Photo credits: Jakov Simović
Photo credits: Jakov Simović

This year’s Bitef Festival, the 56th one since its inception, will be held from 23rd September till 2nd October. Under the slogan “We, the Heroes of Our Own Labour”, the main festival programme brings the performances from Germany, Belgium, Mexico, France, Slovenia, and Great Britain, as well as two performances from Serbia.

Those two domestic productions, bold in terms of topics they explore but also original in their stepping away from a typical form, were the main reason for this year’s first Bitef walk with journalists, which was held on Friday 7th July.

Ivan Medenica, Photo credits: Jakov Simović
Ivan Medenica, Photo credits: Jakov Simović

“Bitef thought that, especially bearing in mind this year’s topic, it would not be responsible to spend the money only on bringing excellent foreign productions, but that it would be necessary to do something for the domestic theatre scene, especially for its independent sector, since it was most affected by the pandemic, unlike in other countries where the independent sector was additionally protected”, said Bitef artistic director Ivan Medenica, specifying that that was the reason why Bitef decided to produce two domestic performances this year. 

One of them, Dr Ausländer (Made for Germany), refers in its title already to the main, very relevant topic explored in the director Bojan Đorđev’s project: the mass exile of Serbian medical doctors and other medical workers to Germany in search of a better life and more favourable working conditions. The director of the performance addressed the journalists in the lecture theatre of the Faculty of Medicine, the place where the performance will be played at this year’s Bitef, and where the doctors (Ausländers) “for Germany” are made.

Bojan Đorđev, Photo credits: Jakov Simović
Bojan Đorđev, Photo credits: Jakov Simović

“The central part of the performance is made of their confessions, dilemmas, decisions, and the reasons for leaving or for returning”, Đorđev said. He explained that he interviewed thirteen medical workers of various profiles and levels of education, and that the documents were adapted by Tanja Šljivar and Mina Milošević. In the cast are Dragana Varagić, Željko Maksimović, Aleksandar Đinđić, and Olivera Guconić. “Why medical doctors? In the past five or six years, we heard of a series of these cases around us, many are getting ready to leave or have already left, a lot of people are learning German. Moreover, what I found particularly important is that medical workers make up a large number of theatre audience, so there is yet another, symbolic, link”, Đorđev added.

The coproducers of the performance Dr Ausländer (Made for Germany) are Bitef and Yugoslav Drama Theatre, strongly supported by the Faculty of Medicine in Belgrade. The Vice-Chancellor for postgraduate studies, Prof. Arsen Ristić, PhD, expressed his gratitude to Bitef team for the cooperation and the choice of this topic, expressing his hope that his younger colleagues and students, after obtaining knowledge and skills abroad, would choose to pursue further career in Serbia.

Museum of Anatomy, Photo credits: Jakov Simović
Museum of Anatomy, Photo credits: Jakov Simović

The journalists had an exclusive chance to see the Museum of Anatomy, used by the students of medicine. The exhibits and the stories and anecdotes from a century-long history of the faculty were presented by Prof. Milan Milisavljević, PhD.

Afterwards, the walk continued to the Centre for Cultural Decontamination, where the main topic was the performance A World Without Women, by the authors Maja Pelević and Olga Dimitrijević. In the year when the main festival topics are the lack of adequate working conditions, job losses, etc., this performance explored the presence and the position of women in domestic theatre

“Since Olga and I deal with the position of women, we first checked the number of women in Serbian theatre”, Pelević said. “Then we conducted small research, placing the focus on the number of women in the positions of power. It turned out that women are scarce, especially where there are large amounts of money.”

Maja Pelević, Photo credits: Jakov Simović
Maja Pelević, Photo credits: Jakov Simović

Furthermore, their research focused on the treatment of women in theatre process, while an additional part of the research, which is supposed to be conducted after the performance, should initiate a debate and affect the existing regulations and cultural policies in the country. Therefore, this performance was, aptly, coproduced by Bitef and the Centre for Cultural Decontamination.

“The projects we are interested in are the ones that are either impossible or unwanted elsewhere”, stated theatre director Ana Miljanić in the name of the Centre for Cultural Decontamination. “We are particularly interested in having this performance contribute to the cultural and political and not only artistic perception of the topic that Maja and Olga have decided to explore.”

After the discussion, the journalists had an opportunity to be led by the curator Dejan Vasić through the recently opened exhibition This is Mural, which bravely opens up the question of the reach and limitations of murals, with a focus on their use for various political narratives.

This is Mural, Photo credits: Jakov Simović
This is Mural, Photo credits: Jakov Simović

Both productions will be performed at 56th Bitef, from 27th till 29th September. The audience will have an opportunity to see Dr Ausländer (Made for Germany) at the lecture theatre for anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine at 19:00, while A World Without Women will be performed in the Centre for Cultural Decontamination at 21:00.

The festival is traditionally supported by the Secretariat for Culture of the City of Belgrade and the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia, Goethe Institute, British Council, and the French Institute in Belgrade. The partner and friend of Bitef is, once again, I&F Grupa, and McCann Belgrade within it, the creative agency of the festival. The partners of the festival are Pošte Srbije, as well as the years-long friends Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia.