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January 29th Cinema Komunisto, the impressive documentary of young Serbian director Mila Turajlic , will premiere in Belgrade…
At the latest edition of the IDFA festival in Amsterdam, the movie was shown in avant-premiere, only four days after the final touches were made to the definite cut, to the international movie industry and press. By which it was received with a very warm welcome, given (e.g.) the fact that Brian Brooks from indieWIRE spotted the film as a candidate for the Sundance Festival, and Rivetingpicturtes from Chicago USA noting on her cinema blog: “Cinema Komunisto is a thoroughly and exhaustively researched film about Josip Broz Tito and his passion for movies. (…) Filmmaker Mila Turajlic spent 5 years researching archival films to put the doc together and it shows. (…). It’s an incredible piece of historical documentary filmmaking that is also an engaging and fascinating story.”
IFA-reporter Serge van Duijnhoven, a former war correspondent in ex-Yugoslavia during the violent nineties, interviewed the young and extremely gifted director during the avant-premiere in Amsterdam. It became a revealing talk about the meaning of cinema, the grand illusion of the communist filmstudios and the country they were made in, about the curse of not learning from one’s history and the envy for a former generation who had the privilige to live in the decors of this sublime illusion where still everything seemed possible and promising. Cinema Komunisto explores the myth that created Yugoslavia, President Tito, the man who directed this fictional story, and how the image and the reality diverged until it all collapsed, leaving behind rotting sets and film clips from a country that no longer exists.
After January 29th, the documentary will be shown at various major movie festivals around the world.
Mila Turajlic was born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1979. Bsc in Politics and International Relations, London School of Economics. BA in Film and TV Production, Faculty of Dramatics Arts in Belgrade. MSc in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics
Interview took place at the IDFA 2010, Wednesday nov 25th – at Arti et Amicitiae Amsterdam and Pathé Cinema Muntplein16-17h
© Serge van Duijnhoven, IFA 2010/11 – all rights reserved
SvD: You were born one year before Tito died. Did it take somebody of your generation to make such an un-biased documentary about the legacy of cinema and culture that was produced during the communist era of Marshall Tito?
Mila T.: Well… in the first ten years after his death, Tito was still very much alive everywhere in the country where I grew up in. He was still on our classroom walls. We had to celebrate his birthday every year. The change was that after 1991, Tito was suddenly completely erased from everyday life. Almost overnight they took his pics of the wall, changed them for Milosevic and Saint Sava. He became almost unrecognizable for people even younger than me. They did not know who Tito was anymore. Throughout the nineties and until 2007 you could not find out so much about life in Yugoslavia. And for me it was like when you grow up and you have a very distant memory of it from your childood, and you have a very strong wish to go back to that place and see it again. Because it is not very clear to you. You kind of smell it, but it is gone. And so I really wanted to go back to Yugoslavia. And the only way I could really go back to Yugoslavia, was by watching all those old Yugoslav films. Through them you could really feel the old Yugoslavia. It was a big motivation for me to try and find that country again.
SvD: Did you do this with mainly a cinematographical or a historical interest?
Mila T.: Both. The real motivation for me to make this movie, was when I went to the Avala Movie Studios for the first time. It was during the 1999 Nato bombings, I was studying at Film School, I walked through the opening gate, and it was like walking into a secret garden. I looked behind a wall, and suddenly a whole world was revealed that I had never known existed. . It was immense, a ghost town of abandoned and rotting sets, out-of-date equipment, empty film lots and unemployed technicians. And nobody had ever told me anything about it. Everything was gone, and at the same time still there. The costumes, decors, everything was still in its place. Films had not been made there for almost twenty years. But there were still about a hundred people employed in the studios. Getting a salary. Doing whatever they wanted to do. Smoking, drinking, talking, making objects of wood or clothes… It was incredible. It felt like a ghost town. I really got the urge right there, to further explore this forgetten Walhalla of film and of all those magnificent movies that were made there during communist Times. But when I started to do research I discovered that there was no proper book about Abala Films Studios. No film ever made. No study done into its meaning or history. No proper archive. There is nothing you can find about the films that were made there. One night I got to this point where I clearly realized that the filmstudios were a metaphore for how Yugoslavia was created and for how Yugoslavia collapsed. From the end of the Second World War the Story of Yugoslavia was given a visual form in the creation of Yugoslav cinema. In a sense the Avala Film studios are the birthplace of the Yugoslav illusion. For me they represent a promising point of departure – that collapsing film sets can reveal something about the collapse of the scenography we were living in. I realised that one could make a whole history of Yugoslavia through the story of these very filmstudios. Because the way they made films is kind of the same as the way they made the country. Yugoslavia ultimately was – as well as these magnificent films that were made there – one grand illusion. A big story. With Tito as a storyteller. That’s basically what he did. Tito told the Yugoslav people a really good story. A story people wanted to live in. And when the story-teller died, the country collapsed.
