Cătălin ȘtefănescuFrom: Râmnicu Vâlcea Born on: 29 December 1968 Occupation: Producer & Moderator of the Garantat 100% tv show, Author of " fără doar şi coate " articles of Dilema Veche magazine, Author of texts for the stage, Associate teacher of Babeş Bolay University in Cluj
It’s inevitable. When you pronounce his name, “Cătălin Ştefănescu”, your mind goes to the tv show Garantat 100%. Although the producer role has followed him for the last 20 years, it represents only a part of his activities. Quite a significant one. In rest, he plays numerous others roles. He is a teacher, he writes texts for the stage and owns the “fără doar şi coate” section in Dilema Veche magazine. He is involved in certain organizations on which he wants to keep discretion and he also loves to cook amazing meals for friends. In a corner of a terrace, in an October day, Cătălin tells me about each one.
I’m obsessed in not transforming the set into a collection of my tastes. Usually, my guests are from areas that I respect, but not necessarily from my consuming list.”, says Cătălin about the tv production that he does with a small team of three people. Three people who have grown together in time, who have learned and managed to adapt in order to never say: “No; it’s not possible; we cannot do it.”
When he is asked how he prepares for an interview, he responds defensively: “It’s a very personal process, but very very very personal. Doing your “homeworks” – this is a very personal process. It’s a long-term process, something that requires a lot of interest, attention and participation – you have to be there. And it also needs a certain dedication, because you offer yourself to that purpose.” He wants to use the speech coming out of the screen as a helping tool for the viewers. “I want for them to become more informed, more inspired, more dignified. More contemporary. More aware of some things, more rid of prejudices. Still willing to ask some questions and revise a point of view or simply discover something new.”
Cătălin teaches two courses in the Theater and Film Faculty of Babeş Bolay University in Cluj. One is on storytelling and the other on visual narration. Three years ago he accepted a serious invitation from the institution and he continues due to his raising attachment towards citizens. Probably, more links him to this university because in 1995 he graduated its Faculty of Letters. There he does things with passion, he does his lessons, he doesn’t check the students presence because the participation isn’t mandatory, however, he warns them that “what we do is very alive”. Often he cannot give them something to read or to do at home because his obsession is “to say with their own mouth some terms and conclusions, and because they said them, they will not forget them. I don’t insist on taking notes endlessly, but we write a lot together and we do very lively things, so, they should theoretically and practically memorize it.” Cătălin details: “If my students write better, express better, or if they have clear ideas, I’m satisfied.”
Passionate about theater, film, music, Cătălin seems to use these artistic lens in his own way of seeing the world. “In the classroom is a show. At any kind of school. The meeting between 2 people is a performance and as long as there are 1 and 2, and as long as there is an audience attending, it is a show.”, he says about the interaction with students. It involves great responsibility, but you also play a role because “you are someone who must be convincing, who must captivate.”
Then, relaxed, he tells the secret of storytelling (if there is one): “First you need to know how to listen stories, to hear them. Only after, the stories can be told. “
For him telling stories came late because he was “lazy and inhibited”. “I don’t know if I disinhibited myself as much as I would like, nor do I know if disinhibition is good in large proportions. I don’t know… ”, he says and loses himself in his own thoughts for a few seconds. Important is that he really likes to write texts for the stage and this has been going on for several years. “It all started from an old friendship with the actor Marcel Iureş and the director Alexandru Dabija, when we decided at one point to do a theatre play. I put something on paper and from there grew a first show, << Păi… despre ce vorbim noi aici, domnule? >> “ . A play based on the novel Moromeţii written by Marin Preda, which is still available at Act Theater, directed by Alexandru Dabija, with Marcel Iureş and George Mihăiță.
When he works, he applies the storytelling principle he communicates to his students, because he doesn’t use construction schemes, but he relies on reading experience – reading and listening to many stories, eventually will get you to tell stories. Writing texts and shaping the characters lead us to an old discussion and an old question – to what extent is the literature autobiographical? “Many times you tell a lot about yourself by putting words in other mouths. However, it’s not just about you. It’s a long discussion, but to give an answer, I say that literature is very autobiographical, as much as it isn’t.” About into the writing process he doesn’t want to dive in because he doesn’t like at all the moments when the writers tell how they write. “The magician’s hat must remain the magician’s hat and you must enjoy the show of the rabbit coming out of the hat.”
