Post-Yugoslav Film: Style and Ideology

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

2. The Development of Cinema in the Post-Yugoslav Countries

The second part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

2.1. Slovenia

 In 1991, all the post-Yugoslav countries began their new cinematographic life from the same starting point, emerging not only from the same cinema tradition of shared genres, star system and system of values, but also from the same cinema tradition in the institutional sense. This was the tradition of late Titoist communism characterised by the system of what were known as self-management communities of interest (samoupravna interesna zajednica - SIZ), public tenders for screenplays, the reliance of cinema primarily on public funding, and the direct or indirect influence of the dominant ideology and the Party (more about this in Škrabalo, 1998: 371-374; Turković, Majcen, 2003: 29-30). Another characteristic of this cinema tradition was that it institutionally relied on auteur film,[1] decentralisation of production and a relatively well developed culture of supporting and accepting films about “sensitive subjects”.[2]

Starting from this common point, the different post-Yugoslav countries institutionalised their cinemas in different ways, under different socio-economic conditions and at different times.

Slovenia, unlike the other Yugoslav successor states, had managed to avoid a long-lasting war on its territory and serious inter-ethnic conflict. It set up institutions consistent with those in developed Central European democracies as early as the first half of the nineties, and these included the regulation of cinema.

Not long after Slovenia gained independence, the government closed and liquidated the national film studio Viba film, which it then renewed and modernised to serve exclusively as a technical basis (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 279). Emulating the standard practice of European film institutes or boards, in a law passed on 1 April 1994 Slovenia founded Filmski sklad (Film Foundation) of the Republic of Slovenia, a public fund that took over the equipment and property of the former production studio Vesna film. The newly-formed Filmski sklad was to “ensure the continuous programming of film production, plan and secure funding from the state budget, supervise the work of producers and the use of public funds, gather proposals for co-financing, promote and market Slovenian films, develop script-writing activities” and perform many other, mostly cultural activities.[3] The first film that Filmski sklad financed was Rabljeva freska/The Executioner’s Fresco by Anton Tomašič (1995). Filmski sklad was the first and for a long time the only public film fund on post-Yugoslav territory; in the other countries filmmaking was in the domain of the executive authorities (ministries of culture) or private companies. In accordance with the somewhat state-governed character of Slovenian transition, where rapid privatisation and liberalism were treated with a degree of reserve, cinema remained under a high degree of state control. Sklad is/was primarily financed from the budget, and Sklad and what is now the public studio Viba film were charged with “implementing the National Cultural Programme” in “productive and reproductive cinema”.

Relying on these two – basically government – institutions, in the nineties Slovenian film kept up a not very great, but a continuous and stable production. As in some other transition countries, in Slovenia the most critical years for production were just after the  change of the system, when (for example) in 1992 only three TV films were made, and in 1994 only one cinema film. Even after the establishment of Sklad, Slovenia did not manage to completely avoid oscillation in feature-length production, which varied from only one title a year (1996), to as many as eight (2002). At the end of the nineties, however, production stabilised at a minimum of four films a year, and in this period Slovenia also made its first feature-length animated film (Socijalizacija bika?/Socialising the Bull? – Zvonko Čoh, Milan Erič, 1998). Furthermore, in 2001 Slovenia became a member of Eurimages and in 2003 it opened the new Viba film studio, completely built from budgetary funding. In the post-Yugoslav context Slovenia stands apart by its systematic nurturing of short film. Filmski sklad regularly subsidises short films, and some of them have been very successful, such as Adrian (Maja Weiss, 1998) or (A)torzija /(A)torsion (Stefan Arsenijević, 2002 – nominated for an Oscar and awarded a Golden Bear). What is more important, they served as a springboard for a new generation of authors, for example Maja Weiss and Jan Cvitkovič. This can also be seen from the fact that the most successful Slovenian film in this period – Cvitkovič’s Kruh in mleko/Bread and Milk (2001) – was financed through the short-films programme.

Despite this institutional stability, in the early and mid-1990s Slovenian film was invisible on the international scene, did not have much attendance at home, and did not win international awards. In this period, according to the Slovenian critic Zdenko Vrdlovec, “for the home audience (Slovenian film) became a synonym for ‘when I close my eyes’ – and this did not refer to Franci Slak’s film of the same name,” (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 279). The only exception was the road comedy Babica gre na jug/Grandma goes South (1991)  directed by Vinci V. Anžlovar, seen by 79,000 viewers in Slovenian cinemas in the year when Slovenia gained independence. This pleasingly aestheticized, “video edited” film is sometimes interpreted as the first cultural response by Slovenian cinema to the new consumer and market society era, where the “southward” journey of the three characters (a young couple and an old woman) functions like a metaphor of “going West” – that is, of the hopes and aspirations of two generations on the threshold of the imminent capitalist society (Petak, 2010). What makes Anžlovar’s film typical of the Slovenian nineties, however, is what Vrdlovec called the “pleasure principle”: “in the first decade of the “new regime”, wrote this Slovenian critic, “Slovenian film became somewhat childish, succumbing to the principle of pleasure, to playful and light subjects, and lost a feeling for reality,” (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 312). This course, however, did not at first bring it popularity but marginalisation. 

