Short Report: Belgrade Documentary and Short Film Festival 2013: Resetting the Clock for Serbian Cinema

Chroniclers will write that in 2013 film reels were discontinued but the art of film has not lost its magic at all and it never will. The oldest film festival in Serbia and the South East Europe region and one of the oldest in Europe celebrated its 60th anniversary at the beginning of April 2013.

If you divide 60 by 100, the result will represent the percentage of funds allocated to culture from the Serbian State budget. And in this sad reality, the festival’s artistic director, Janko Baljak, asked the following questions:

Could the films and work of many artists have even been possible if that former and federative “undemocratic” state had not stimulated the production of short, documentary and animated films? Could the Belgrade documentary film movement, which put Yugoslavia on the map with its worldwide success during the 60s and 70s, have even existed without the support from Tito’s autocratic regime towards which it was often critical? Moreover, comparing the culture and cinema under Slobodan Milošević’s regime to the present situation in the country, he found those “dark years” to be a “real Renaissance” should the Government’s decision remain in effect. Nonetheless, according to him, the Belgrade Documentary and Short Film Festival has demonstrated many times throughout the years its ability to survive. Indeed, surviving the dissolution of several states, poverty, and the 1999 NATO bombing, seems now completely irrelevant in comparison to the newest challenge the Serbian cinema has to face, that is producing films with no funding whatsoever. (Janko Baljak also extended an open invitation to a round table called “An F in Conduct for its 60th anniversary” in order to protest against the current situation of Serbian cinema).

In the name of this jubilee, many media and people remembered the festival. As a matter of fact, the festival set up a retrospective exhibition and published a monograph to celebrate the sixty decades of its existence. Now, it is our turn to do so:

 Founded in 1954 in Pula as a part of the Yugoslav Film Festival, the so-called “Short Meter” moved to Belgrade in 1960. So began the exciting life of the Yugoslav Documentary and Short Film Festival. In the then federation of six republics and the film market that was notably bigger and differently organized than that of today, the necessity to present the happenings in the national production of the documentary and short film genres imposed itself. The aim was to show the works of the most prominent Yugoslav production centres and to gather once a year authors and producers from the republics in one place. In 2004, after the last Yugoslavia stopped existing, the festival changed its name to the Belgrade Documentary and Short Film Festival. That same year, it opened its doors to films from abroad. Today, the festival shows in its competition programme documentaries, animated, experimental and short fiction films from the newest national and international production and has as well a special programme. It is also important to note that during these sixty years, the festival has never been interrupted, not even during the war years.

This year’s recipient of the festival’s Life Achievement Award, Želimir Žilnik, one of the most renowned award-winning Serbian authors, famous for his artistic and social engagement, opened the 60th edition on 2 April 2013 in the Youth Centre (Dom Omladine) of the Serbian capital, after the screening of the most award-winning 1977 Yugoslav short film “Malj”, the performance of the Belgrade Voice choir and a retrospective of the early works of the author. In his honour, his new work “Pirika on Film” inaugurated the festival. It is a biographical video essay on Piroška Čapko, filmed 44 years after her participation in two of his films, the documentary “Little Pioneers” and the feature film “Early Works”, as a homage to the past as well as Pirika’s unusual and eventful life. The film focuses on her search for her daughter who lives in Berlin and with whom she is not on speaking terms. Žilnik created this essay by freely mixing docu-drama and interviews between different characters, portraying Pirika’s life, and at the same time documenting fragments of the post-socialist heritage which still influences the lives of both older and younger generations.

This year, the audience could enjoy a total of 147 films in eighteen different categories.

The National Documentaries Competition programme was made up of the following documentaries: “Carousel” by Nevena Matović, “Journey” by Stefan Đorđević, “Conveyor Belt” by Nemanja Veselinović, “Buro” by Jakub Paček, “My Lips”, “Your Nose” by Olga Korotkaja, “The Shovel is Too Small” by Romana Vujasinović and Nemanja Babić, “Ramp” by Vesna Grba and Nebojša Vasić and “When I Was a Boy, I Was a Girl” by Ivana Todorović.

In the National Short Fiction Films Competition programme, we could see “The Guard” by Marta Popivoda, “Primera” by Žarko Brecl, “The Inheritor” by Ivan Milosavljević, “Mangisapo Horo Round of Love” by Boris Šebec, “Springtime Suns” by Stefan Ivančić, “Im Not Your Friend” by Jelena Gavrilović, “Tango With 3 Characters and 3 Spaces” by Strahinja Savić, “Neither Words Nor Quiet” by Dejan Radovanović, “The Return” by Dušan Janković, “Tamara” by Ivan Knežević, “The Touch” by Alek Conić, “Virus” by Miša Zorović, “The Haulier” by Marina Uzelac and “The Last Drop” by Miroslav Lakobrija.

The National Animated Films Competition programme brought “Peddler and Monkeys” by Nemanja Gavrilović, “Regular Day” by Vuk Palibrk, “Cremation” by Duško Ševo and Luka Ševo, “Fishing” by Dušan Nađević, “Female Dog” by Mirela Srebrić, “Rabbitland” by Ana Nedeljković and Nikola Majdak and “Heterotopia” by Goran Radovanović.