About the organizations in which he is involved, Cătălin speaks temperate, saying that Ideo Ideis (the national young theatre festival) is something dear to him, an event where he goes for a few years (maybe 11, 12 …). Although the bond is tight, started from this year he will make room for others. “I will stay in touch with Andreea and Alex – the parents of the phenomenon, I will participate in the meetings related to all that happens in Alexandria, but I won’t go there to work directly with the teens.”
Photo: Cătălin Ștefănescu, by Ioana Chirita
Govora, the small town.
Cătălin was born in Râmnicu Vâlcea and grew up in Băile Govora, a resort-town whose name was touched by the one of the river that flows near it. There he had some “cool“ friends with whom he made theater and music, some “cool teachers at school and some completely non-cool“, but the most important is he meet a man who shaped and educated him, passing him “literally through the process, THAT PROCESS, of initiation that any disciple has in relation to his master.”
He says he was lucky. “The small town is a very complicated animal. It’s a place from where you can leave sane and ok or very bruised. I wouldn’t know to tell you how I got out (seriously), but I can say that the small town is something that can make you very mean, that can make you very tense, is something that can tear you down – smooth and easy. It’s something that can motivates you to get out of there, but it’s not necessarily the best way, because if you just go out with the desire to be motivated (a.n. he smiles) and to show what you can do to the little place you come from, it’s a stupidity.”, he explains and he emphasizes the word stupidity, pronouncing it prolonged.
He pulls out a black match from a pack and lights a slim cigar. He isn’t a fiery smoker, but he practices this gesture only in resting time, maybe with a glass of wine and friends near. The first words of the following sentences are pronounced only with one corner of his mouth. In the other he holds his cigar. “If you keep in yourself only the resentment feeling, that kind of frustration that you are isolated and if you combine it with a bit of mythomania and a glimpse of desire to overcome your condition (the unhealthy one), you develop a fiction. In order to suppress the thoughts of being in a small town with no chance in your hands, you shift things 180 degrees. In the end you get to think you’re great.”
When he tells about those years, he has the voice of a man who has unhooked himself from past, who has learned not to challenge what happened there, who understood the limits of Govora. In an old Slavic language, the word “govor” means word, whisper or murmur. Loudly, Cătălin ends by saying: “That world was just as it was. The end.“
Photo: Cătălin Ștefănescu, by Ioana Chirita
MS: Cătălin, some people wonder if you did, during the last 20 years, the tv show lead by passion or by habit?
It’s no habit at all. And I say it without hesitation. Passion … I’m no longer so eager in declaring this passion. If it is visible that you do a certain thing with passion, it’s ok. If not, then it’s also ok. I do it because I believe in it. I still put the most energy and time in this, because it is something I love very much. I don’t know if I’m going to do it for a long time to come, but I know I’m going to do things as long as I want to, as I consider and as I feel that they are necessary and relevant to some people.
What I can certainly say is: I know we have an audience and I know that I have a completely undisguised respect for this audience. I think there has to be a huge amount of ethics in your meetings with the public. But, also a desire to offer them something useful, fascinating or in theirs interest. I want to make our product more and more watchable. You will find a lot of our content on the TVR+ portal and on YouTube.
MS: Is it hard to raise an audience?
It’s not easy, because the platform must help you too. Gradually we will be able to technically align the Public Television with the times. I want to succeed on many levels: on mentality, technically, in the philosophy of doing things and in the journalist dignity. In all. Let’s have a contemporary Public Television. I am confident that at some point this will happen. And my affirmation doesn’t mean I’m talking bad about public television. No. I just speak with a certain level of aspiration. Learning a certain type of respectability – of the profession, of relearning a basic manual of the working place, is important. Public Television must be a contemporary place and I say this obsessively. If we succeed, it will be beautiful, if not, it won’t.