The visibility and popularity of Slovenian film began to improve in the last third of the nineties. In this sense the breakthrough year was 1997, when the first domestic hit appeared in cinemas and two Slovenian films achieved moderate success in the foreign art-niche for the first time. The most successful in the “year of reversal” (Vrdlovec) was undoubtedly Outsider by director Andrej Košak, which after its cinema première in February 1997 quickly drew the highest audiences by Slovenian films after independence, with 91,000 sold tickets. The culturological effect of the film was all the more important because Outsider dealt with the shared Yugoslav past (taking place in 1979/80, at the time of Tito’s death) and because the main characters of the film are a father and son, unassimilated Bosnian immigrants. The success of Košak’s film showed that Slovenia had gone beyond the stage of denying the Yugoslav heritage and had started its re-examination (more in: Petak, 2010). Outsider was a symbolical turning point in several other aspects: it was the first Slovenian film after 1990 distributed in all of post-Yugoslavia and the first Slovenian film in this period which was at least modestly shown at A festivals: in July 1997 it played in the programme of Karlovy Vary. After Outsider, interest in Slovenian film and its box-office success at home grew. In 1999 the generation drama V leru/Idle Running by Janez Burger had 54,084 viewers, in 2000 Damjan Kozole’s comedy Porno film had 54,915, and in the following 2001 Vojko Anzeljc’s romantic comedy Zadnja večerja/Last Supper had 63,173 viewers.[4] In this period two other films approached the number of fifty thousand: Nepopisan list/What now, Luka? (Jane Kavčič, 2000), and Jebiga/Fuck it (Miha Hočevar, 2000). The greatest hit of that period, however, was the comedy made by the actor, TV and film producer and director Branko Đurić, Kajmak in marmelada/Cheese and Jam (2003), seen in Slovenia by 155,043 viewers (Štefančič, 2008: 291). This record was not even broken by Petelinji zajtrk /Rooster’s Breakfast (Marko Naberšnik, 2007) based on the novel of the Prekmurje writer of best-sellers Feri Lainšček. In 2007 this film had 126,275 viewers. It is interesting that three of the four greatest Slovenian hits were in characters and subject-matter connected with the area of Yugoslavia. In Outsider, the main characters were Bosnians and the Bosnian actors Zijah Sokolović and Davor Janjić played the leading parts. Branko Đurić, the director and leading actor of Cheese and Jam, used to be a member of the Sarajevo group Top lista nadrealista and the film is about the dysfunctional marriage of a Bosnian man and Slovenian woman. Rooster’s Breakfast, on the other hand, based its popularity on that of the Croatian pop-star Severina Vučković, who plays herself in the film.[5]

Parallel with domestic viewing, in the late nineties Slovenian film also became more visible internationally. Here, too, the turning point was in 1996/7, and the first film that made a move in that direction was a low-budget 74-minute film without dialogue. Its title was Ekspres, ekspres/Express, Express and its author the 29-year debutant Igor Šterk. That film - in style and spirit kindred to the films of Jacques Tati  - won the audience award in Cottbus, an award in Trieste and three awards – of jury, critics and audience – at the Montpellier Festival of Mediterranean film. “Express, Express,” wrote the Slovenian critic Zdenko Vrdlovec, “after a long absence returned Slovenian film to the international arena,” (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 295-296). New success followed soon. In 1999 the director Janez Burger made a drama about the Slovenian “X generation” Idle Running, which became the greatest art success of Slovenian film after gaining independence. This black-and-white drama about a lethargic student, played by the future director Jan Cvitkovič, was shown in the competition section in Karlovi Vary and won a number of awards, including the main awards in Cottbus and Trieste, and an award in Sarajevo. Not long after this success Jan Cvitkovič, the leading actor of Idle Running, also appeared as a debutant feature-film director. His film Bread and Milk (2001) – again black-and-white and again a low-budget drama, on alcoholism – won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award at the Venice Mostra in 2001 for best debut film, and awards in Cottbus, Motovun and Bratislava. The success was all the greater because Cvitkovič was an amateur filmmaker, he had studied archaeology but not graduated, and he made the film on a budget he received for a short film. The Venetian prize filled the Slovenian public with such enthusiasm that Cvitkovič even got the offer to donate it to the lobby of a Ljubljana multiplex. The Slovenian film boom was rounded off in 2003 when Damjan Kozole’s film Rezervni deli /Spare Parts entered the competition section of Berlinale. At that moment it seemed that Slovenian film was going through a renaissance: popular at home, and more visible than ever abroad.

These euphoric expectations did not completely materialise in later years. The next films made by Cvitkovič, Kozole and Šterk did not repeat the foreign success of their predecessors.[6] This was the time when the first cracks appeared in the developed system of public cinema institutions in Slovenia. This especially became obvious after November 2004, in the period of Janez Janša’s centre-right government. At that time filmmakers criticised government policy especially vehemently, and the personnel and financial policies in film institutions (for example, in cinematheque or at festivals) were a subject of petitions and protests. Filmski sklad was shaken by accusations of malpractice, auditors found irregularities in its work, and in one period Sklad was even paralysed in its work as an institution. One of the effects of this was changes in management, and nine directors replaced one another at the head of Sklad in 15 years, some of them remaining in office for no more than several months.[7] Under such conditions there was a proposal to close Sklad down and bring cinema administration back under the wing of the ministry of culture, commented in the professional film press as a “turn-about unique in European practice” (Rudolf, 2009). Finally, in February 2010 Stojan Pelko, state secretary at the ministry of culture and a film expert, suggested that the much-criticised Slovenski filmski sklad should be replaced by Slovenski filmski centar (Slovenian Film Centre), a body that would mediate in securing support but not co-produce films, and which would get part of its revenue from the tax on public and commercial TV. This new organisation of cinema, described by Pelko as “based on the Croatian and Slovak experience” (Rudolf, 2010a), was partially set up in 2011.  

