When Mladen Vusurovic decided to create a film festival in Belgrade, Serbia in 2008, he consulted a community of filmmakers that comprised several generations, knowing that in the region in which he resides, over a span of just a decade (or less), life can look and feel completely different in all of its aspects. Suddenly there is war, and then, a tentative peace: a reconstitution of all the parts that comprise a culture that is still trying to find its true north. Yet the same ideological struggles go on and on and on. In more peaceful times, the artists in that place attempt to illustrate and provide meaning to those struggles. In deciding to create, what he calls “this cultural event,” Vusorovic and his colleagues offer a program of international documentary work, creating an opportunity where the seeds of dialogue about the universal human condition can somehow ameliorate the propensity of many of the Balkan region’s inhabitants to judge things solely on the basis of past injustices inflicted upon them.
This is a way of life in a place where the very moniker, Balkan, connotes the odd mixture of honey (bal) and blood (kan). “You can find honey here; but first, you have to bleed for it,” says a young musician in Ruggero De Virgiliis’ thoughtful and beautifully shot documentary, Balkan Curtains, which appeared as a selection in the festival’s Serbian Competition Program. This year’s overall program, while not as well seasoned in a curatorial regard as some of the other more established festivals in the region, was substantial enough to fill the theatres, and there is much promise for the growth of this annual event in years to come.
A particularly wise programming choice, garnering an audience of close to 3,000 people, was to open the fest with Darko Bajic’s O, Gringo, a profile of Dejan Petkovic, a Serbian-born footballer who became a superstar in his adopted country of Brazil and is lauded as a local hero in his country of origin. Serbian independent cinema is still finding its way in this new landscape of post-traumatic, quasi-neo-Europeanized, EU nation statusvying confusion. For the majority of the population, most especially the creative echelon of society, there is a sense of being “trapped” in their own country. They don’t necessarily want to leave for good. But they are hungry to see the world, to have the freedom (at least in their minds) to be allowed to be a part of the rest of the world. Yet hardly anyone in the exYugoslav states could begin to tell you why this is so important.
DOX was particularly encouraged by a few selections coming from a fresh generation of filmmakers, and it wasn’t the ones coming out of any film school. Instead, the makers of films such as Balkan Diaries: Bulgaria by Goran Gocic; Boye: The First Real Female Sound by Brankica Draskovic; Awakening by Irena Fabri; I Will Marry the Whole Village by Zeljko Mirkovic; Mila Seeking Senida by Robert Zuber; and In Memory of Dragisa and Ivanka by Bane Milosevic, all tapped into stories both from within and without the usual points of reference. For most of the citizens of the Balkans (the “former children of Yugoslavia,” as one festival patron put it), there is nowhere to go except within.
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