Photo: Jakov Simović
Photo: Jakov Simović

After hard work and deliberation, and before you announce the winners, could you tell us your impressions about the festival? And could it be reviewed with Covid aside or not?

Shermin - The two are inevitably connected. For us, it’s one of the first, if not the first festival we are attending after this long winter of discontent in theatre. So, it really does energize us that it is happening, and congratulations to the entire Bitef team that made it possible. It is already something. And it’s not just that, but also that you’ve been able to end up having 12 out 14 performances that you planned, which is amazing in comparison with our production situation in Gorki where we had to shift 2 premiers. You too had to deal with Covid, of course, especially with these international regulations in mind but still, it is an international festival where we had a chance to see 12 really valuable productions, as well as the side programme, Polyphony, Conference, Cirkobalkana... I mean, there was so much happening, which demanded a lot of effort, and I can only imagine it was a double work for the team, for the entire organization. We admire and truly appreciate it. So, you can’t think about the festival apart from the Covid. But at the same time, with all the procedures that you followed, taking temperatures at entry points, and all the other arrangements, we appreciate it that both ourselves and the audience felt safe in the theatre.

Cecilia - The only challenge was how to harness your mind and thoughts, so you never had to think about the damn virus. For me, it was a victory after a victory after a victory, just to come to Serbia and to stay in Serbia and to stay healthy and just to have 2 shows out of 14 canceled. I was thinking, like, ok, I arrived here, but will there be a festival? Every day I would wake up and realize it’s a new day, and yeah it’s happening, I’m not dreaming, I was pinching myself, I am here, it’s happening, and now we’ve made it to the end. So, victory, after victory. Congratulations to all of you and to theatre for doing this.

Lucia - In our first meeting, Ivan emphasized the importance of an international exchange and of opening our minds to the things we do not know and stepping into the unknown, of meeting other people and exchanging thoughts. For that reason, as the two of them said, we came here although we were a bit unsure of what could be realized and what not. It was, however, important to meet up with international peers, to see international performances, some of which I was familiar with, and my colleagues from the jury with some others. So, we really exchanged thoughts that gave, at least to me, some new insights into Serbian theatre, and maybe to Serbian and Croatian colleagues into other international productions. The exchange of thoughts between countries is incredibly important. Especially nowadays. And I really appreciated it when Ivan stressed that you have to fight for that. I have participated in few festivals. In the Netherlands, I am in the advisory committee for the ministry regarding what we shall do about the festivals at the moment. It was decided just yesterday that the assessment for this year cannot really take place because they were all under stress if it was going to happen or not. Some of them took a chance to show 2 or 3 performances live and the rest online, some of them canceled again after last year, some of them took the courage to open although they were not full, but with, like, 30 or 70 people instead of 400. And here, you found a way to create a festival feeling. Look at this party. You really do have a feeling that the people are happy to see performances again and to meet each other. To exchange thoughts.

Like there’s no Covid!

Lucia - No, there is. I was tested this morning in the festival center which is always swarming with people. We need those tests for traveling as well. I never felt unsafe in any place, including this party.

Jovana, do you have something to add?

Jovana - Well, not really, no. Like they’ve said, it trully is a success and it must have been a struggle. We just got a hint from the organisation how generally difficult it was. So, well done.

Thank you. Agata?

Agata - There’s hardly anything I could add. The entire team is to be congratulated, from the top management to the volunteers and associates. And we really did feel super safe and super welcome. And so, the festival did happen although no one, I can’t say hoped, but as Cecilia said, it was always on the edge, every day you thought: Wow, there goes another day. And great - we’re all here, not a single incident happened, not a single big problem. All the small problems were solved in a creative way, and everything moved on. So, congratulations and thank you for inviting us.


Our next question would be about the side programme. We know you’ve seen all the performances on the main programme, but we would like to hear if you have been able to see any of the side programmes and about your impressions.