For the National Experimental Films Competition programme, the following films were selected: “The Tale of the Wall Inhabitants” by Andrej Boka, “Haircut Undo” by Vuk Spasojević, “Times Up” by Daniel Mateić, “The Thinker in the Supermarket” by Igor Simić, “Our Demise in Four Stages” by Igor Simić and “Peoplemeter” by Izvanredni Bob.

The International Documentaries Competition programme was made up of “Red” by Maksim Sukhoguzov, “Adrift” by Frederik Jan Depickere, “Camille. A Life, an Apartment” by Anne Sophie Bosc, “Gods, Weeds and Revolutions” by Meryam Joobeur, “Skin Feels” by Daan Bunnik,  “Grandfather Never Saw the Sea” by Christine Huerzeler, “The Red Carpet” by Manuel Fernández and Iosu López, “Birthday” by Erik Norkroos, “The Clown’s Son” by Matthew Musson, “Tons of Passion” by Corina Schwingruber Ilić, “Tomorrow We Will Live Again” by Corinna Giesen and “Lady Urmia” by Mohammad Ehsani.

The International Short Fiction Films Competition programme showed the audience “The Comforting Hand” by Gabriela Amaral Almeida, “Aquarium” by Philippe Grégoire, “Baby Love” by Terence White, “Bahari” by Ahmed El Ghoneimy, “Before We Wake” by Frank Ride, “Ephemeral” by Diego Modino, “Eileen Pratt” by Michael Kratochvil, “Friday Chicken” by Adrian Blaser, “The Bus” by Olgu Baran Kubilay, “Pirandello” by Bojan Bodruzić, “When They Slept” by Maryam Touzani, “Secrets” by Margherita Spampinato, “Turbo” by Andreas Taubol, “Nuclear Waste” by Myroslav Slaboshpytsky, “Early Birds” by Jeroen Bogaert, “Red Snow” by Luka Popadić, “You Have No Idea What Has Happened to Me?” by Lana Račić and “After the Class” by Fereshteh Parnian Zad.

In the International Animated Films Competition programme, the following films were screened: “Fugue” by Juan Antonio Espigares, “After You” by Damien O’Connor, “Jessas Maria!” by Petra Richar, “Learning to Fish” by Teemu Auersalo, “Oh, Willy” by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels, “Any Other Man” by Luis Soares, “Somewhere” by Liu Song, “Tired of Swimming” by Anna Eijsbouts, “White+Black=Red” by Simone Giampaolo and “Apodemy” by Katerina Athanasopoulou.

The International Experimental Films Competition programme brought the following films: “Landscape Duet” by Pierre Larauza, “Les Questions Élémentales” by Lanka Haouche Perre, “Lyrebird Soup” by Naren Wilks, “Manual for Bored Girls” by Jesús Plaza, “My Seal, Baby” by Joanna Rytel, “Momentum” by Boris Seewald, “Panic Room” by Yuk-Yiu IP and “Portrait Zero” by Michael Yaroshevsky.

 The Special programme was made up of ten different categories:

