Balkan documentaries are increasingly finding their way to the major doc festivals and international TV, and they are more creative, inspiring and engaging than ever.

Rada Cesic

Rada Sesic, born in ex YU, lives nowadays in The Netherlands, film maker, critic, festival programer and film lecturer. Specials for Eastern European cinema and cinema of South Asia.
Email: radasesic@yahoo.co.uk

The selector of regional docs at the Sarajevo Film Festival presents the highlights of this year’s selection and recent years’ Balkan docs.

Ten years have passed since the end of the horrible war in the former Yugoslavia, a decade that signified a period of transition in which many countries in the Balkans have been facing hard times. After the establishment of new political systems or even whole new states in the Balkans, filmmaking became more than just a matter of culture. It is considered to be the most profound manner of expressing a national identity and of giving a recognisable voice that echoes abroad. It is also an attempt to reflect on the political events as well as to re-conciliate and consolidate with one another.

Humour and Self-irony

Although one cannot consider Balkan cinema as an aesthetically common notion, a specific quality distinguishes the new films coming from the different parts of this region: a humour full of self-irony and dark, pitiless contemplation on the misfortune of Balkan heroes. A new generation of young directors is successfully combining the “auteur cinema” approach, trying to come up with a very personal cinematic language, with stories being processed smartly in a more accessible way.

Maybe one of the most memorable films from the region is the Bulgarian documentary “Whose Song Is This” by Adela Peeva that brings out the mentality of the Balkan people in a mocking and humorous manner, showing at the same time the darkest sides of the neighbours who are ready to start a war in a dispute over a song. Or the remarkable documentary “The Bridge” that Survives by Mira Erdevicki that balances between a tremendous uplifting spirit and the tragic destinies of the musicians from the divided city of Mostar. Similarly, the documentary “Imported crow” by Goran Devic, an innocent document on birds, provides a hilarious but deeply serious metaphor for the former political climate in Croatia.

Balkan Docs Anno 2006

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Alen Drljevic

Interestingly, the main theme of most films chosen for this year’s selection of Sarajevo Film Festival’s (SFF) Regional Docs appears to be a quest: a painful and courageous quest for the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Bosnian refugees in Montenegro, in the brilliantly made investigative and creative documentary “Carnival” by Bosnian director Alen Drljevic. We see a search for the warmth of a true home (country) in the powerful “The Second Generation” by Amir Muratovic that addresses the problems of Bosnian refugees living in Slovenia. “My Neighbour Tanja” by Petar Krelja is a profound quest into the inner world of a woman “next door” who struggles through life with tremendous strength and self-irony. A search over the border to discover Western Europe’s capitalism and democracy is given in the dramatic “Europe Next Door” by Zelimir Zilnik, in which he unveils the dreams and deeds of young people who agree to marry for money in order to reach the EU next door. Each of these ‘quests’ is done in a cinematically different manner. What they have in common is a quite humorous, even mocking approach to the heaviest sides of the political and social life in their respective places in the Balkans.

Successful Abroad

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“Georgi and the Butterflies” by Andrei Paounov

The programme of the IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) proves that the documentary production from this region has been tremendously changing the global landscape of documentaries. The most successful ones, at least, are worth mentioning here: Bosnian “Ecce Homo” by Vesna Ljubic was nominated for the Joris Ivens award; “Sarajevo’s Dog” by Haris Prolic was in the Silver Wolf competition; the Serbian film “Chicken Election” by Goran Radovanovic was nominated for the same award last December, while Bulgarian “Georgi and the Butterflies” by Andrei Paounov won it in 2004, as well as the Romanian film “The Bridge” by Ileana Stanculescu, which won the First Appearance Award in 2004. Other films that have been much in demand by Western broadcasters and international festivals in the last few years are “The Great Communist Bank Robbery” by Alexandru Solomon and “Children of the Decree” by Florin Iepan, both from Romania, “Whose Song Is This” by Adela Peeva from Bulgaria and “Pretty Diana” by Boris Mitic from Serbia, as well as “La Strada” by Damir Cucic from Croatia.

SFF Supports Regional Docs

The Balkan countries used to have a great tradition for creative, poetic and essayistic documentary production. Since local broadcasters nowadays support mostly reportages, actuality programs and more and more “Big Brother”-type documentaries, there is almost no space for contemplative, deeply researched, intriguing works that engage both mind and soul. That’s why the importance of the Regional Documentary Programme of the Sarajevo Film Festival is huge: it welcomes documentary cinema by creative, inspiring authors. It gives space to profound works with a creative cinematic treatment of reality. It attracts more than 100,000 spectators. Since every year more international film professionals visit the SFF, local films have a chance to be seen, selected and invited to international film festivals.

The regional doc programme at the 2006 SFF featured almost ten world premieres out of the programme of some fifteen films. Yet what is especially interesting is that it brought to the surface the newly born documentary production blossoming in UNMIC Kosovo which is supported by the recently started Festival of Docs in Prizren. Young directors there are not only concerned about the political and economic difficulties in Kosovo but they discuss in a cinematically inspiring manner cultural and sub-cultural trends among youth: music, fashion, going out and searching for self-recognition in “Shuffle Politics, Bullshit and Rock&Roll” by Edon Rizvanolli and “Mirror, Mirror” by Blerta Basholli.

Regional Film Fund

Obviously, film problems in most of the Balkan countries are not thematic but pragmatic. Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, has had successful cinema production for the last 50 years, but its filmmakers have never had a 35 mm camera. They have always had to borrow one from abroad. The production facilities in other Balkan states are not much better.

However, a new initiative promises a brighter future for the sector. A political agreement has been made by the ministers of culture from the broader region (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Albania and Austria) about establishing a Regional Film Fund. Each state contributes an equal amount for two purposes: film production and rebuilding the infrastructure of the cinema theatres.

Rada Sesic is a filmmaker and a film critic from Sarajevo, based in The Netherlands where she teaches at the University of Amsterdam and collaborates on the programme of the Rotterdam Festival and IDFA. sesic@worldonline.nl

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New Doc Awards at Sarajevo Film Fest

The Sarajevo Film Festival was held for the 12th time on 18–26 August. It runs three regional competition programmes: features, shorts and documentaries, plus a number of non-competitive programmes.

This year’s SFF introduced an ‘Award for the Best Docs’ which brings the filmmaker not only prestige but also EUR 3000. Another new award given and sponsored by EDN grants a filmmaker free participation (including hotel and board) to one of EDN’s documentary training programmes and pitching forums. Another doc award has already existed for the last two years: ‘Prize for the Best Film Dealing with a Human Rights’ subject’ – awarded by the Swiss Government (EUR 3000).


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