I spent weeks in the Yugoslav Newsreels, looking for material that would flesh out the behind-the-scenes of the ‘official narrative’ we were piecing together from feature film clips. I found some absolute gems there, which gave me the ideal opportunity to show the direct involvement of Tito and our characters, but also decided to cast the net much wider. I looked in all principal archives in the former Yugoslav republics (television stations and cinemateques) as well as archives in England, France, Germany and Italy. My favorite discovery was the material showing involvement of ordinary people in the film shoots – like the interviews with young men serving in the army who don’t like having to play the Germans, as well as people who have come from all over Yugoslavia to be extras in films. The jewel in the crown was definitely the footage of Tito on the film set, watching Richard Burton play him, squinting into the camera, checking the shot.
In Tito’s private archive we found evidence of his passion and involvement in filmmaking that has never been publicly shown. From copies of film scripts where he wrote his notes in the margins, to telegrams film directors sent him from film labs reporting on the first print of a film. Letters from Carlo Ponti offering him copies of films to watch. Photos of Sophia Loren and Tito in the kitchen, cooking!? Transcripts of his conversations with filmmakers following screenings of rough cuts. Often the research had the thrill of a detective story, finding links in various archives, tracking down things people mention in anegdotes.
Having developed deep relationships with our characters, we decided to take the film beyond the Avala Film Studios to other important places which form the ‘remaining sets’ of the Yugoslav film story. With the support of my producer Iva Plemic we filmed on Tito’s private residence of Brioni, even going to the camp for political prisoners on Goli Otok where we also found a cinema. A special moment was the shoot on the Neretva river in Bosnia, where we found ourselves in the middle of a pilgrimage of both veterans from the actual historical battle and extras from the re-creation of the battle on film. In a kind of bizarre double world, reality was turned into fiction, and fiction back into reality, Even though the bridge on the Neretva is famous both as a location of a heroic battle in WWII and as the set of Bulajic’s Academy-Award nominated film, very few people realise it’s still there today. Yet the image of the bridge lying in the river was so iconic, it was even on the front of New Year’s greeting cards Tito used to send out.
Our shoots were often fun and entertaining, but on occassion they were quite poignant. The whole crew was aware that we were documenting the last moments of a disappearing story. In some cases, such as that of Vlasta Gavrik, we were the last people to interview him before he died. And in the case of Avala, we are probably the last people to go through the studios and film them.
The project was selected for the IDFAcademy Summer School 2008, where the first rough cut was worked on with a tutor. Dragan Pesikan took over the producing of the film and I was lucky to find the right companion on what turned out to be a year-long edit. My editor Aleksandra Milovanovic made the concept work, creating the interaction between film and our material that I had hoped for. Putting together the material was definitely the bigggest challenge, to tell the story coherenly and interestingly, while managing to have it work on every layer – the anegdotal, the emotional, and philosophical, and making the play between fiction film and present-day interviews work.
The final challenge was in creating a film of HD technical quality. In an unprecedented move, we obtained permission from the Yugoslav Newsreels to take dozens of reels out of their vault for digital scanning. The result is that Tito and Yugoslavia pop on the big screen like never before, which really helps integrate the past and present.
The archive was scanned, and the film was blown up to High Definition size and color corrected at the CineLabs in Belgrade.