In feature-film production the effects of this instability were felt in the second half of the decade: in this period much of Slovenian feature production were low-budget films, TV production and/or films made on video. They were made even by affirmed directors: in 2007 Damjan Kozole made the marital drama Za vedno/Forever without any funds from the national budget, with only two actors in a private flat. This flexibility in production also had some good effects: it maintained the total annual number of live-action feature films on the level of between 5 (2007) and 13 (2008), so one might conclude that Zdenko Vrdlovec was right in saying that the “record number of annual productions was not the result of higher subsidies by the national film fund, but the opposite… of new forms of independent production that did not depend on the support of the fund but were often invented for the production of only one film, usually using a digital camera,” (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 331). This democratisation in production increased the number of feature films made, but it also had side effects. First, it was more difficult for this low-budget production to achieve visibility abroad and it was more difficult for it to enter the major festivals.[8] Second, the new modes of production were a hurdle for older and less flexible authors. It is therefore no surprise that of the 31 directors who made a film in Slovenia since 1994, as many as 21 were debutants. Because of this mass of debutants, Slovenian film really “deserves the epithet of ‘new’” (Vrdlovec, 2005a: 331).


2.2. Croatia

Croatian cinema started to develop in the nineties in a completely different surrounding from Slovenian cinema. From 1991 to 1995 Croatia was in a war which caused considerable human casualties and material damage, but which was only sporadically felt in Zagreb as the main centre of film production. Also, in that period Croatian film was under the influence of an extremely ideologically charged social environment and political climate, characterised by heightened nationalism, domination of the ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica - HDZ), and the rule of an authoritarian regime with strong elements of the personality cult of President Franjo Tuđman. In this atmosphere there was neither the political will nor the ideological understanding to organise cinema through autonomous professional institutions. During the entire nineties and much of the following decade cinema was directly administered by the ministry of culture, which organised tenders,[9] financed films and directly supervised the national festival in Pula. In this period short and documentary film were neglected and almost completely taken over by television. However, live-action full-length films, which were seen as a matter of national prestige, were not affected by the war and economic difficulties to the measure that might have been expected. Like in Slovenia, the critical years came immediately after the collapse of the old system, which in Croatia coincided with the beginning of the war. Thus only two live-action feature films were made in Croatia in 1992, and only three in 1993. However, in the second half of the nineties the number of films increased to six, which was declared the standard number until the middle of the next decade. Then the number of independent productions[10] increased and the total number of feature films increased to eight, nine (in 2003) the record ten in 2009 and 2011, and again record 15 in 2013. Films made in independent production in Croatia were at first not as frequent as in Slovenia, but they had a great influence and were very successful (such as Ta divna splitska noć/That Wonderful Night in Split by Arsen A. Ostojić or Fine mrtve djevojke/Fine Dead Girls by Dalibor Matanić).  However, things changed at the end of the decade, and the turning point was certainly Pula 2011, at which exactly half the films (five) were for the first time made outside the regular tendering system.      

During the 1990s and early 2000s the strong influence of the state on cinema was a cause of lasting dissatisfaction among professional filmmakers, who kept demanding the establishment of an autonomous film foundation or institute. In the formal sense, this demand was put forward most clearly in January 1998 in the 12th number of the magazine Hrvatski filmski ljetopis, in the thematic block Kulturna politika – dokumenti  (Cultural Policy – Documents), which analysed the existing legislation, presented and criticised the film bill proposed by the Ministry of Culture, which was never enacted, and demanded a film act and the foundation of a Croatian Film Foundation that would match the north-European film institutes or boards.[11] Not long after, the film historian Ivo Škrabalo explicitly formulated this demand in the programmatic “Apel za hrvatski film” (Appeal for Croatian Cinema) published in the weekly Tjednik in March 1997 (Škrabalo, 1997: 29-30).

After the death of Franjo Tuđman and the change of government in January 2000, cinema emerged from the ideologically charged atmosphere and threat of (self)censorship. However, the new administration did not want to give up its powers and found a film foundation, which was finally established when the Cinema Act was passed on 18 July 2007. Under this act, the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (Hrvatski audiovizualni centar - HAVC) was founded, which was in charge of financing, promotion, education, co-production, referencing and documentation. HAVC also received an autonomous income from a percentage of the gross revenue of internet service providers, telecommunication operators, cable and national televisions and film distributors, ranging from 0.1 % (for cinemas) to 2% for public television (which opposed and sabotaged the implementation of the regulation for a long time). The contributors, however, were also given participation in decision-making. This fundamentally decreased government influence on film, but increased the influence of large companies and the media. Thus in one decade Croatia went the full circle from the most rigidly state-administered cinema in the region to the most liberal legislation in the region, although the new – completely liberal and anti government-run – cinema system did not completely come into being straight away, especially its financial aspect.[12]

Although the socio-economic conditions in the two countries were incomparable, Slovenian and Croatian film had a similar curve of ups and downs. In Croatian film, too, the early and mid nineties was a period without much international visibility[13] and one when Croatian film did not enjoy a good image among domestic audiences and critics, and was even a subject of scorn. At that time Croatian film was looked on with a lot of more or less deserved negative prejudice, which at the end of the period  (2002) led to Hrvoje Turković’s polemic text Treba li Hrvatskoj cjelovečernji film? (Does Croatia Need Feature Films?). Croatian films, wrote Turković, are generally considered poor and poorly watched. They are technically “extremely unsatisfactory”, artistically unsuccessful, and therefore unnecessary. Thus they exist “only for the sake of the filmmakers themselves” and “for the sake of state representation”, and one wonders, “why subsidise a failure” (Turković, 2002: 87-89).[14] Prejudice of this kind was very well illustrated in the widespread joke from that time, saying: “There is to be no making of new films until people have seen all those already made!”