SvD: Everything connected to the period leading up to the secessional wars of former Yugoslavia, is charged with a heavy load of symbolism. Did it take somebody like you, from a younger generation, to value the things that were to be valued in a more unbiased way?
Mila T.: Indeed I enter this story as a member of a new generation of Yugoslav filmmakers, one that has hazy memories of a country that no longer exists. We come of age surrounded by the ruins of something that is nostalgically referred to as a golden era, but no one has yet offered me a satisfactory insight into how it was all thrown away. We were born too late, and missed that party, but we arrived in time to pay the bill for it. I dont have a stake in offending, accusing Tito or in defending Tito. In that sense, I really have the liberty to step away and say hey this is a really good story. A funny story, a tragic story. And a story through which one can begin to understand some things better. I am less interested in how the older generations will perceive my movie – they are fucked up anyway. I am more interested in how my and even younger generations will perceive it. How we see it, who did not really get to go to the party. And when studying the archives, it is a proven fact that those older generations were definitely living much better than in other countries reckoned to be part of the Eastern Block or communist Europe. In Slovenia it is very probable that our documentary will be better or at least much differently received than in some other parts of the former Yugoslavia that suffered a lot in the nineties. In Slovenia Tito has grown to be some kind of Che Guevara or pop cultural icon than an austere historical figure. But in Bosnia or Croatia, I know we are going to get very devided opinions. And also in Serbia proper…Absolutely. It is going to be long, long journey with this film. No doubt about it.
SvD: Tell me something about the esthetical point of view regarding your movie. It is a very intricate working process that you used, with many layers.
Mila T.: One thing I decided very early on was that I wanted to try and use these filmclips of relevance in a way people dont usually use them. I knew immediately that I wanted my main characters to communicate with the films. And the characters in the film to communicate between them. So I wanted to make this kind of dialogue between the present and the filmclips and in between the different films, because it would help you see these films in a new light. It helps you to look through the image as well as at the image. And another thing I knew I wanted to do immediately, is use feature films to tell the history. So my whole idea was: can we tell the history of Yugoslavia only through scenes from feature films, without using archives. And for the most part we managed to do that. And when you really put together all these movies that were made in Yugoslavia, you actually get a really good time line of the history of Yugoslavia. Of how it was told on screen. So you get both the history and you get how they chose to tell the history. And once I started doing that, I started to collect films. I managed to find 300 of them that were relevant. Then I started to make a database with them. I watched the film, and then as I watched it I noted the timecode and what was happening. The dialogues, the scenes. Then I would choose the parts of the film that I found very interesting. I would rip them into a moviefile. And then I would make in a database a small card for it. Give the clips a name. Who you see in it. Close up or mass scene. If there is a dialogue. Funny death. Love. Partisan-German theme Etc. I had about a thousand fivehundred clips in the end. And we used that a lot in the editing to find things. Cause my editor would say to me: now it would be great if we would have two partizans talking about the new Yugoslavia. I would enter New Yugoslavia, and I would find twenty or thirty clips where we would have that. This process of selection and categorization took about two to three years. The editing took one year. The whole movie took us four years to make.
What I focussed on in my documentary, were films that play a part in creating an official narative of the former Yugoslavia. It was a very known fact that Tito loved cinema and watched a lot of movies. But I wanted to go beyond the anecdotes. I wanted to go down into the story or reality behind these anecdotes. That is why the process of making the documentary was like a detective story in itself. I had to find the traces and evidence of a myth that was once supposed to be real but that had evaporated into air. I found some very powerful and telling traces. Living and material. I found them in the archives. I found them in the people I portray in my movie as main characters of the plot. For example, the main private cinema-projector of Tito who was on standby for 24 hours during thirty years and each day had to choose and project interesting movies for the marshall and his wife in their residences or even during their travels on the Galeb. I found the proof that Tito was very much actively involved in the way Yugoslav epic movies were coming together. I found Tito’s handwriting on some of the scripts scribbling instructions to the directors: a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that. This scene is not accurate, this is how it really was… About 750 movies were shot and produced at the Abala studios during Tito’s regime. Of this huge amount about 300 covered the partizan genre of the second World War and the slavic people resisting the Italian and German occupation. Of those 300 films you only see Tito in one film in a very clever way through archive. And then you see him once again in 1971. Tito did not allow to be shown in these films, as a matter of principle. What is the reason of this? I have no idea.
