The results are impressive. Three hundred films have been produced during these ten years. One hundred of them are short documentaries, two hundred fiction. Tue Steen Müller talked with the Popovics at the school in Belgrade.
The name, Kvadrat, derives from the Serbian word for frame. There is an official appendix to the name – the Centre for Visual Communication – but that is also the only official feature about this place that for a decade has been the second home to young people making their way into filmmaking. And Life. When I visited Kvadrat in December 2000 and again in April 2001, it was a natural consequence of the familiarity of the place that a dog and several cats occasionally entered the editing room from the porch – as did young students and filmmakers who came to work with the Popovics. This is the story about a place where filmmaking has made daily life tolerable for young people isolated from the rest of the world.
Zoran Popovic: We wanted to give a simple name to our film school. We wanted to keep it small and operational almost as if it was a film crew. When we started, the idea was just to provide an opportunity for young people to learn about films and to watch other films than American Hollywood productions. You can only learn filmmaking through filmmaking. You have to produce something to learn filmmaking. That is why we connected the workshop idea to the school and focused on the production dimension.
Svetlana Popovic: We wanted to make Kvadrat into something absolutely informal. In the beginning of the 1990s, our social structure was always insisting on things to be formal. If you wanted to learn and become a good citizen you had to go to a traditional school and get your diploma.
ZP: When we started the school there was only the state faculty of the dramatic arts. Now there are other film schools that have inherited the old approach where you have to choose from the very beginning if you want to be a director, a cameraman, a producer or an editor. That is where we differ, as we don’t expect the area of specialization to be chosen from the very beginning. We want them to try out what filmmaking is about in general and then decide.
TSM: How long are they here?
ZP: We have three different levels and you don’t have to go further than the first or second if you don’t want to. After three levels we still work with them, even if they attend other schools or go abroad. Basically the study programme lasts for two and a half to three years.
The first basic level (four months) is about how to make a long feature. We teach all the basic elements of production, direction, camera work, scriptwriting and editing. At the second level (six to seven months) we deal first of all with direction and working with actors.
At this stage we introduce the documentary, which may seem easier but is much more difficult. We made our first documentary workshop in 1994, and we made it exclusively with students who had passed the second level. In documentary filmmaking you have to deal more with visual problems than in fiction, because reality gives you only an impression of the events. The reality has to be created through images of the world – which requires a high level of visual thinking.
The first documentary workshop was held outside Belgrade from 1994 to 1997 and was funded by the Open Society Fund (Soros). We wanted to give the students an idea of the documentary by letting them meet and understand a life that was new for them. Most of them had never been outside the capital.
At the third level (seven to twelve months), we again deal with the visual elements. After each level they have to complete a film.
TSM: How many students do you work with?
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