This dislike of Croatian film among the home audience was greatly the result of badly made war films, full of propaganda and marked by implicit chauvinism, hate speech or stereotype ideology. An early example of this kind of film (also known as “državotvorni film”- state-building films) was the war film of director Oja Kodar Vrijeme za…/The Time for…, mocked by critics although the total number of viewers was not small (63,454). In her study on Croatian war film Anja Šošić (2009: 13) wrote, on the basis of interviews with many Croatian film professionals, that “many people I talked to (…) call the film a disgrace of Croatian cinema” (Šošić, 2009: 13). However, Oja Kodar’s film was not the only such disgrace. Many similar films followed, and a racist portrayal of the other nation and black-and-white characters were especially a feature in: Cijena života/The Price of Life (1994) by Bogdan Žižić, Kanjon opasnih igara/Canyon of Dangerous Games (1998) by Vladimir Tadej and Bogorodica/The Madonna (1999) by Neven Hitrec. A symbolic example of this kind of ideological cinema was certainly Četverored/In Four Lines (1999) by Jakov Sedlar. Based on the homonymous novel by Ivan Aralica, and on the real-life and terrible crimes committed by the victorious partisans over their defeated enemies in May 1945, Jakov Sedlar’s film in the end turned into a mixture of filmic semi-literacy, grotesque historiographical simplification and philo-Fascist revisionism. Made just before the parliamentary elections at which the ruling Croatian Democratic Union was threatened by the centre-left coalition, the film aimed at influencing voters and turning them against the “communists” by showing their historical stigma. In the desire to strengthen the film’s propaganda effect, the authorities made a move unprecedented in cinema practice and showed it on public television as a four-part TV series while it was still playing in cinemas. The propaganda effect, however, was not achieved: the opposition coalition convincingly defeated the ruling party at the elections in January 2000.    

Films of this kind – which Etami Borjan compares with the socialist realism of the forties (2009: 152) – made Croatian films completely odious to the home public, and in the 1990s they were frequently a subject of scorn and unselective media attacks. As a counterweight to this “official”, “regime-cultivated” cinema, a group called young Croatian film was formed in the mid-1990s composed of a circle of about ten directors born in the 1960s and early 1970s. They made sporadic attempts to represent themselves as a coherent group (Pavičić, 1993a, 1993b), and these attempts were supported by critics in the desire for refreshment on the production scene, but actually there was never a unifying poetics model in young Croatian film, and its members in any case belonged to two generations in age and in creative approach.   

The first generation were authors born in the first half of the 1960s, such as Hrvoje Hribar, Lukas Nola and Vinko Brešan, whose films favoured a higher degree of stylisation, irony, ideological scepticism, a certain populist line, departure from realism, interest in the fantastic and grotesque, and a visible influence of the postmodernism of the eighties, in the range from cinéma du look to Slobodan Šijan (Pavičić, 1993a: 84-85).

The second group of authors were directors born after 1966/7, such as Ivan Salaj, Jelena Rajković and Zvonimir Jurić. They belonged to the so-called “war generation” and the war impacted their “coming of age”. Their films incline to verism, pessimism bordering on gloom and an inclination to pathos, so their films were sometimes called the Croatian war noir (Pavičić, 1995a: 6-7). Ivan Salaj’s film Vidimo se/See You (1995) became something like the programmatic film of this generation, even an informal generation manifesto. Pro-government journalists attacked Salaj’s film and some others of the war noir as unacceptably negativistic, and in 1995 Milan Ivkošić wrote against the films See You and Ogresta’s Washed Out in Večernji list, accusing Croatian filmmakers of “destruction, experimentation and exhibitionism” that nurtures “seclusion and denies togetherness”, comparing them with the Serbian black wave from the 60s.  In Ivkošić’s text this comparison, of course, does not have positive connotations, but is used as defamation (more in Pavičić, 1995b).

