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Director Goran Stolevski Unpacks the Heart of Found-Family Film Housekeeping for Beginners

Director Goran Stolevski reveals what inspired his intimate film about creating a found family in contemporary Macedonia.

By Tara Bennett

No matter where you go on this planet, there will always be people who exist on the fringes of what the mainstream considers to be normal. They are the "others" who for societal, cultural, or economic reasons are deemed unlike everyone else, and suffer for it. And time after time, no matter the language or details of their reality, those outsiders, like magnets, find each other in their own pockets of peace to be who they are without judgment. 

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In Focus Feature's Housekeeping for Beginners, Australian/Macedonian writer/director Goran Stolevski (Of An Age) captures life inside a contemporary found family of queer and Roma (pejoratively called gypsies) misfits living under the same roof. The adults of the household are Dita (Anamaria Marinca) and Suada (Alina Serban), lovers who, temperament-wise, are seemingly opposites. And yet they share a deep understanding of each other's hearts.

Suada also has two daughters, rebellious teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafi) and rambunctious young Mia (Džada Selim), who live happily among an eclectic group of young LGBTQ outcasts who've been kicked out of their conservative households. But everything shifts when Suada is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; the household rallies around Dita and the girls to pick up the pieces of a tragedy that forces all of them to create another new normal.

NBC Insider sat down with writer/director Stolevski to unpack this intimate story: its origins, its emotions, and the stories he loves to tell.

Who is director Goran Stolevski?

Goran Stolevski at the "Housekeeping For Beginners" screening during the 67th BFI London Film Festival

Born in Macedonian but raised in Australia, Goran Stolevski has spent the last 20 years making short and now feature films about the experience of both queer characters and Macedonian people (sometimes overlapping). In just three years, he's made three feature films — You Won't Be Alone, Of An Age, and Housekeeping for Beginners — all of which have been praised for their empathy in expressing the relatable challenges of his character's lives.

Of his prolific output the past few years, Stolevski told NBC Insider, "I made my first short film in 2002 and my first feature was 2022, so that's 20 years of accumulated hunger to make films and tell stories," he explained. "You build up a catalog of un-produced screenplays, so as soon as you get a chance to make one, you do it."

While Stolevski has centered much of his storytelling on Macedonian characters, he said that he also makes a point to portray those stories in ways that connect the viewer regardless of their cultural familiarity.

"I think instinctively what I'm drawn to do, more than anything else, is to document what life feels like in someone's body in a particular time and place," he said. "However, they're shaped by their circumstances. Just being with them and being very blunt and honest about what's going on, and then connecting it to something timeless and kind of borderless."

What is Housekeeping for Beginners about?

A screenshot from the movie Housekeeping For Beginners, directed by Goran Stolevski

With Housekeeping for Beginners, Stolevski said he wanted to capture Macedonia as it is today, putting a lens on all its "faults" in terms of its cultural biases against Roma, queer people, and the socio-economic problems of today's youth.

In this household, queer people come together, "largely out of necessity in this particular time and place. What does day-to-day life feel like?" he said of what he's trying to explore. "I'm acknowledging the reality that has shaped that [household], but not limiting them to what their demographics are. Like, I don't feel like my feelings are niche because I'm a migrant, or a gay guy.

"I kind of saw Macedonia more as a stand-in for pretty much all of Eastern and Southern Europe," he continued. "Life is very similar in all these places. Even places like the Middle East, a lot of it actually feels like what we see in this story. It was the canvas that I had access to because I happen to be from Macedonia and we can access to funding there. But I could have rewritten this film for it to be set in a lot of the neighboring countries as well. And not a huge amount would have had to change." 

What inspired the idea of the film?

Stolevski said of the idea for Housekeeping for Beginners: "The first seed about the film was from a photograph of a household very similar to the one that's in the film. I wanted to be in this house. As a viewer, I think I would have enjoyed it. But in this case, I also added multiple generations to the mix.

"In retrospect, I realized that I grew up in a house that was a two-bedroom apartment that had six people with many generations living in it. And 47 cousins and neighbors coming in every day," he continued, laughing. "It was just a constant flux of people. I also think that's normality for most of the households in most of the world. Most art — since always and in all countries, even the poor ones — is created by the privileged elite who take up a lot more space to contemplate things."

A screenshot from the movie Housekeeping For Beginners, directed by Goran Stolevski

For his two main characters, Dita and Suada, Stolevski explained that they represent both halves of his own personality. "Then Toni has some of the worst impulses to me as a human being. And then the others will have variations. There's little notes and moments that do come from people in my life and my family that I only recognized once we're all watching the movie," he said.

In a film full of memorable characters, a standout in the ensemble is resourceful Ali (Samson Selim), who becomes the emotional anchor of the household. Stolevski discovered Selim in Struga, Macedonia, via an audition and cast him in his first film role.

"For context, his wife gave birth to their second child during the filming so he had a lot on at that time," the director shared. "And even just to be in the movie, he works as a pizza delivery guy, seven days a week in Struga. But then it was a matter of negotiating with his boss, so that he was allowed to take four weeks off and come back without losing his job. We had to pay to cover his salary to the pizza place and find someone else, and train them up and pay for their training to replace him for that period."

But Stolevski said the hoops they jumped through were worth it because Selim gives a star-making performance. "He was a gift," he enthused. "With Samson, it's not just the natural charm, but he has a charisma."

Housekeeping for Beginners is exclusively in select theaters on April 5. Buy tickets now

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