Introduction to the Past
Žilnik explains the importance that Bitef had for all the post-war generations in Yugoslavia, who, at this very festival, managed to maintain a contact with the countries “from India to the USSR”:
For my generation, Bitef was a window to the world culture. Since its inception, it achieved a wide range of fantastic and creative theatre results and various cultures. What happened was a revolution of a new language. Of new topics. New approaches. It makes me happy to hear that this institution has managed to survive these most dramatic and most turbulent years.
Since he belongs to a family who were directly linked to theatre (his uncle was the director of drama in the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, and the translator of the first Sartre’s works), he was growing up watching performances that “always brought an articulation of the stories that we could hear in everyday communication among family and colleagues. The stories that raised questions about the meaning of life. Of moral acceptability”.
Watching a pulsating theatre gave him an opportunity to freely abandon himself into his new life chapter: making movies.
Later on, Horvat referred to Žilnik’s book Introduction to the Past and raised the issue of the importance of the fifties and the sixties of the 20th century, which brought various changes. Žilnik briefly reminds us of those years. The years when a lot of money was needed “even before the first shot was filmed”:
Film industry was closely observed by the government, as a sort of chronicle of changes and the progress of the country in the form of moving pictures. Back then, however, we could only film on tape: and for a serious feature film, you needed one hundred to two hundred meters of it. One meter was five dollars. So, one needed a lot of money to begin with. The cheapest cameras cost three hundred thousand dollars: that was impossible for this poor, pathetic country.
One of the catalysts of changes that Horvat is talking about were film clubs, which Žilnik describes in his book:
The directors in my generation and the ones older than us could not function without film clubs. That is where the first images of the life we lived came from. Once we became members of the film clubs, older technicians, pre-war photographers, taught us the technology: how to develop films, how to make copies. That is where I met my best friends who I later worked with.
“Film represents looking at life with your own eyes”
At the end of the fifties, the director explains, movies leave the studios, and the revolution takes place:
Movies start being made in the street. Italian neorealism, which tackles the topic of defeated Italy, arrives as a strong influence. For the first time, in the French New Wave, we see Paris breathing in its tiny apartments. That is what influenced our cinema.
Žilnik talks about the importance of Yugoslav co-productions, best illustrated through an anecdote of his first visit to Avala Film, when he entered and saw Orson Welles “drinking whiskey”. So, our cinema has an ambition to be modern, which demands the people from the film clubs.
His generation was marked by the “openings”: Bitef and FEST were specific in every way:
A very specific feature of Yugoslavia was an unusually relaxed feeling, marked by the lack of the dictatorship of the market and capital, as was the case in America, where, if your movie fails, you no longer exist as a director.
The relevance of Žilnik’s movies, Horvat says, is in the choice of the protagonists, the people from the margins of the society: the homeless, Romani people, transvestites, and refugees.
The director explains this with the contact that he had with the representatives of those groups of people (which got him arrested ones). Talking to them taught him that there are people with an attitude and moral, and that intelligence is not class-defined.
However, the movies by Žika Pavlović, Makavejev, Saša Petrović, were banned by the Communist League among the distributors.
This evening ended in talking about one of the greatest Yugoslav directors: Dušan Makavejev, Žilnik’s close friend, and their trial in France.
The overall impression equals the feeling that the audience expressed at the end of the discussion: all of us would gladly stay to listen to the anecdotes, the director’s stories from the previous life, which is definitely a part of us all. The history of Yugoslav cinema had its path, and Žilnik has been of the ones who paved that path that new generations of moviemakers rely on.