The two generations linked into young Croatian film did not have the same fate. Authors of the first wave (especially Brešan and Hribar) soon became the mainstream of Croatian filmmaking and made some of the greatest local hits of that and the next decade. Much of the “war generation” dispersed, and so far only Zvonimir Jurić and Vlatka Vorkapić has continued a career in making feature films.[15]

Similarly as in Slovenia, Croatian cinema awoke in the last third of the nineties, too. In this period viewers reacted best to two comedies by Vinko Brešan, Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku/How the War Started on My Island (1996) and Maršal/ Marshal Tito's Spirit (1999). Although produced as a low-budget TV film, How the War Started on My Island turned into the greatest hit in the history of Croatian cinema so far, with 346,097 viewers. Moreover, it was shown in the Berlin programme Forum and won an award in Cottbus. Brešan’s next comedy, Marshal Tito's Spirit, attracted 100,011 viewers in Croatia, won the Wolfgang Staudte award of the Berlin Forum and the award for best director in Karlovy Vary. Both the films also played a kind of role in social therapy. In How the War Started on My Island Brešan used the figure of a stubborn, fanatical and funny JNA officer (Ljubomir Kerekeš) to “tame” the character of the enemy and make people laugh at the war, which in the first post-war year had a “salutary effect on the health of the nation which is hard to exaggerate”, as Ivo Žanić wrote at the end of 1996. In the same text, referring to Bergson, Žanić interpreted Brešan’s film as opposite to the “gestures of pathos” and “stiffness” of the Tuđman era, since “stiffness is comical, and laughter is the punishment for it” (Žanić, 1996).  It was similar with Brešan’s next hit, Marshal Tito's Spirit. It appeared in cinemas in the last autumn of Tuđman’s life and rule, and by humorously showing a comical disembarking of old partisans on a Dalmatian island Brešan prepared people for the return to power of the left-wing, which came several months after the film’s première.[16]

   Brešan’s comedies were not only the greatest hits of that period, they also belonged to the small number of Croatian films that achieved limited international visibility. However, they were not the only ones to do so. Zrinko Ogresta had already achieved it with his first film Fragments (1991), which EFA included among the five best young European films. His next film Washed out (1995) won the TV prize Prix Italia, and his social thriller Crvena prašina/Red Dust (1999) played out of competition at the Venice Mostra. In that period debutant Goran Rušinović also made a limited appearance on the international scene; without formal education in directing, he directed the black-and-white crime film Mondo Bobo in 1997. This film was made outside institutional cinema, and its main sponsors were the entrepreneur Hrvoje Petrač – later convicted of organised crime, and the Osijek politician Branimir Glavaš – later convicted of war crimes committed in 1991. The film itself was a stylised black-and-white thriller with minimal references to social reality. It won the main awards at the festivals in Valencia and Cottbus.

The year 2000 was a clear-cut watershed the Croatian society as a whole. The country left behind a period dominated by intense ideology, one party and a strong leader, and entered a post-authoritarian period ruled by plurality in world view and a loose and unstable coalition government. The status of cinema did not change much in the operative sense: it was still headed from the Ministry of Culture, only now through professional mediation in the form of cultural councils. But the ideological changes were refreshing, if only because there was no longer an ideologically-desirable theme and worldview which filmmakers tried to satisfy. Because of this, state-building films disappeared and some of the authors who had made them vanished from the scene or retired into independent, low-budget production (Jakov Sedlar, Željko Senečić).

The de-ideologising of society and the introduction of institutional regulation of cinema also changed the generation scene in Croatian film. Like in many transition countries, in the nineties Croatian cinema lost the older generation of authors who felt lost in the production chaos of the early transition, or abstained from filmmaking because of ideological dissent from the dominant policy. As cinema became more ordered, some of them returned, such as Krsto Papić, Zoran Tadić, Petar Krelja and Rajko Grlić.

In the new decade the foreign visibility of Croatian film increased, but it still did not reach an exceptional level. In 2003 the first Croatian film since gaining independence was shown in competition at one of the three major festivals (Svjedoci /Witnesses by Vinko Brešan, in Berlin), and the film Tu/Here by Zrinko Ogresta won the special jury award in Karlovi Vary, and awards in Montpellier and Milan. Next year, the debut film A Wonderful Night in Split (2004) by Arsen A. Ostojić was nominated among the five best European debut films (European Discovery). Two films by Ognjen Sviličić – Oprosti za kung fu/Sorry for Kung Fu (2004) and Armin (2007) – were screened in Berlin in the Forum section, Karaula/Border Post (2005) and Neka ostane među nama/Just Among Us (2010) by Rajko Grlić were screened in the competition section in San Sebastian and Karlovi Vary (where the latter won the award for best director), Put lubenica/Watermelon Road (2006) by Branko Schmidt won the main award in Montpellier,[17] and Buick Riviera by Goran Rušinović (2008) in Sarajevo. Nevertheless, the awakened global reception of Croatian film did not help it to increase the number of viewers at home.