SvD: In your movie there is a very interesting and revealing fragment of Tito in the company of Richard Burton, on the set of Sutjeska in 1972, talking in rudimentary English, and making a little joke about the airplanes flying over during an intricate movie-scene tip-toeing their wings (“The Germans did not greet us after the bombing, back then! “). And when the joke is made, Burton laughs and waves his head away – distracted by something or somebody else – even though we see Tito still wanting to finish his joke or add some other comment to the Hollywood actor.
Mila T.: For me, this very scene is the most incredible moment of archive in the movie. At this very moment everything seems to tumble topsy turvy. Suddenly it is not the dictator who is the main star on the set. It is Burton who is the star. Tito becomes like a little shy boy who wants to say something else to the great actor who is standing in his vicinity. A really incredible moment. And one of the rare if not only instances recorded on film in which we see Tito not as the president, Marshall, war hero or world leader. But as a humbled little child aspiring to be near the world of stardom and fame. It is a moment of revealing truth, almost transcendency. To all people who saw this scene, it sent shivers to their spine.
SvD: Another revealing moment is the one in which we see Orson Welles praising Marshall Tito in the most superlative way imaginable, saying: “If one chooses to determine greatness in a man by leadership, it is a self-evident fact that Tito is the greatest leader on earth.” Was this after Welles had drunk one or several bottles of stara srbska slivovica or croatian stock?
Mila T.: Not at all. Orson Welles had a longstanding relationship with Yugoslavia, which begins in 1924 when world traveler Welles was only nine years old and taken to Dubrovnik by his father, Richard Welles. During the war, Welles was one of the very first public figures to argue that not the cetniks but the partizans deserved US support in their struggle against the fascists of Mussolini and Hitler. The country furthermore played an important part as well in Welles professional career as his private life, since it became the place where he would not only film The Trial and play in roles in David and Goliath, The Tartars, and Austerlitz (1959-1962), but would also meet his muse and longtime companion Oja Kodar. Between the years 1967 and 1970, Welles would again find himself based in Yugoslavia, (and welcomed by President Tito), while he was filming his own projects in that country, including The Deep and the The Merchant of Venice. Welles appeared as an actor in The Battle of Neretva, which was magnificently scored by his longtime friend, Bernard Herrmann.
Orson Welles came back to Yugoslavia in 1967 to picture Dead Reckoning starring Jeanne Moreau, he sincerely believed that it was this left wing paradise, the exemple of how you could create a successfull socialist alternative to a capitalist state.
The other and foremost reason Welles favored Yugoslavia was that he had found out that directors could get money there to make films. That the state would support directors in inequivocal ways to realize bigger productions for which loads of material, actors, extra’s and props had to be mobilized, catered and furnished with lodging… Orson Welles came to Avala and offered to make two movies at the studios at the same time. To shoot one film in the morning and the other in the afternoon. I think Orson Welles had a very simplistic view of the hero-partizans and Yugoslav-communism embodied by Tito, but I also think it suited him. Let us not forget that Orson Welles was among the very first to publicly argue that the USA should offer support to the partizans instead of the cetniks in the battle against the fascist occupiers. The comment in honour of the Marshall is very genuine, in the sense that Welles probably really thought that of Tito. Furthermore he might have said it so explicitly, because it might help him realize some of his projects he could not get done elsewhere.
SvD; one thing that is extraordinarily touching in your movie is the decay of the Avala studios that is reveiled to the viewer in all its monstrosity toward the end of the story. These shocking images of the rubbles to which this once so illustrous place of cinematographical devotion has fallen to, are the sad and unmistakable climax of the movie.
MilaT.: It is sad, isn’t it? Avala Films is now up for sale – and will most likely be torn down to build an elite business complex. As the studios disappear, I am not convinced that the best way to move forward is to pretend the past never happened.
SvD: “The house we were living in, was bound to explode”, one can hear the sad voice of one of the main characters whisper towards the end of the movie. Was this confrontation with the ruins of one’s own childhood house, the sentimental focuspoint you were aiming for from the beginning of the movie?
Mila T.: My overall feeling that is portrayed in my movie, is not one of nostalgia but one of deep sadness. The decay in the filmstudios is a very visual and very physical manifestation of what I feel inside. Here lies something grand that is now literarally rotting away. Somehting glorious that nobody cares about. Those ruins are our tragedy. I mean it is a tragic urge to which us Serbs are enclined over and over again. The fact that we so stubbornly want to erase the past at a given moment, and that we destroy what was built up during years of work, in order to start from scratch all over again. The partizans erased the past to start carte blanche a new era in Yugoslav history from 1945. Milosevic erased the partizans and started from zero in 1991. The Democrats erased Milosevic and started again from zero in 2000. We are never building on top of things. We are never reaping what we sawed in a positive way. We are always destroying to start again from zero point scratch.
SvD: Is it a Serbian curse, not to learn from its past?
Mila T.: A curse it is. As well as a compulsiveness. Absolutely, yes. Destroying the past in the name of a new beginning has become the hallmark of our history, and each new break with the past requires it’s re-writing. I can’t say I feel nostalgia for Yusoslavia because I was born too late to see it. And I can’t really say I feel nostalgia for Tito and his communist dogmas. But there is a very strong feeling in me that our parents and grandparents were lucky because they lived in a country that really had an idea, a purpose and an urgency. An idea of whom they wanted to be and belong to as a society, as a country. It gave the Yugoslav people a great sense of direction and purpose of living. I envy them fort hat. Because we live in a country (Serbia) where fifty percent of the people think that Milosevic was a war hero. And fifty percent think he was a war criminal. Fifty percent would be willing to start a new war in order to gain back Kosovo, and fifty percent think we should face reality and work on our future, fifty percent of the people think the future of Serbia lies within the EU and fifty percent of the country believes the EU can fuck off because Europe bombed the hell out of Yugoslavia a decade ago. So we are a completely devided society that has no consensus. About who we are, where we came from, what we did in the nineties, and where we need to go. If there is one thing Serbia could learn and benefit from, it is from this “let’s-do-this” mentality of the Yugoslav era. If there is one thing Serbia would really need at the moment, it is a shared sense of hope and a common direction in which to proceed. So that we could finally overcome our division and strive that make our country such a lethargic place of poverty and inefficiency. Even to build a highway, the famous corridor 10 which would connect Europe to Greece through Serbia, proved impossible for us.
© Serge van Duijnhoven, IFA 2010/2011. All rights reserved.
Tel/Fax: +381 11 3619 709
Country of origin: SERBIA
Year of production: 2010
Running time: 100 mins, 2 x 52 mins
Format: HDCam and DigiBETA, 16:9 aspect ratio, color
Language: in Serbian with English subtitles
Filming locations: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia
Written & Directed by MILA TURAJLIC
Produced by DRAGAN PEŠIKAN
Producers DRAGAN PEŠIKAN, MILA TURAJLIC, IVA PLEMIC, DEJAN PETROVIC, GORAN JEŠIC
Edited by ALEKSANDRA MILOVANOVIC
Director of Photography GORAN KOVACEVIC
Sound design ALEKSANDAR PROTIC
Original Music NEMANJA MOSUROVIC
Graphic designer JELENA SANADER
Sound recordists IVAN UZELAC, ZELJKO ĐORĐEVIC
Additional camera JELENA STANKOVIC
Archive research MILA TURAJLIC
Print design & site NIKOLA RADOJCIC, BRACA BURAZERI
Trailer editor ALEKSANDAR UHRIN
Produced in association DRIBBLING PICTURES, 3K PRODUCTIONS & INTERMEDIA NETWORK
With the financing support of
FILM CENTER SERBIA
CITY OF BELGRADE
JAN VRIJMAN FUND
ERT – GREECE
Developed within the framework of
DOCUMENTARY CAMPUS MASTERSCHOOL
IDFAcademy SUMMER SCHOOL
EDN WORKSHOP – DOCS AT THESSALONIKI