Academics and experts get their voices heard in new Brexit documentary
Nina Kojima is here to spread truth. She started her career as a journalist in her native Slovenia, where she worked on such diverse broadcasts as the state visit of US president Bill Clinton and the Eurovision Song Contest.
When she moved to Britain she became a foreign correspondent and commented daily on Brexit for Slovenian TV. Kojima’s time as a Brexit commentator ultimately led her to write, produce, and direct a new documentary about Britain’s referendum on Europe.
The documentary is titled Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass, and it follows Kojima as she explores the truth about Brexit and the way it’s shaped the perception of the UK throughout the rest of the world. The documentary also features interviews with various professors and scholars, who discuss the climate in which Brexit has been able to thrive. The doc will be released in early spring 2021.
Film Daily had the privilege of talking with Nina Kojima about her journalism career, her directorial debut, and her desire to present Brexit without a political bias. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us about your history in media. How did you start your journey?
Where should I start? When I was on the other side of the media? I started acting as a child in early teens I got a role in a Slovenian style musical Cats for kids. My role was not a big one, but I made it quite big and kids laughed at me and clapped for me more than for the main cat characters. It was meant to be for a one-off TV show, but we became so successful that we started touring around the country.
It was quite embarrassing when we had a performance at my school, I found this very awkward, but then suddenly I became very popular there as well. That gave me a sense of a small recognition. Local kids recognized me (despite me wearing a cat custom on a stage) then in late teens I started modeling and when you got your first set of critique and as a model I did get a lot of that, then you start wondering; how is it on the other side? How is it to be the one who can report, judge and tell stories about you?
One sunny day in January I decided that I want to work at the Radio (National Radio Slovenia). I was in my first year of my BA at University, we didn’t have mobile phones back then, only few of the privileged and my father. I went to the Radio and waited at the main entrance if someone whom I might know would walk out.
After a while a guy who was selling pot (to smoke, not to cook) to my best friend walked out and I stopped him. He wouldn’t remember me, but I asked him, “Can you ask your editor to test my voice, I want to work here. He refused at the beginning but then he said ok, call me later. That later meant for me soon.
I waited downstairs at the main lobby for 15 min then I called from the reception desk, he answered and commented I am very fast, but then went and asked the editor. She saw me straight away, one of the assistants got fired that day and I got that job! I started on the same day!
Well, this was the beginning of my long career in journalism and broadcasting spanning 22 years, where I had many jobs – including a regular morning host of the most listened-to program in my country (Val 202), a Slovene commentator of Eurovision Song Contest (my broadcast booth was right next to Terry Wogan’s), and I also conceived, produced and was the Editor-in-Chief of the first ever weekly live TV program aimed at students in Slovenia, which ran for nearly 10 years.
You previously worked as a journalist in Slovenia and a foreign correspondent in Britain. What inspired you to change career paths and pursue filmmaking?
My last job as a journalist was in the UK, where I was part of the press lobby of 10 Downing Street, broadcasting live to Slovenian prime time news on a regular basis. I covered a lot of current affairs stories, including, quite predictably, Brexit.
One prominent academic whom I interviewed for one of my TV reports, sums up my answer to your question. Professor Vernon Bogdanor who appears among the speakers in my feature documentary on Brexit, once told to Tony Blair, what someone has once told to A.J. Balfour, British PM at the beginning of the 20th century; all the evils in the world resulted from two things and two things alone – Christianity and journalism.
Tony Blair evidently didn’t act on Vernon’s advice. As for me – since you are a journalist as well, I hope you can appreciate my answer.
Has your journalism experience informed your filmmaking style?
I think it did, for sure. I am probably more critical when I work, more demanding but privileged because I know how it can work if you are a storyteller and a story judge! As you probably agree journalism is not just reporting, advocating but also judging. Filmmakers are driven to their stories with the passion and believe that their story is the best to tell and show.
And I think I have a special quality here; I can make a story but judge the level of intended impact at the same time. This works for me and my audience, but perhaps less so for my close colleagues. They struggle and sometimes they think I am too much of a perfectionist. But again, I think these are good qualities.
Your new documentary, Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass, looks at Britain’s referendum on Europe. What was the inspiration behind the doc?
I worked for over 22 years as a TV and Radio broadcaster, including since 2003 as a London based correspondent. I covered 2 referendums, Scottish one and the UK. I am still a member of a 10 Downing Street Press Lobby and I still cover political stories as a freelancer. I think during both of the referendums people were deliberately misled by lies, propaganda, popularism.
Five years after the UK referendum on EU people are still divided and the consequences of Brexit will be far worse because of COVID. By Easter there will be an additional 2-3 million unemployed.
It is time for a reflection, to listen to the real experts – academics who have spent their professional career studying the constitution and relationship of the UK and Europe – who should have been listened to in the first place! It is their time to tell the true story about Brexit.
What do you consider to be the biggest misconception about Brexit?
It is a very good question and a very philosophical one at the same time. The answer on this is based on individuals, what I mean is that everyone of us will be hurt, not just British but also all the people in the EU. But Britain is a country with a long tradition of implementing its decisions in a very successful way.
Just think about Magna Carta. In 1215 there were big and prosperous republics in Europe; Florence, Venice, Dubrovnik. They had constitutions. But this country delivered the document, Magna Carta, which despite being written many centuries ago served as the base to human right law, French Revolution and American Constitution of the Founding Fathers.
The EU will have to change to a “loser” organization and Britain is the first call for this.
5.Did your opinion on Brexit change over the course of making the doc?
