A Case Of Survival A Roundtable on Film Culture in Serbia and Montenegro By Martin Blaney
Now in its fifth year, Wiesbaden’s goEast – Festival of Central and East European Film has swiftly become an important forum for discussion about current trends in the cinematographies of these countries. The 2005 edition, which came to an end on April 12, was no exception.
To begin with, there was the second part of festival’s Symposium on the effects of European Union enlargement on the identities and cinematic cultures of the eight new member states from the former “Eastern Bloc”. Last year, the discussion had centred on the film cultures of the Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Slovenians, while 2005 was the turn of Poland and the three Baltic states. Among the speakers at the three-day event organised by film historian Dr. Hans-Joachim Schlegel were Polish writer-broadcaster Maciej Karpinski, Estonian documentary filmmaker Mark Soosar and Lithuanian film critic Rasa Paukstytè.
At the same time, goEast organised a Roundtable discussion on film culture in Serbia and Montenegro in the light of the recent founding of a Film Centre of Serbia. The panelists were film critic and FIPRESCI section head Borislav Andjelic, directors Aleksandr Davic, Tinko Tucakovic and Boris Mitic, journalist Ivan Karl, Milan Nikodijevic, director of the Vrnjacka Banja Screenplay Festival, writer-director Srdjan Koljevic, and the Film Center of Serbia’s president Djordje Milicevic.
After giving an overview of the last ten years of developments in the Serbian film scene, Borislav Andjelic concluded that one of the most important achievements “was that we survived, that established authors are still creating in our country, and we are now open for a new generation of authors with new ideas.”
Dinko Tucakovic observed that there was a joke about the new generation of Serbian filmmakers that they were either grey-haired or had little hair – which might apply to him and Aleksandr Davic, but didn’t hold true for Srdjan Koljevic’s full head of dark hair or Boris Mitic’s golden locks! He pointed out that few film directors in Serbia could make a living from just working as a filmmaker and therefore had to have another job as well – in his case, this was serving as the director of the Cinematheque in Belgrade.
The desire of the new generation to put their stories onto celluloid was not helped by the lack of financing possibilities and real production houses or the absence of a developed film industry infrastructure – Serbia doesn’t have a functioning film lab and has go elsewhere to Hungary, Austria or as far as Munich for postproduction.
Interestingly, even though the film scene is really quite a small one – depending on who you to talk to, between 4-5 or 8-10 feature films are now being made in Serbia – some of the filmmakers attending the roundtable have never met before and were seeing each other’s films for the first time. For instance, Srdjan Koljevic said that he had seen Boris Mitic’s documentary Lijepa Dyana (Pretty Dyana) in Toronto rather than Serbia, and they all agreed that festivals such as Sarajevo, Wiesbaden’s goEast and Cottbus had been very important in bringing the Serbian cinema and its filmmakers back into the cinemagoing public’s consciousness.
An Outsider’s View
Boris Mitic – whose Pretty Dyana won the Hertie Foundation’s Documentary Prize at goEast – sees himself as “something of an outsider. It’s funny, the success story of my film [goEast was its 44th festival appearance!] has been held up as an example rather than an exception. People say: ‘Look, he bought himself a camera, edited on a computer and it’s been to more than 40 festivals’.”
However, there are a number of reasons why other Serbian documentary filmmakers have not been able to repeat Mitic’s success. “There are such basic things as bad English or bad writing skills.” Mitic said. “Some of them cannot write a sexy synopsis and don’t know anything about how to approach festivals. The thing is I made my film as a home video, it was my first-time filmmaking experience and the film is still travelling.”
He added that documentary filmmakers in Serbia are still caught up in the old categories from the 1960s of how long a documentary film should be – i.e. 20 minutes and no longer – and this was why Pretty Dyana had been turned down by Serbia’s national documentary film festival.
The idea that television in Serbia could be a possible home for documentarists was, unfortunately, a non-starter because, as Mitic put it, “we suffer from the same problem elsewhere in Eastern Europe of the invasion by BBC animal documentaries”
Opportunities through Co-production
With so little financing possibilities at home, Serbian filmmakers are increasingly becoming successful in attracting foreign co-producers to come onboard their projects.
Srdjan Koljevic feature debut Sivi Kamion Crvene Boje (Red Coloured Grey Truck), which won the Hesse Film Prize for Best Film last October and was screened “out of competition” to a capacity house during goEast, is a case in point as the comic-romantic road movie through Yugoslavia on the eve of the civil war was co-produced with partners from Slovenia and Germany.
“My story is more of an exception – I was just lucky,” Koljevic explained. The federal state of Hessen became his “favourite part of Germany” after the film was awarded fnancing from the funding institution Hessen Invest, and it was the first project to be supported by both the Slovenian and Serbian Ministries of Culture. “It was a bridge-building project between the two countries,” he noted, pointing out that the German support had been crucial for the project to even get made.
Although Koljevic found a good local partner in Maksa Catovic’s Komuna Production for Red Coloured Grey Truck , he recalled that he had been the moving force going after the money and the other partners. With an evidently underdeveloped producer culture in Serbia, the writer-director said that he will be his own producer on his next film: “I think every young filmmaker in Serbia should be their own producer because that’s the simplest way.”
Better development of screenplays is one of the priorities of the new Film Center of Serbia, but this has also been the main goal of Vrnjacka Banja’s Film Screenplay Festival (FSF) which was founded back in 1977 and became a testing ground for new screenplays and a forum for honing the craft of talented young screenwriters. As the festival’s director Milan Nikodijevic pointed out, Srdjan Koljevic and Stefan Arsenijevic, for example, both passed through the festival’s Summer School of Film Dramaturgy. Moreover, local film critics have had a chance to gain new insights on writing about film thanks to workshops organised at the past two editions of the festival with FIPRESCI.
Closer contact was made between goEast and FSF last year when festival director Christine Kopf travelled to Vrnjacka Banja with a selection from the goEast 2004 programme, and the Serbian festival repaid the favour with a special screening of Milos Radovic’s Pad u Raj (Falling Into Paradise) at the 2005 edition. In addition, this autumn, goEast will be working together with Hamburg’s Metropolis Kino and a Berlin cinema on a film programme for the “Cultural Days Serbia and Montenegro 2005 in Germany” which is being organised by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.
Looking to the Future
While Serbia and Montenegro is still recovering from the recent conflicts and has many challenges to overcome in the field of politics and the economy, there are chinks of light as far as the local film industry is concerned thanks to the creation of the Film Center of Serbia this year.
“The great thing is that the center is formed by the professionals who are all actively involved in making films”, Djordje Milicevic, the Center’s founder and president, explained. “It is not a center created or managed by bureaucrats. It is extremely easy to complain than to find a solution, but I strongly believe that we now have a home as a one-stop deal, a place where one can come with a problem and there will be professional people who have experience – whether it is distribution, underground cinema or packaging – to help you.”
“It’s levelling the playing field,” Milicevic argued. “Everyone has the same chance whether they are an Academy Award winner, Cannes winner or someone starting out, and that was a big move to remove the old entitlements which had existed in the old days.”
A self-confessed incorrigible, Milicevic (who worked in the US as co-writer of Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train in 1985, among other things) ended the Roundtable on an upbeat note by stressing that “the future is rosy because I’d say that the current political and economic situation is more of a hiccup than a major disaster. We should focus more on the larger picture.”