Arts & Entertainment, Features

BU alum’s film ‘Smile’ to premiere at the Boston International Film Festival

Ivana Strajin spent much of her childhood creating and directing plays with her friends and putting on performances for her parents. Now, after receiving over a dozen awards at film festivals and competitions around the country, her new film is set to premiere at the Boston International Film Festival this month.

Smile bu alum film
Boston University alumna Ivana Strajin’s new film “Smile.” Strajin’s short comedy film about a young woman’s struggle to obtain dependable health insurance will premiere at the Boston International Film Festival later this month. COLIN BOYD/DFP STAFF

“Smile,” a short comedy written and directed by Strajin, chronicles a young woman’s struggle to secure reliable health insurance. Strajin’s characters and stories often resemble those of her own life, and “Smile” is no exception.

In Sept. 2020, Strajin began to notice that, although she and her husband always paid their monthly health insurance fees, there was no record of her actually being covered under any health insurance plan.

“I kind of joke that it’s like Schrodinger’s insurance,” Strajin said. “I have it and I don’t have it at the same time. It’s like, what would happen if the situation really got to a point where something very serious happened and I really needed it?”

Strajin said she bases many of her stories off “absurd” scenarios such as these and tries to find humor in “even the darkest situations.”

A lifelong storyteller, Strajin began to understand her own artistic voice when reflecting on a short story she wrote in high school.

“I realized that my voice has been there all along,” Strajin said. “And it really is dark and absurd. That tends to be just naturally what comes out when I write anything.”

While she can relate to her plots, Strajin can also relate to her characters. The experience of feeling like an outsider could be the reason she writes so many characters as outcasts, she said.

“I felt like a little bit of an outcast,” Strajin said. “I was a little weird as a teenager, which I’m proud of, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being weird.”

After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from the University of Toronto in 2013, Strajin decided to turn her passion for filmmaking into a career. She started by graduating with a master’s degree from Boston University’s Media Ventures program in 2020.

This program teaches students to use technology to “create something new that can bring in new audiences, that can change audience consumption and that can be profitable,” Cathy Perron, the director of masters in media ventures, said.

Given that content creation involves business practices, the program teaches students to think like entrepreneurs and innovators in their field, she said.

“I think independent filmmaking is very much entrepreneurial,” Strajin said. “It’s very much as though you are a startup and the Media Ventures program is this really interesting intersection of business, entrepreneurship and entertainment all in one program.”

As entrepreneurs, independent filmmakers often use film festivals, such as the BIFF, to network with major players in the industry, including content acquisition professionals from streaming platforms, Perron said.

Perron said she always knew Strajin had a talent for filmmaking and knew she would be successful.

“Ivana is a very, very special student. She’s very bright, very talented, very focused, very passionate about her work. She’s talented in a number of different areas. She’s entrepreneurial. She’s a strong writer,” she said. “I’ve worked with a lot of students over the years and she is someone who was clearly a leader.”

Marilyn Swick, the producer of “Smile,” said working with Strajin was a “perfect match.”

“We worked really well together,” Swick said. “She’s wonderful, she’s very creative. She’s the writer and the director of this project. It’s a dark comedy. It’s really really funny.”

The goal of any filmmaker is to present their “best possible work,” she said. The ultimate goal for “Smile” would be for it to reach mainstream popularity.

While Strajin would like the film to make a wide impact, she said this goal is a bit ambitious.

“Hopefully, at the very least, what it will do is make a few people who have had health insurance issues like I have feel seen and heard and that they’re not alone in this issue,” Strajin said. “And maybe it’ll help them find this comedy too.”

“Smile” will premiere April 16 at 3 p.m. at the AMC Theatre on Tremont St.

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