Although the first decade of the two thousands was a period of the gradual revival of cinema, when multiplexes opened and the cinema network recovered,[18] and despite the greater foreign success, in this decade Croatian films did not even keep the number of viewers that they had in the nineties. The lack of interest of Croatian audiences in Croatian films was still so pronounced that the Sarajevo director Pjer Žalica, in an interview to Zagreb’s Jutarnji list in October 2003, said that “it fascinates him in a negative way”. “What is taking place in Croatia is terrible and you must search for the deeper reasons for it. There is something wrong when a community shows no interest in works that were made in it,” (Lazarin, 2003: 58-59). The only real Croatian hits in this decade were two films distributed in 2005/6, both based on novels of the Split writer Ante Tomić. The rural comedy Što je muškarac bez brkova/What is a Man without a Moustache directed by Hrvoje Hribar was seen by about 180,000, and Border Post by about 43,000 people (Petković, 2006). Besides these, somewhat higher attendance was achieved by the high-budget historical epic Duga mračna noć/ The Long Dark Night (2004) by Antun Vrdoljak (29,603 viewers), the musical documentary by Igor Mirković Sretno dijete/The Happy Child (29,011), and Metastaze/Metastases (2009) by Branko Schmidt, based on the homonymous novel of Alen Bović/Josip Balenović (27,023 viewers in 2009). Even these more than modest numbers, however, greatly exceeded the average, and even the most successful Croatian films had attendance of between five and ten thousand. Not a single Croatian film was seen by more than ten thousand viewers in 2005.[19] In 2007 only two films went slightly beyond this number,[20] in 2008 only one – Kino Lika/Lika Cinema (17,288 viewers),[21] and in 2009 three, but two of them exceeded 10 thousand viewers only by a hair’s breadth.[22] In 2010 only one film topped the modest number of ten thousand viewers, Rajko Grlić’s Just among us with 16,308 viewers.[23]  This devastating trend shifted after 2011, when HAVC completely changed its programming strategy and oriented production more toward comedies and films for children. The success of comedies such as Sonja and the Bull or Svećenikova djeca/The Priest’s Children (2013, Vinko Brešan), and of the children’s film serial based on the character of Koko from Ivan Kušan’s classic children’s novels, improved the attendance of domestic films. The trend peaked with Brešan’s film The Priest’s Children, which was seen by more than 150 thousand viewers.

The increased foreign visibility of Croatian films in the 2010s, and the low box office success at home in the same period seem to be discrepant, but this is so only at first glance. Both these trends can partly be explained by a change in programme strategy which happened spontaneously at the beginning of the two thousands. Until then, Croatian film was under attack by the public and media because of low attendance, which made directors try to make more popular films. Brešan’s model (usually Mediterranean or regional) of political comedies was offered as a recipe for success and was imitated by a large number of filmmakers, but with less success (Srce nije u modi /The Heart is not In, Branko Schmidt, 2000; Holding, Tomislav Radić,  2001; Ajmo žuti /Go, Yellow, Dražen Žarković, 2001, and so on). As this did not lead to any significant changes in attendance, in the next period there was a spontaneous switch to the type of films that would have greater foreign success. This included concentration on politically contradictory subjects such as war crimes (Crnci /Negroes, 2009), homophobia (Fine Dead Girls, 2002), AIDS (Volim te /I Love You, 2006), trafficking (Watermelon Road, 2006), and also a stylistic shift from the classical narrative style to various modalities of the auteur film. This logically led to a fall in domestic attendance, and the renewal of the cinema network did not help Croatian film because at the same time there was a strengthening of the competing media space, especially commercial TV. The strong competition of national TV channels with long hours of live-action programme in Croatian sucked a large number of actors, directors and professionals from film, while at the same time film budgets decreased. Thus live-action film necessarily re-oriented to the festival art-niche. In this change, however, Croatian cinema – like Slovenian – had a limited degree of success. Both cinemas managed to enter the competition sections of the three great festivals with only one film before 2009.[24] Neither managed to enter Cannes, the festival that is the key measure of success in filmmaking.


2.3. Serbia

Unlike Slovenian and Croatian cinema, which – despite all their differences – strongly relied on the state after 1990 and achieved poor visibility abroad, in the case of Serbian cinema things were completely different. 

During the nineties SR Yugoslavia, that is, Serbia and Montenegro, was embroiled in a whole lot of wars, starting from that in Croatia, then in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to conflict with NATO in 1999. SR Yugoslavia was placed under international sanctions as early as 1992, which was an additional economic blow to the country whose economy was completely harnessed to aggressive military campaigns in neighbouring countries. Under such conditions, institutional support for film was small and sporadic during the entire nineties. The only institutional support film got was provided by public Radio Television, which was under the strong control of the regime.

However, contrary to what one might expect, the sanctions indirectly helped Serbian film, for several reasons.

 The international sanctions made it difficult for Serbian films to access foreign festivals. Festivals that included Serbian films in their programmes faced, especially in the first year of the war, Croat and Bosniak demonstrations, and protests and criticism in the press. Under a tacit interpretation, which was implemented in practice, the embargo did not cover films made in co-production with other countries. Therefore Serbian filmmakers were forced to sidestep the sanctions by beginning to co-produce films in international co-production arrangements. In this way Serbian film increased its international visibility in the early nineties and developed the culture of co-production much more strongly than the relatively closed Slovenian or completely autarchic Croatian cinema.  

Furthermore, the sanctions unexpectedly opened up a market niche for Serbian film on the home market. During the sanctions many large Hollywood studios withdrew from the Serbian and Montenegrin market. The American films that were distributed in Serbia-Montenegro were pirated on a massive scale, which was not looked on as illegal in SR Yugoslavia as the country was in conflict with the West and was not motivated to harness the law enforcement system to protect the economic interests of American cinema. There was one more reason: the USA attack on SR Yugoslavia in 1999 made part of the general public hostile to American films. The combined result of all this was that Hollywood did not dominate the Serbian and Montenegrin market in the nineties and early two thousands as it did in Europe, and this opened the market to domestic films. These could not expect institutional support, but on the other hand they had a better starting position on the market. 

