Historical conflicts are always a popular -and important- topic for documentaries, as is the case with the war in former Yugoslavia

Tue Steen Müller
Previous founder/editor of the DOX magazine.

TUE STEEN MÜLLER questions whether the stories should be told by local filmmakers rather than visiting foreigners.

There are numerous stories that need to be told about the war(s) in former Yugoslavia and the current, troubled transition period. The news media report on the changes, and documentarists are supposed to analyse. Leave the sensational aspects to the journalists, and the documentarists will take care of everyday life, someone once said. Filmmakers are queuing up to do their job. They come from the West and East alike. They come from neighbouring countries and concerned countries. They come from here, there and everywhere.

The stories will be told. But by whom? And to whom? Idealistic voices say that the stories should be told by persons who have experienced the atrocities, while others remind us of an old saying:

You can get too close to an object to be able to see it, blocking your sight – you can’t see the forest for the trees.

On whom should a commissioning editor rely on? Both, an international viewer of documentaries would say. It all depends. We want information and facts but we also know that the facts might look completely different from the other angle. Not to mention a third angle, the Serbian point of view, which has not been as broadly communicated to Western audiences as one might have hoped.

These issues were debated at the courses East Meets West” & ”Docs Without Frontiers, that took place in late August at the European Film College in Ebeltoft, Denmark. No Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian producers were present at the courses, but there were participants from Rumania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. And they had Balkan stories they wanted to tell.

“It is only 100 kilometres from Sofia to Kosovo,” Bulgarian Assen Vladimirov reminds the ignorant Dane writing these lines and who had already forgotten about the errant Nato bomb that ended up hitting the Bulgarian capital. “We are all losers in this war,” he continues, “and I think many documentarists from countries like mine are fed up with the Balkan question. We want positive stories,” he says and pitches “The Country that Said No” to the commissioning editors present, a film about Bulgarians who refused to accept the mass deportation of Jews during WWII.

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Balkan Knights

Not everyone agrees with him. Adela Peeva, an experienced producer and director who is also from Bulgaria, has a strong personal angle in her doc proposal, Balkan Knights ,in which she intends to tell about Sloba, 22 years old, who volunteered to fight in Kosovo:

«Sloba is the son of my best friend in Belgrade, and I was worried about him. Today I want to find out why he fought at the front line … He told me that he volunteered to fight against the Americans and against the Albanian terrorists… because… when the Americans hit us, both of his best friends were doing their military service down in Kosovo ».

«For me personally, this is a film partially related to my life, too. Married to a Serb, I have been living in Yugoslavia for a long time. I have friends and relatives there. If we were there, my son would possibly have ended up at the front line, too. This is why I believe we should take a somewhat different approach to the events in Yugoslavia. We have to try to understand these young men, however difficult that might be».

Slovenian filmmaker Zemira Alajbegovic also has a personal approach to her doc project:

«My film project Slices of Time is a film about my grandmothers. They were both born in 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and a new state Yugoslavia was established. They lived in different cultural and religious environments – in Bosnia (mostly Moslem) and Slovenia (mostly Christian) but never met each other”. The latter is still alive, the first died in a refugee camp in 1993.

Zemira Alajbegović in Neven Korda (ZANK), Slices of Tim

I found her grave only recently. Her children and her husband are dead, members of her family have been scattered all over the world. Her apartment was looted, all her belongings were stolen and the remaining books, documents and photographs probably vanished in the fire. I talked to her neighbours and distant members of the family about her life. There are only a few photographs left of her in my album.»

The Balkan filmmakers are ready to show, but will we ever get to see the “inside” stories? Or will the Balkan stories in years to come be told by well-known, well-meaning Westerners, supported by cautious, Western commissioning editors?

 

 

 


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