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Director Radu Ciorniciuc Discusses His New Documentary, 'ACASA, MY HOME'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The new documentary "Acasa, My Home" opens with a scene of otters, geese, fish and children all sharing a lagoon. Camera pulls back, and you see you're also in the middle of a city with tall steel buildings, highways. The children are always on the lookout for well-meaning bureaucrats from children's services.

The lives of these nine children of the Enache family living in an abandoned urban landfill on the outskirts of the Romanian capital that becomes a protected ecosystem is at the heart of this film. It's celebrated for its cinematography at Sundance and is now available to stream online.

Radu Ciorniciuc is the director, and he joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

RADU CIORNICIUC: Thank you for having me here.

SIMON: Boy, what a film. How did this large family come to live there?

CIORNICIUC: It happened 20 years ago when Gica Enache, the head of the family, the father of the nine children...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: ...Decided that after spending a few months in prison, getting fired from his old job as a laboratory chemist assistant, he decided that this world is not the fittest one for him. So he decided to move his family in the middle of this abandoned piece of land close to the center of Bucharest. And that's where he stayed for the next 20 years in the hopes that his loved ones will be protected by the things that hurt him and made him take this decision.

SIMON: Yeah. I have to tell you, it's kind of hard to like the father, Mr. Enache.

CIORNICIUC: It's not easy to like him. I mean, it took me some years to embrace him as a human being rather than a black-and-white character. It's...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: He took some decisions that I didn't consider fair, especially those decisions concerning the children.

SIMON: Like what? Tell us what it looked like.

CIORNICIUC: Well, like isolating his kids from proper education...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: ...From proper health care. I mean, after these children moved into the city, they discovered for the first time running water or hot water...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: ...Or, you know, all the things that we consider basics of our modern life, they were just discovering as a result of their father isolating them from the world. And it wasn't after I became a father that I understood that there's so few things or none that you wouldn't do in order to protect your loved ones from the things that you know hurt, you know? He passed away a few months ago.

SIMON: I gather, yeah.

CIORNICIUC: So deep inside, he was a very sensitive human being. And the way he was treated by society in those gray years of the '90s must have been horrible.

SIMON: As a generalization, do you think the children were happy?

CIORNICIUC: Oh, man. That's a - that's not an easy question. I think they were as happy as we were when we were kids, when we only needed our basic needs to be fulfilled in order to have enough space to just enjoy the world and discover it and so on. So it - and I think they were happy. They became more and more unhappy after moving into the city, obviously.

SIMON: It's interesting, too, in the film - speaking for myself - you don't realize the family is Roma until the children begin to hear it shouted at them when they're being bullied.

CIORNICIUC: Because that's when they heard it for the first time...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: ...The younger ones. And I'm talking about full-on rage against them only for having darker skin...

SIMON: Yeah.

CIORNICIUC: ...And talking a bit different. So it was a shock for us 'cause, I mean, we live in this country, and we are quite aware of the realities some of the minorities living here are facing. But we never knew that it - it's so in-your-face, you know, at the surface.

SIMON: You note that Gica has died. Can you tell us how the family is doing now?

CIORNICIUC: Integration sometimes happens over the course of generations, especially for people that come from minorities that have been abused and discriminated against for centuries. But at this point, even during filming, we've built this thing that was called a social project, Acasa, where we built a platform and invited a lot of volunteers, but also doctors and educators, social assistants, psychologists and so on. And we mediated all sorts of services and resources for the family in a way that was appropriate for their peculiar social situation.

SIMON: Peculiar is one way of putting it. Absolutely extraordinary...

CIORNICIUC: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...And unprecedented, isn't it?

CIORNICIUC: It is. And from a social point of view, any authority from any country would have been overwhelmed with their social case. Right now, the family has their own piece of land and a house. All the children go to school. I'd say they're very well integrated considering their background. So I'd say, though there are a lot of bumps for them ahead, I think they had a really good start. And they worked for it really hard.

SIMON: Radu Ciorniciuc is director of "Acasa, My Home." You can stream it online now. Thank you so much for being with us.

CIORNICIUC: Thank you so much, Scott. Take good care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.