I hate to say, not at all. It just confirmed everything I kind of knew, but had no chance to tell the story in full yet.
You interviewed several professors and scholars for Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass. What was your biggest takeaway from these talks?
These are excellent people. Each one of them brought invaluable contributions and I know people will appreciate their depth of knowledge and unique insights. They are experts each in their academic field.
By the way, did you know that the first Brexit actually happened 200 years ago? Then after that, UK was vetoed three times before it was allowed to join the EEC (Precursor to EU) in 1973?
Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass also looks at the way Brexit has come to personify Britain to the rest of the world. Was this perception part of the reason you chose to make the doc?
Most likely. Brexit is sadly now becoming one of the British Brands. Together with the Royal Family, Fish and Chips, The Beatles – we are now infamous because of Brexit as well. Oh no…
You’re an Eastern European immigrant who was not able to vote in the Brexit referendum five years ago. Do you find that your experiences as an immigrant gives you a stronger sense of perspective when discussing Brexit?
It is a good question, I haven’t thought about it. But probably you are right, you do get more sensitive on this subject matter if your cradle was outside Britain in Eastern Europe. Born in a former Yugoslavia I know very well that a referendum can bring a collapse of the country.
I am from Slovenia, we had a referendum and people decided to go separate ways, then the bloody war started. And you know the rest … massacre in Srebrenica, Milosevic and Karadzic trials…
Did you encounter any opposition during the production of the doc?
Not at all. In contrast, there was always a great encouragement, that made it easier to access and hear the academic view on Brexit. This country is famous and proud of so many great minds, let’s hear them talk!
Did the COVID-19 pandemic affect production or post-production at all?
Tell me about it! It was horrific; the worst is when you know you have to travel 112 miles away for shooting and then there are no toilets, because the restaurants are closed, we had to keep a distance from each other and we had to downsize the crew to permitted 5.
Cinematographer Malcolm Mclean was also a camera operator, I was also a slater, sound was a solo… food was pre-packed sandwiches from a local supermarket…but we had some wine at the end, on the pavement in a cold January weather.
Were there any particular aspects of Brexit you wanted to discuss in the doc but were unable to?
Not really, I think we covered most of the areas, from constitutional problems and especially on the subject matter regarding Scottish referendum and Northern Ireland’s Reunion, economic and political impact, trade changes, defense and migration.
What documentarians are you inspired by?
There were several very good ones lately. I always watch BBC’s Panorama and their other feature docs – have you watched the latest two, 54 Days on COVID? Really good. Also Michael Moore is a legend, I admire his work. Netflix has several good ones, Dirty Money (series), Trump: An American Dream, the one on Michelle Obama…
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I had many mentors in my life and I treasure the knowledge and experiences they shared with me. My mentor at the MET film school, actually my tutor Simon Shore told me at the last tutorial lesson; Nina, now it’s time to leave journalism, that’s why you came here. You have to make a film no one else can, you had this unique access to the backstage of Downing Street and Whitehall.
Think about the true story on Brexit. In fact I have to write to him and let him know that he masterminded the film school program. Otherwise, for the film industry I would definitely recommend BAFTA crew mentorship, I hear is good,
What has been your greatest success?
I am still waiting for one. It will come when I land on Mars.
How about your biggest failure? What did you learn?
There were so many, I don’t know where to start? Sometimes it feels like failure after failure after failure…but because I am from the Alps, we say there; sometimes I ski slow, sometimes I ski fast. From these mountains you can see the Mediterranean sea and Venice Gulf and people on the sea side will say; Gente di Mare, People are like the sea, sometimes calm and sometimes rough.
About the mistakes, they are good if you can correct them, but sometimes you can’t, because the mistake is too big. I did some of those as well. Once in Slovenia I was wondering why my national radio station was playing music for 2 hours non-stop with no hosts, no program.
Then I realized 20 missed calls, and that I am the reason. And at that point I was 5 miles away … These are all learning processes, it can be healed over time, and sometimes it lasts for the lifetime.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I am a Ph.D student at the University of Glasgow, so this to me counts as a project as well, but you probably want to hear about my film projects. I wrote a script for a TV series based on my very successful and multiple award-winning short film Three Little Hearts which is available to watch on Amazon UK and USA. The 8-part TV series is for teenagers and has a strong anti-racist message. It is also breaking the boundaries of today’s societies. Really cool things.
Focus group of 13-14 years old read it in December, they loved it. Another one is a feature documentary Magna Carta on Mars, about the ownership, enterprise, law and ethics of extraterrestrial human colonies. This one will again include interviews from the world’s foremost academics.
And a feature film Brexit Means Brexit; this script (I wrote) won at several of world’s famous film festivals and was a semifinalist at the Oscar and BAFTA qualifying festival Flicker’s in Rhodes Island last year. I guess I should rename my company’s name from Partisan Media to Brexit Media, haha.
What advice do you have for aspiring documentarians?
Not just for documentaries but for everything, a poem, a script…look around and ask yourself if you feel it. If you do, don’t hesitate and bring your emotions in, observe and develop. At the end of the day we are all fed up of linear stories and structures.
Do something new, something odd. People are bored, we are watching too much these days, stuck at home, waiting for the better days to come. And of course don’t be afraid, even if it is a failure because you can always make another one…failure or success.
What is the main theme you want viewers to take away from Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass?
Reconciliation, forgiveness, hope and recognition that failure after failure can sometimes bring success. And remember people in the gulf I came from have been saying for centuries: “gente di mare” – People are like the sea.