Consequently, Serbian films were a spectacular box-office success on the territory of SR Yugoslavia during the nineties and convincingly took first place on the annual lists. In 1996 the most highly-rated domestic film in SRY, Lepa sela lepo gore/Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (Srđan Dragojević), had as many as 612,574 viewers, in 1998  Crna mačka, beli mačor/White Cat, Black Cat (Emir Kusturica) had 488,643, in 1999 Nož/The Knife (Miroslav Lekić) had 521,727, in 2000 Nebeska udica/Sky Hook (Ljubiša Samardžić) had 342,939, in 2001 Munje/Dudes had 571,341, and in 2002 the most successful film of all – the folklore melodrama Zona Zamfirova in the torlak dialect by Zdravko Šotra – was seen by as many as 1,005,156 viewers. It must be said that these hits were not exceptions: for example, in 1998 as many as five films had an attendance of more than two hundred thousand viewers, and between 1998 and 2005 at least three films a year (up to five) had more than one hundred thousand viewers.[25] Although Serbia has a larger population than the other post-Yugoslav countries, these numbers are really impressive and it is not difficult to agree with the Serbian critic Dimitrije Vojnov, who wrote:

What made Serbian film atypical in world proportions is also that, besides Indian film, it is the only out-of-Hollywood cinema that dominates its own market in viewer attendance.[26] (Vojnov, 2008: 98)                                          

The combined lack of institutional support and strong market potential fundamentally shaped Serbian cinema in the 1990s and early 2000s. In this constellation it abruptly crossed the boundary from state regulation to a kind of “wild” capitalism. Most of the production money was supplied by the economy and private entrepreneurs. Films that could count on audience response were made, and any shift from the mainstream or author stylisation was unimaginable. The non-dominant film genres such as animation and experimental film died out. However, Serbia maintained a relatively numerous production of full-length films, which varied between 7 and 13 films every year, except in 1996 and 1999 (the years of the NATO interventions). Also, a sharped market instinct made Serbian filmmakers react to social events quickly. Ljubiša Samardžić made a film about the NATO bombing only several months after it happened (Sky Hook, 2000), and he made a youth drama that takes place during the crucial, historic elections only several months after the fall of Milošević in October 2000 (Nataša, 2001).   

Although domestic film continues to be popular in Serbia until the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the types of hits that attracted Serbian audiences changed as time passed. When the war broke out and in the first half of the 1990s the dominant Serbian hits were urban, youth films, strongly escapist in character, in which politics did make a cautious appearance, but not the war. Typical examples of this production is the first, original film of the series Mi nismo anđeli/We are not Angels by Srđan Dragojević from 1992, and the youth film on underground radio DJs Crni bombarder/The Black Bomber by Darko Bajić. Both films, with attendance of just over 80,000 viewers, came first on the lists in the first year of the embargo. It is not irrelevant that both were also exceptionally sought-after pirate goods on the other side of the front lines, in Croatia, where they were pirated and distributed from hand to hand, and even had a limited degree of media reception, as did some other Serbian films made during the war. Both the above films were highly escapist and completely urban.[27] We are not Angels takes place in the “hyperstylised reality of Belgrade” (Vojnov, 2008: 100), “the swinging Belgrade from video clips and student films of the eighties” (Vojnov, 2008: 101). Both rely strongly on American pop-culture influence: We are not Angels on Frank Capra and Hollywood romantic comedy, and The Black Bomber on Walter Hill’s films that exploit pop-culture mythemes, such as Streets of Fire (1984) or The Warriors (1979). This Americanophile filmmaking was partly the product of postmodernism and the taste of the generation. Similarly as in Croatia, where the generation of critics around the magazine Kinoteka explicitly extolled American studio film in the late 1980s and overrated it to the detriment of the films of auteur modernism. In Belgrade the circle of critics that gathered around the influential Professor Nebojša Pajkić (known as the “pajkićevci” – see Velisavljević, 2008b: 87) nurtured a similar aesthetic canon, admired Hollywood and Hong-Kong film and kept away from the then glorified, socially dominant auteur film. In the last period of communism this Americanophile attitude, as Velisavljević noted, was also a clear expression of political views:  

 It is indicative that in Serbia, in the early 1990s, at the time when communism was on its way out… and at the time of the awakening of nationalism, two cinemas whose dominant ideology was very “patriotic” and anti-communist, such as those of America and Hong Kong, and right-wingers such as John Milius, were the source of the taste in the films nurtured by young critics. (Velisavljević, 2008b: 89)

When war broke out the ideological repercussions of this kind of poetics changed completely. Pop-films with a strong postmodernist, meta-genre line became an expression of explicit and intentional escapism, and their supporters declared them to be in the “spirit of the rebellion of the young and clever, the urban and different, the critical, against the rural populist culture” (Velisavljević, 2008b: 88), or, as formulated by Nevena Daković, “in film, the tools of resistance against the pessimism and isolationism of Balkanisation are the genre film, the sound of rock music, postmodernism and a cool escapist attitude” (Daković, 2008: 173). But this escapist note made some Serbian critics mockingly call such films the pink wave (Velisavljević, 2008a: 209).

This model of inoffensive, urban, youth films did not disappear from Serbian film production: they were also made, often with success, in following years (for example, Tri palme za dvije bitange i ribicu/ Three Palms for two Punks and a Babe by Radivoje Andrić, 1998, or Skoro sasvim obična priča /An Almost Completely Ordinary Story by Miloš Petričić, 2003). However, in the last war years the “pink” or “pop” film model was pushed aside both by critics and in viewer attendance, and in the mid-1990s films that brought considerable foreign respect for Serbian film took over.  

