Cloverdale resident directs award-winning film

A woman's dream brought to the silver screen with the help of a local director

Stolen Path is an adaptation of the novel Moc Zemlie by Janko Matko.

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.

The film, which is based on the novel Moc Zemlie by Janko Matko, tells the true-life story of forbidden love, set against the backdrop of the 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 numerous 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 it “didn’t go very well,” according to Banovich.

After that, Banovich and Smitlener re-shot most of the film back in the Lower Mainland, but still used some of the shots from Croatia.

They began filming again in late summer of 2014 and shot through until 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 very 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,” Smitlener 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 was her other inspiration. 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 structure.

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 bodies or any national arts grants.

She said she wanted 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,” Smitlener said.

One of the reasons Stolen Path appealed to Banovich 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 off 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 awards and recognition around the world including ‘Best Actress’ nod at Toronto World International Film Festival and  platinum 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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