Piano prodigy Marika Bournaki on life as a world-class musician and documentary subject
Marika Bournaki was a vivacious piano player at five and an old pro at twelve when documentary filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart began following the Montreal-born musician around with a camera. For eight years, Hart captured every part of Bournaki's life, as she balanced studying at Juilliard and traveling the globe as a classical pianist with growing up, finding love and finding herself. The world-class musician's story is told in Hart's new documentary, I Am Not a Rockstar, which is screening at the Sie FilmCenter tonight, February 6. The screening is sold out, but Bournaki will be in town all weekend for the Piano Celebration and two-day symposium at Metropolitan State University. In advance of her visit to Denver, Westword spoke with Bournaki about music, having a career while still a kid, and being followed by a camera for almost ten years.
Westword: You were pretty young when Bobbi Jo Hart began filming your life. How did you feel about a documentary being made about you?
Marika Bournaki: Honestly, when it started, I didn't really think about it. Bobbi Jo approached me when I was twelve -- she had read a little blurb about me in a newspaper that talked about me beginning to take classes at Juilliard, and that I was flying there every weekend. She contacted the journalist who wrote it because she was interested in getting in touch with me and following my story. She talked to my parents after that, and one of the first days we spent together is in the film -- it's when she comes to New York. She did what I used to have to do, which was fly into New York in the morning and spend all day taking classes at Juilliard and then fly back (to Montreal) at night.
It wasn't really concrete yet (in terms of) how many years she was going to film me or if it was actually going to end up becoming a real film. So I didn't really think too much of it at first. I thought it was cool that Bobbi Jo was following me with a camera, but I thought that sometimes it was really annoying, too. But I didn't really think about it, honestly.
Having a camera following you around as a teenager seemed especially tough -- I just imagined being you and wanting to be alone sometimes.
There were definitely some times like that -- I mean, she is a wonderful person; she is a very sweet person. At first it was kind of like, I don't want to say a motherly figure, but she was older and very kind to me. If Bobbi Jo was someone else, I don't think it would have worked out. She became a friend very quickly; as I grew up, she became someone I could talk to. She was like a therapist and it was almost like therapy for me to be able to open up and talk about so many different things and express myself through another medium.
But there are sometimes where it was difficult and you don't really see it in the film, though I know there is one time that it really bothered me. It was after a performance and she kept on coming in and wanting to talk to me and I had had a really bad performance -- I literally slammed the door and told her to get out. (Laughs.) But there were times when I asked her for a little more privacy.
You talk a little bit about it in the film, but was it hard to leave your friends to go study at Juilliard and travel around the world to play, when they were at home doing more, well, "normal" teenager things?
Yes and no. I always think about it. I started playing at a very young age -- I was five years old. It is very typical of people who start playing classical music at an early age, but I knew that it would come with the duty of practicing and being focused on something. I remember feeling that all of the time, like, maybe there were other things that I would have liked to do or other things that I could have done with my life. But my parents pushed me and my teachers pushed me in that direction, so I didn't really get to taste anything else.
But I have to say that regardless, because of who I am, I would have never been able to kind of be in any sort of box and just do music. I was able to have a completely normal childhood -- of course, with some sacrifices and differences that other people haven't or couldn't experience and understand how it feels to have that importance and responsibility put on you.
But I had a normal childhood and I was always able to make time for my friends. I do think that perhaps I became a little bit more mature a little bit younger because I had to. I had to prioritize -- I had to practice for four or five hours before I could go see a movie with my friends. I had to do the work. But I was and am still able to live life. I live life through the piano and I live life through music, but it is important to have other interests and do other things. It is important to go out and see your friends. It is all part of it.