©Miguel Bueno
Teodora Ana Mihai

Teodora Ana Mihai was born in Bucharest, Romania, in April 1981 under Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. In 1989 she came to Belgium and was reunited with her parents, who had fled the year before.

In junior high, the opportunity arose to study in California, where her aunt’s family had emigrated. Teodora completed the last two years of high school at the French American International High School in San Francisco. Soon, inspired by her father’s previous passion for photography and the artistic environment of San Francisco she found what she wanted: to tell stories through images and sounds. It all started with film and video workshops geared toward teenagers, which led to a true passion for the seventh art.

Teodora went on to study film at Sarah Lawrence College in upstate New York. Upon returning to Belgium, she first started working in the industry as a script supervisor and assistant director followed by a stint in the TV industry. However, the desire to work on her own projects was so strong that she decided to shift focus and dedicate herself entirely to this. After directing the award-winning documentary Waiting for August, she is now developing a docu-fiction film about teenage orphans of the Mexican drug war, in collaboration with the Mexican writer Habacuc Antonio de Rosario.

DIRECTOR’S NOTE

My name is Teodora Ana Mihai. I was born in Bucharest in 1981, during the Ceaucescu era.

My parents fled Romania in 1988 and were granted political asylum in Belgium. I stayed behind as a guarantee for the secret services that my mom and dad would return: it was the only way for them to flee the country. In the absence of prospects, parents sometimes take risks whose consequences are difficult to calculate in advance. In the end I was lucky: about a year later, after some diplomatic interventions, I was able to leave Romania too and was reunited with my parents. But that one-year absence during my childhood left a significant mark on me.

I remain in close contact with my country of birth, intrigued and preoccupied by its current fate. It’s this connection with Romania that made me realize that, in a way, history is repeating itself there. The difference is that children are no longer left behind for political reasons, but for economic ones. The impact on the child though, remains the same.

The economic migrants are occasionally given a voice by the media, but we hardly ever hear from the young ones left behind. That is why I wanted to tell their story – the story behind the story.

But telling the story of children who are left behind by their parents is a delicate matter. It is a taboo in practically all cultures, as no one is proud of ending up in such circumstances. It was not an easy task to find a family who were not only expressive enough, but who also agreed to be filmed in an open, uncensored way.

Luckily, after many months of searching and numerous interviews, I finally met the Halmacs. Their story particularly touched me; fortunately, they agreed to share their everyday life with me and with the broader public. The Halmac kids literally claimed my empathy. Every single one of them is a real ‘character’, with a fascinating and well-defined personality that I just wanted to get to know better.

Having said that, I was of course also confronted with a crucial question: who was the main character in this story? Who was holding this family together in the mother´s absence? The answer came quite naturally: Georgiana, who was about to turn 15 when we started filming, had obviously taken over the parental responsibilities. She was the new point of reference for the rest of the siblings, despite her age.

As I started following Georgiana, I discovered an extremely strong, uninhibited teenager who accepted her new ‘head-of-the-family’ role with humility, without considering herself a victim. But she did possess the realization that she — like the rest of her siblings — should have the right to a normal, more protected childhood.

I felt privileged to be allowed into their lives to tell their story of courage and resilience. After spending so much time together we all became like family, which gave this film its intimacy and, I believe, also its strength. Getting to know the Halmacs truly enriched my life.