me in that - that you are choosing one person who’s very close to you. she’s not a stand in for global death, but the sort of fragility and the choice-making and the medical treatment and the way you’re getting these tiny scraps of information about how jill’s doing...somehow, you don’t have to ever mention that this entire time period, globally, is permeated by and unfolding against the background of tremendous death and precarity.

i think - and in part this comes from the writing we were doing as a group during covid - that everyone is grappling with death. that’s really all there was, everyone’s thinking about death. and we’re all approaching it from different places, and maybe not conscious of it all of the time. but that feels like what defines this whole long year.

IR: yeah. also, because from just that one sentence about jill, you can understand what the healthcare system in america is like, right? how precarious.

i’m also thinking about our general relationship with death. there are cultures in which death is normalized, as a casual part of life. my friend is here visiting from mexico and we were talking about that; the relationship to death in mexico, as a celebration.

then, like jill says, “when you’re 70, it’s casual.” i guess i was trying to connect more to that idea and maybe using it as a way to ease the pain of it - to say that death’s also a part of life. because it’s very easy to see death everywhere and suddenly it becomes overwhelming and horrible. i didn’t include this in the film but she was like, “i’m 77, i had a great life.” if this shit happens now, i’m just going to have a party, i’ll invite some friends, we’ll say goodbye, and i’ll take the barbiturate and i’ll die peacefully. of course that doesn’t help us miss her any less.

SP: i almost hate to put words to this - but from that, i do get that feeling of this celebration and acceptance. it's deeply sad but there's also that feeling...and at the very end, she is still alive, and then the movie's over.

lately, A and i have been trying to find very specific ways to describe the contours of what feels like the end of the world. we’re trying to come to terms with that - we’re teetering on the edge. there's a little bit left to go - we get spared - but the grander arc of the destruction of the earth has not changed.

so the way Jill and your film works for me is to say “we're taking a step on - for now.” we're exiting something. it doesn't change the larger trajectory. it doesn’t change that lesson. it doesn't change the feeling. it doesn't invalidate. it's not like, "oh, she's alive. nevermind.” that's not how it works.

IR: it's more like she's alive and then what do you want after the rain? which is a good reminder for asking life questions: okay, the rain is there. you have certain feelings. the rain has passed. what are you going to do now?

so this is where we start collectively.

SP: exactly. like your film says, “make kin.”

did you find that song? the tunnel song?

IR: it's crazy because i'm finding all these videos : 

there is a football match and the entire audience in the football match is singing this song. then, of course, there are just videos of tunnels that are called "in a tunnel in the middle of the dark.” fascinating, that an entire generation or multiple generations associate this song with the same thing and with the same kind of zest...

an anti-fascist song.

In a tunnel, in the middle of darkness.

there is a five pointed star.

the star with the five points is a symbol of the proletariat,


AND THIS IS THE STAR (laughter).