MAKING THE FILM
At the beginning I set out to explore the Avala Film Studios, aiming to discover and film every hidden corner. The spell of the place was strong – old costumes, rooms full of old posters, screening rooms used as storage space, scripts and production stills littering the floors. I began to interview dozens of old Yugoslav filmworkers, talking to them about the old days, but also looking for clues at to how cinema played a role in shaping Yugoslav society.
In writing the script, my focus was on tying the stories of the movies and their making to the wider history of Yugoslavia, and a quote from Jacques Ranciere sums up that guiding idea: “The history of cinema is the history of the power to make history,”
The particular way I wanted to structure the film was to rely on feature films as a tool to tell the story, rather than relying on the traditional approach of using archive in an illustrative fashion.
I started gathering old Yugoslav films. It took over a year to gather some 300 films, and catalogue their content. There were archetypes that appear from film to film, particularly in the partisan films, but also whole sub-genres giving a picture of life in the new Yugoslavia – films about the youth brigades rebuilding the country, about worker’s meetings at the collectively managed factories, etc. I made a database of film clips indexed by the types of scenes and dialogue, which we used in the editing process, and that was definitely one of the most challenging parts of the process.
The concept of the visual construction of the film was to tell the history of Yugoslavia using clips from Yugoslav feature films, but also bring these clips into direct communication with the characters in our doc, creating a sort of dialogue between the films and ‘reality’.
It became clear that I couldn’t find one central character to tell the story from beginning to end, so I decided to choose those who could be our guides through each sequence of the film. They were marvelous storytellers, coming from different parts of the film industry, with different perspectives and comments on how we came to be where we are today, and my favorite moments in the film are when their stories intertwine. I avoided a voiceover from the beginning because it went against the whole nature of the story, so it was essential that their accounts could be stitched together.
The project was selected for ARCHIDOC, and then the Discovery Campus Masterschool, and with some amazing mentorship and support the concept was pushed a lot further. At this point it became clear that for Western audiences the story of filmmaking in Yugoslavia could provide a new and unusual insight into what the country was and how it collapsed from an angle that had never been done before.
A constant theme that kept coming up in my research was Tito’s role in the cinema industry. It’s a widely known anegdote in the former Yugoslavia that Tito was a huge film fan, and as I researched the real role he played behind the scenes, the story gained another layer – the man writing the destiny of a country was also directing its films.
That’s when I met Leka Konstantovic – Tito’s personal projectionist for 32 years. Leka had given only one interview in his life, and was at first very reticent about talking on camera, mainly because he felt that Tito and Yugoslavia had been wrongly disowned even by those who were closest to Tito during his lifetime. His participation in the film provided it’s emotional center, the intimate, up-close view that really ties together the big historical events with a key-hole view of the man shaping them.