MS: I noticed that you don’t ask soft questions and you don’t protect your guests. Is it a convention?
Yeah, I’m not protecting them. This convention is accepted from the beginning because I don’t send questions in advance. Often we don’t even talk about the issues that we will touch during the tv show. I warn them that we will talk about things they are very familiar with, but that’s all. Our production is not an investigative or analytical show. This job is in charge of others. Some are doing this job very well, but some makes me feel shame. I think in this domain are done terribly embarrassing things, things that put in a very bad light the job itself. In the past I used to be very diplomatic and I tried to avoid the subject, but now I can say that there are places and moments in this profession that bring deep drawbacks to the profession. At the end we live in a free world and all these things have their place. If you don’t like it, stop attending. If you like it, you declare that you don’t like it and you actually look in secret, you are only a hypocrite who participates in the mischief of your own life. It’s simple.
But, coming back, what I’m doing on tv is a dialogue, but it’s not a conversation in which we have relatively equal roles. Relative. There is a meeting where the person who comes has a primordial role, he is important and my goal is not to value him, but what he has to say. Because, yes, what haunts us all now is the need for content. My job is to put that content in light.
MS: Can television still educate?
In general, the television role is not to educate. Television entertains.
Instead, the role of Public Television is educational. Today the Public Television must do more than it does at the moment. In addition, it’s written clearly, black on white in a law that regulates the functioning of Public Television, that it has the duty to educate. But, education doesn’t mean that you teach people something, but that you put out there information and they are smart enough and have enough discernment to take what they want or need from.
That’s why I confess that these stories with the “opinion leader”, the influencer … are annoying me. You are not an influencer. No. You are someone who does a public service. This means that you express yourself with a high dose of responsibility in a public space, which is Public Television. You don’t influence, you don’t educate, but you facilitate this process. You do everything you can to inform properly, to do your lessons as well as possible, to speak an accurately Romanian language, to represent to a large extent those who are the public and to transform each moment of this job in something useful for people. There is delivery and the duty to do something.
Photo: Cătălin Ștefănescu, by Ioana Chirita
So far in the ashtray several bodies of black wood stand still and the white wine glass becomes emptier. It’s one of those wonderful late fall evenings when staying on the terrace doesn’t require a tea or the coat on your shoulders.
Leaving aside the word “investment”, which we searched together in the online dictionary hoping that we will find another context besides the financial one, I give up the question “What are you investing in?” and I reformulate “In what are you putting energy?”. I get answers to both curiosities. In the case of first, Cătălin says he invests in books, movies and subscriptions to read and see some things. “If I prepare at home (or in other places) some sophisticated meals, I match them with different wines or drinks, I buy some cigarettes and I call my friends, do you think it’s an investment? No. It’s an amount that I use to satisfy my own pleasure. I like terribly to cook. ”, he clarifies the investment context even more.
For the second question, the answer comes precisely as well: “Sometimes I put energy in silly things, in small ones that are a waste of time. Otherwise, in things in which I believe in, a lot in my profession, the most in my profession. My personal life receives least – but it’s a choice and I don’t complain about it, I don’t feel crucified. And I also put energy in understanding my meaning – like most people in this world.”
Working with himself he succeeded in letting go of contradictory conversations. He is no longer dying to be right and he quotes his recent show guest, Esther Perel: “It’s not hard to be right, it’s not hard at all, but you can be right and alone.” Then he added, laughing, that: “When I cannot change the subject, I get silent and I drink. A young close friend of mine told me that he got drunk: << I got bored, and when I get bored, I stop talking and I drink >>. ”
Maybe it’s the fear of the younger generations, maybe it’s just mine, but the dedication that Cătălin has offered to his profession scares me. And not as intensity, but as longevity. I am convinced that there are many foreign aspects of the psychology of interest, but now, ending this text, I remember a sentence from the Angela Duckworth’s Grit: “The passion for your work is first a discovery, followed by a lot of development and then by a lifetime of deepening.” She seems to talk about Cătălin, about him – the one who stops the participation when something isn’t on his taste.