Shermin - For me, those were some parts of the conference, let’s say the prologue of the conference, the Philosophical Theatre with Srećko Horvat and Želimir Žilnik, which I enjoyed very much since I am a fan of Želimir Žilnik, especially his films from the 70ies that I have known since my childhood. That doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of Srećko Horvat (laugh). So, it was really impressive just to sit and listen and I really liked how it was organized, out in an open place so that everybody, including neighbors, could listen to it. I could follow 2 panels within the conference which I also enjoyed because I could hear various perspectives on the topics that were raised here. And, of course, that is a starting point, you know, it’s a big challenge to discuss theatre - where we can place us in this ecological crisis with all the waste we have produced so far, and what that practically means for us as theatre makers. So, it was more than exciting. Apart from that, you know, we spent 20 hours in jury discussions, we took our task very seriously, so it really wasn’t possible to follow all the side programmes. Especially Polyphony which I would be really interested in. I heard about Boy with a Suitcase which I really wanted to see. There was an organized walk through Belgrade which I was interested in... but not everything was possible. Still, I was happy I had a chance to meet my colleagues, other theatre directors here in Belgrade, and to exchange thoughts about their situation and how they are going to follow the season and the repertoire, and which issues they are worried about. So, it made sense, but I wish I had more time. Next time, I’ll have to come just as a guest and not as a jury and then I will follow all the programmes.

Cecilia - I think I have to give a real shout out to Cirkobalkana which we had the opportunity to attend. I saw two shows which felt like a big celebration of performing arts, like a return to the roots, to the circus. And the venue, Silosi, it was the first time I was there, it was really great. And to feel the atmosphere of the circus temperament and to have, over these two weeks, this whole spectrum of performing arts from the roots, the physical, the circus, the vagabond life of the circus and to experience this big arch over to totally aestheticized and interactive, I loved this. I’m really happy, I feel lucky to have done all this in two weeks. And, since we’ve all been in a kind of cultural quarantine for so long, it was great.

Agata - I would also add that a lot of that was possible due to Mila who took care of us. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the performances from the side programmes, but I went only to this walk guided by Milja Vuković and it was a really nice lesson in ecology. I learned a lot about some small steps, some possible ways of contributing to this ecological struggle on a personal level. And yes, I also saw the performance at the Faculty of Forestry. Although it was the most horrible day with rain and it was quite cold, it was a really nice guided meditation which I truly appreciated.  I mean, I was just taken away for one hour into another world.

Lucia - There’s something I’d like to add. Although it might sound cynical, Corona may have brought some benefits. I have an academic background, I teach at a university, so I would have never been able to say yes to Ivan’s invitation if I couldn’t have continued teaching my students. And I did during the day, so that meant I couldn’t attend any of the side programmes that much because I still had to do my job. We have an international program, so my students really appreciated my coming here, especially the students who come from this area, like Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary. They really find it cool that their professor is going to a festival, so I can teach and at the same time report about the festival here because it broadened their perspective as much as mine. The fact that we made such a large progress in developing our technological skills is also caused by Corona. You see that it also reflected on theatre, in the performances we saw. There were some marvelous performances at the festival. But it also helped us, mastodons of the theatre academia, to take these technological developments seriously and work with them instead of rejecting them from the start. So that was also the reason. I attended a few performances under the tent, in the circus festival, and I went to a few sessions of the conference, but I would have liked to do more. Still, I’m already grateful for the possibility to even be here thanks to the fact I can teach online.


We wanted to ask you one last question - how do you interpret the festival’s slogan this year?

Lucia - Essential. Really - essential. Especially after this year. If you think about all the ecological problems. And since I am an optimist, I think that the coronavirus made us all much more aware of all kinds of dangers that could be prevented if we change our lifestyle. I especially appreciated Ivan’s introduction at the beginning of the conference because it made me believe that this is worth discussing. It really is relevant and topical, it’s important.

Cecilia - I really thought a lot about it this week and I also think that there is a very interesting image of the theatre, like with audience sitting there, and there in front of them is the stage, and its edge could also be like a step into the future. We don’t have to necessarily look at it as an abyss where everything goes downwards. It can also go upwards and forward. We’ve seen dystopia, of course, but also the hope in the future of the theatre. I really can’t take that thought out of my mind. This festival is like a new awakening with a big bang. So, the edge of the future should not be considered only as something bad.

Shermin - As my colleagues have already said, those are the topics that all of us all over the world are preoccupied with, and I think it’s important that they don’t provoke only an apocalyptic theoretical discourse about our end, or applaud that humans are dying and that our art field is dying, but rather to acknowledge that in the times which I would call posthuman era, which is already post-good in term of feminism, the theatre and our exchange enlighten us to go for the humanity and to believe in humans. It’s even more than hope, it really is a belief because I think this is the base - if we don’t believe in humanity, it means we don’t believe in ourselves. And I don’t know how I shall face my daughter or the next generations if we don’t take the responsibility, wake up and take some other paths together, to go search for them, and do better than we did up to now.