Cloverdale's John Banovich was director for Stolen Path,  a romantic drama set in 19th century Croatia.

Cloverdale's John Banovich was director for Stolen Path, a romantic drama set in 19th century Croatia.

Familiar path for director

Latest film project for Cloverdale's John Banovich is based on a novel that is almost 'required reading' for people of Croatian heritage

Lauren Collins

Black Press

A romantic historical drama is the latest project for Cloverdale’s John Banovich, who is the director and one of the producers of a new movie, Stolen Path.

Based on the novel Moc Zemlie by Janko Matko, Stolen Path tells the true story of forbidden love, set against the backdrop of 19th century feudal Croatia.

According to the film’s synopsis, “When otherwise-engaged heiress Victoria falls for strong-willed peasant boy Matthew, their passionate, clandestine affair results in a ripple effect that threatens to tear both lovers’ families apart forever.”

Banovich, whose father is Croatian, said he remembers having the story read to him as a child. He describes the novel as a “required reading, almost.”

Banovich is an award-winning director who has filmed across Canada. His work has been seen on MTV Europe, SPACE, CNN, CTV, Global TV and the BBC.

His movies and documentaries have been screened at film festivals around the world.

Banovich worked with the writer and executive-producer, Goldie Smitlener, on Stolen Path.

Though interested in the story from beginning, and having spoken to Smitlener, he had other jobs in place at the time.

Smitlener ended up working with someone else, but, said Banovich, it “didn’t go very well.”

Eventually, Banovich and Smitlener did a full edit on the script and re-shot most of the film back in the Lower Mainland, maintaining some of the shots from Croatia.

Filming began again in late summer of 2014 and shot through late March 2015.

Although they were on a small budget, Banovich said his “arsenal of folk” in the industry were a big help.

He added that Smitlener was determined to make this movie happen, but described her as a “loving, caring grandma who cared for everyone on set.”

Smitlener, whose children once attended Cloverdale Catholic School, found inspiration for the film at the age of 15, after reading Moc Zemlie.

Now 69, Smitlener said the story and themes stuck with her for the next 50 or so years.

“I always thought that it would make a wonderful film,” she said. “There was an attempt some 20 years ago to make a movie of the book, but it did not materialize. So, I decided that I’d do it myself.”

She said her granddaughter Daniela also inspired her. When Daniela was 16, she asked Smitlener what her dream was and Smitlener told her about Stolen Path. From there, the two got to work.

Daniela plays the female protagonist, Victoria.

After buying the rights to the book, Smitlener spent several months breaking down the book and adapting the story to a screenplay.

This was her first script, but she “knew the story well and how best to tackle it.”

Smitlener said she made the film without any of the regular provincial funding or national arts grants.

“I wanted to see this movie, so I reached into my own pocket and put the money up on the silver screen myself.”

She said she wanted to tell the story because she “firmly believes that the word ‘love’ is so misused in our society that it has lost its true meaning.”

She describes Stolen Path’s period as a “simpler time when love was everything.”

“Even in making the picture, it was love that conquered all the challenges to get the movie to the screen.”

Banovich said one of the reasons Stolen Path appealed to him was the love story between Smitlener and her granddaughter off-screen, and how she was willing to “go the distance” to make the film.

“It impressed the heck out of me,” he said.

Smitlener was 67 when it all started and she wanted to show that her generation “can and should still be productive.”

“When people learn that I went out and made a real feature-length movie without years of industry experience, they’re flabbergasted by my persistence and amazed at the final product.”

Banovich said Stolen Path has received a lot of recognition.

“It’s a real surprise. That golden-nugget surprise.”

So far, Stolen Path has received recognition around the world, including a Best Actress nod at the Toronto World International Film Festival and a platinum award for a feature film at the International Student and Newcomer in Jakarta, Indonesia.

As for what’s next for Smitlener: “Sell Stolen Path. The film is in the can, and we’re all really pleased with it. As for the future, I’ve got one more film in me – except this time, I’ll know exactly what I’m getting myself into.”


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