  • Angry Ucranians with films such as “No GMO” by Larysa Artyugina, “Hamburg” by Volodymyr Tykhyy, “Taste of Ice Cream” by Thierry Dusset, “Beautiful Woman” by Alyona Alymova, “The Date” by Yevgen Matviienko, “The Owl” by Oksana Kazmina and “Nuclear Waste” by Myroslav Slaboshpytsky.
  • Contrasts of Russia that presented the following films: “Patriots and Libertines: Cry Tears of Happiness” by Jari Kokko, “Masquerade” by Artemy Isaev and “On the Hook” by Daria Orhan-Panchenko.
  • Made in Japan with “Mō ikkai” by Atsuko Hirayanagi, “Old Man and the Sea” by Shunsaku Hayashi, “Waking Up” by Yuta Okamura, “Through Lives” by Takeshi Kogahara, “LI.LI.TA.AL” by Akihito Izuhara, “Kidney” by Yuji Mitsuhashi, “Rootless Heart” by Toshiko Hata, “Crack” by Satoshi Arai, “Go West Go East” by Maya Yonesho, “Girl of Wall” by Yuji Harada, “Memory Sculptor” by Ken Ochiai.
  • Rockumentary Revolutions that presented two films: “Children of Socialism – Replace my Head” by Brane Bitenc and “How We Played the Revolution” by Giedre Zickyte.
  • London Calling that brought us “The Curse” by Fyzal Boulifa, “Flytopia” by Karni Arieli and Saul Freed, “Ekki Mukk” by Nick Abrahams, “Early Birds” by Jeroen Bogaert, “Keri’s Tapes” by Rory Alexander Stewart and Keri Leese and “Morning” by Cathy Brady.
  • Neighbourhood in which films from the Balkans region were screened, such as for instance “This is not the Film’s Title, the True Title is in the Closing Credits” by Slaven Žimbrek, “All That” by Branislav Milatović, “Sky” by Dinno Kassalo, “Play and Save” by Goran Trenčovski and “Squared” by Radislav Jovanov Gonzo.
  • Neighbourhood: New Montenegrin Cinema bringing us films from Montenegro like “The Writing Machine” by Senad Šahmanović, “Equilibrium Vitae” by Vuk Marković, “Balkan Blues” by Srđan Stanojević, “Echo” by Milana Jovanović, “The Circle” by Gojko Berkuljan and “Intro” by Ivan Salatić.
  • Hot: Art Therapy presenting “Integration Workshop” by Vladimir Milošević, “An Expert” by Giedre Beinoriute, “Faces” by Antonio De Palo, “The Labyrinth of Possibility” by Wanadi Siso, “The Soul of the Soul” by Drago Stevanović, “The Rest of a Story” by Antonio Prata and “Slam” by Danilo Bečković.
  • Irish Short Film showing us the current Irish short film production with films such as “The Terms” by Johnny O’Reilly, “Fifty Percent Grey” by Ruari Robinson, “Dental Breakdown” by Ian Power, “3 minute – 4 play” by Johnny O’Reilly, “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” by Nicky Phelan, “Guy’s Dog” by Roriy Breshnihan, “Moore Street Masala” by David O’Sullivan, “The Man Inside” by Rory Breshnihan, “The Riblock Foundation” by Christopher Rosche, “Undressing My Mother” by Ken Wardrop, “Useless Dog” by Ken Wardrop, “Muddy Feet Mountain” High by Benjamin Barry, “Irish Folklore” Furniture by Tony Donoghue, “Two Wheels Good” by Barry Gene Murphy, “State of Suspension” by Clare Langan, “El Toro” by Tomas Seoighe, “Learning to Fish” by Teemy Auersalo, “Fear of Flying” by Connor Finnegan.
  • UNAFF* with the documentary “Sing Your Song” about Harry Belafonte. A worldwide human rights fighter and great patriot, Harry Belafonte is one of the truly heroic cultural and political figures of the past sixty years. Told from Harry’s point of view, the film tells his life from a boy born in New York and raised in Jamaica, who returns to Harlem in his early teens where he discovers the American Negro Theatre and the magic of performing. From there, the film follows Belafonte’s rise from the jazz and folk clubs of Greenwich Village and Harlem to his becoming a star. However, even as a superstar, the life of a black man in the 1960s America was far from easy, and Belafonte was confronted with the same Jim Crow laws and prejudices that every other black man, woman and child in America faced. Moreover, the film presents a brief look at the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of an insider, who, despite his high profile, was not afraid to spend time in the trenches. From Harlem to Mississippi, Africa and South Central Los Angeles, “Sing Your Song” takes us on a journey through Harry Belafonte’s life and work.

The jury was made up of the Anglo-Iranian director Afarin Eghbal, the Croatian director Lordan Zafranović, the Serbian director Marija Milanović Lazarevski, the Serbian actress Mirjana Karanović and the German professor and producer Vera Schmidt.

 On 6 April 2013, the awards were given and the festival was closed by the Croatian director Lordan Zafranović. For more information on the awards, click here: Awards.

As we have previously mentioned, in the framework of this edition, a retrospective exhibition on the most important and interesting personalities of the Yugoslav cinema was set up in Dom Omladine. We could see pictures, short biographies and the most significant quotations from the people who have received the Life’s Achievement Award since the festival’s beginnings, such as Joža Pogačnik, Živko Žika Ristić, Krsto Škanata, Vicko Raspor, Rudolf Sremec, Ratko Đurović, Nikola Nikša Jovićević, Aleksandar Ilić, Vlatko Gilić, Veljko Bikić, Miomir Miki Stamenković, Vladimir Petrić, Borislav Šajtinc, Ranko Munitić, Nikola Majdak, Puriša Đorđević, Branislav Bastać, the Vranešević brothers, Marko Babc, Mića Milošević, Branko Milošević, Dušan Makavejev, Milenko Štrbac, Nikola Stojanović, Steva Radović-Orjenski, Stjepan Zaninović and Živko Nikolić. Each of these authors has approached in a different manner the topics that interested them and, accordingly, the paths they chose to take. The monograph of the 60th edition of the festival, edited by Dunja Jelenković, was also published.

The festival welcomed among its many guests the Ukranian producer Yulia Sinkevych, directors Daan Bunnik, Adrian Blaser, Jeroen Bogaert, Iosu López and Pierre Larauza, Birgit Acar from the Dokumentart Film Festival and the film critic and professor Jasmina Bojić.

 Even if its first edition took place sixty years ago, this year the festival carried out with the same energy its cultural and educational duty, broadening even more the cinematic horizons of the lovers of the “Seventh Art”.

* Conceived in 1998 at Stanford University by film critic and educator Jasmina Bojić, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Association Film Festival screens documentaries by international filmmakers dealing with topics such as human rights, environmental survival, women’s issues, children, refugee protection, homelessness, racism, disease control, universal education, war and peace. By bringing together filmmakers, the academic community and the general public, UNAFF offers a unique opportunity for creative exchange and education among groups and individuals often separated by geography, ethnicity and economic constraints.

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