In the national competition of The International Documentary Film Festival Beldocs in Belgrade, Serbia, the main prize went to Run for Life by Mladen Matičević. Matičević is a Serbian film director whose autobiographical How to Become a Hero played at Amsterdam’s IDFA in 2007. That film described how he became a marathon runner in attempt to fight the depression which hit him when he was 40. In his followup, Matičević didn’t go far thematically, at least on a superficial level. Run for Life is the story of three Ethiopian athletes who, after participating in the Podgorica (Montenegro) Marathon, decided to apply for political asylum at the UNHCR office in Belgrade. The three Ethiopians were counting on their athletic qualities to help them get Serbian citizenship in order to compete for the Serbian national athletic team. After two months in a refugee camp, they contacted the Belgrade athletic club Partizan and got in touch with Zoran Molović, a former champion runner. Molović agreed to be their coach and provide them with lodging and food. That’s how the three young Ethiopians became residents of the village of Pambukovica, 100 kilometers from Belgrade.
Maticevic follows the Ethiopian athletes through their year-long stay in Serbia – from being accepted by the inhabitants of the village, through a number of races, attempts to acquire Serbian papers, misunderstandings with the coach and mutual quarrels – to a disappointing ending for which they themselves were more than partially responsible. Apparently, the Athletic Federation of Serbia didn’t find their results – which would easily qualify them for the kind of official international competitions that most Serbian athletes can only dream of – appealing enough to try to keep them in the country. Matičević is not only the director and narrator of the film, he also actively helps his protagonists with their lives in his homeland, and paints a convincing, poignant portrait of three young men who were desperate enough to look for normal life in a troubled country like Serbia.
Another Beldocs film tells a story that originates from the root cause of Serbia’s transition to a poorly functioning state. This is Mila Seeking Senida, winner of the Human Rights Award at the 2010 Sarajevo Film Festival – and the cause is, naturally, the Balkan war of the 1990s. Director Robert Tomić Zuber is a Croatian journalist whose investigative political TVshow is very popular in his country. As with Matičević, Zuber’s first film Accidental Son was autobiographical – the director found out that he had been adopted, and documented his search for his biological mother. And again, as with Matičević’s Run for Life, after helping himself in the search for his own identity, Zuber used an opportunity to help someone else do the same – and make a film out of it.
The person in question is Senida Bećirević, today an 18-year-old girl living in Sarajevo. When Serbian troops stormed her native village of Caparde in Western Bosnia in 1992, she, then a small baby, was pronounced missing – along with her sister and mother – only to resurface in Belgrade 16 years later under a different identity. During the attack on Caparde, a Serbian soldier saved the 11-month-old Senida and she ended up being adopted in Belgrade. The Janković family named the baby Mila and took care of her, never hiding the fact that she wasn’t their biological child. After a DNA test confirmed that she was the daughter of Muhamed and Senada Bećirević from Caparde, Mila decided to go in search of her family. Her quest is full of twists, just like in a Hollywood thriller.
«The highly emotional dimension of the film is what takes the viewer on a rollercoaster ride»
People Mila (Senida) thought were friends, and some of her relatives, turn out to be opportunists and liars – while complete strangers, including the director of the film, provide crucial help. The story is complicated and full of details – here Zuber shows why he is an acclaimed journalist – but the highly emotional dimension of the film is what takes the viewer on a rollercoaster ride. Mila (Senida) is an open, direct person not afraid to show her feelings in front of the camera, and we witness the full spectrum of sadness, disappointment, anger, excitement and hope. Of course, the girl was most likely to open up to someone with similar life experiences, and Zuber has clearly struck a chord, winning her trust. One of the highlights of the film is the girl’s meeting with her father. The scene in which Muhamed – a chain-smoking, boozing truck driver – explains how he “didn’t want to waste time looking for her because he couldn’t be sure she was really his daughter,” that he is “a busy man” with a “reputation to keep”, invokes so much anger in the viewer that one wonders where Mila (Senida) found the strength not to kill him on the spot. But people who have had a hard life are usually the first to forgive, and she even kisses Muhamed goodbye.
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