In the first war years Serbian films had sporadic foreign success, such as Tango argentino by Goran Paskaljević, which played in the Venice competition section in 1992, or Tito i ja/Tito and Me by Goran Marković, which won an award in San Sebastian. But the real success of Serbian film in world proportions began in 1995 when Sarajevo director Emir Kusturica made Underground in French-German co-production and with the help of Serbian public television, based on Dušan Kovačević’s theatre text which was fundamentally extended and politically updated. Kusturica turned the high concept theatre text about Titoism into a great, three-hour long political allegory which won him the Palme d’or in Cannes in that year. Partly because of the film’s content, partly because of the financial help which the production got from the strongly regime-ruled Serbian television, the decision of the jury chaired by Jeanne Moreau had a strong impact and caused a long and stormy debate (more in Iordanova, 2001: 127-135). The important award and publicity of this kind also attracted the home audience, so 167,259 viewers saw the film in Serbia, although it lasts for three hours and has none of the components typical of a mainstream hit.

A new controversial title, seen by many more people in Serbia and throughout the region, came next year. It was made by Srđan Dragojević, the director of We are not Angels and a kind of founder of the pink wave. However, his film Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996) was both thematically and stylistically a great change from his earlier light romantic comedy. This war film was an unparalleled hit in Serbia (612,574 viewers in 1996). Although it never entered any of the three major festivals,[28] Dragojević’s film gradually won considerable international visibility and became the subject of many reviews, essays and debates.

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame embodies, even more than Underground, the type of hit that dominated Serbian cinema in the second half of the 1990s. As a rule, these were films made with the help of co-production capital and dealt with the great themes of the Balkans in the nineties: war, violence, ethnic hatred, the inheritance of communism and organised crime.  Relying on caricatured stylisation and grotesque, they used hypertrophied stereotypes to show the Balkans as the microcosm of violence, rabid revenge, irrational passions and machismo. Dragojević’s next film Rane/Wounds (1998) was similar, it no longer dealt directly with the war but with the genesis of the new generation of urban criminals. It was the first Serbian film distributed in Croatia after the war, with considerable commercial success.[29] In the same year the veteran of the Prague school, Goran Paskaljević, made Bure baruta/Cabaret Balkan, a film based on the homonymous play by Macedonian writer Dean Dukovski, which through ten connected stories also showed the Belgrade asphalt as a place of irrational violence, uncontrolled hatred, long-prepared revenge, aggression and machismo.

In this group of films misanthropic pessimism, combined with borrowings from genre mythology and an effective caricature of the Balkan stereotype, merged into a successful poetic model popular with the Serbian public in the late 1990s: both Cabaret Balkan and Wounds had over 300, and Pretty Village, Pretty Flame over 600 thousand viewers. At the same time such films, especially those by Kusturica and Dragojević, were criticised (not only) in the region for cynicism and for their (not always) implicit political messages (Horton, 2000b: 112, Krasztev 2000: 23-24). Despite these objections, the films were very successful abroad. This is not only true of Underground, which won the Palme d’or, but also of Cabaret Balkan, which won the critics award at the Mostra in Venice and the critics award of the European Film Academy (EFA).

There were two other poetic consequences of the fact that until the beginning of the 2000s Serbian film depended more on the market, and less on the state. The first was that there was no mass production of intensely chauvinistic and directly ideological films in Serbia, such as those that characterised Croatian cinema in the 1990s. It is true that some Serbian films in the early nineties had elements of political propaganda (most visibly Vukovar – jedna priča/Vukovar Poste Restante by Bora Drašković from 1994),[30] but the only Serbian film from the 1990s which directly targeted and illustrated the nationalistic ideology was Nož/The Knife (1999) by Miroslav Lekić, based on the notorious and widely sold novel of the same name by Vuk Drašković from the 1980s. This film (like the book) resounded strongly and had more than half a million viewers.

 The absence of war propaganda (even of the war itself) in Serbian films is not unexpected and fits into the pattern that prevailed in all Serbian culture and media in the war years. Right after the first year the war began to be minimised and marginalised in the Serbian newspapers and electronic media: in the TV news it was covered as peripheral foreign affairs might be (Skopljanac Brunner, 1999b: 338-340) and in papers it was often followed only by local correspondents on local pages (according to an analysis made by Ćurgus Kazimir, 1999: 131, on the example of the daily paper Politika). This general approach was the result, on one hand, of psychological suppression, and on the other of the official ideology which kept repeating that “Serbia is not at war”, and that the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia were civil wars for which Serbia was groundlessly being punished by sanctions. In this context, the regime had no mechanisms or any particular reason to support warmongering films, so they did not exist.

The second poetic consequence that the leap into the market economy left on Serbian film was the number and over-presence of genre and action films in the national production, especially in the period coinciding with the peak viewer attendance of domestic films, the mid 1990s to about 2005. In this period, genre and/or action films took up a considerable part of Serbian production, and the genres were various. There was a significant number of gangster films, Bulevar revolucije (Vladimir Blaževski, 1992), Do koske/Rage (Boban Skerlić, 1997) or Wounds (Srđan Dragojević, 1998; see Vojnov 2009: 41-44). There were also action thrillers such as Točkovi/Wheels (Đorđe Milosavljević, 1999), sports-crime dramas such as Apsolutnih sto/The Absolute Hundred (Srdan Golubović, 2001) or Jedan na jedan/One to One (Mladen Matičević, 2002), and spy thrillers (Balkanska pravila/Balkan Rules, Darko Bajić, 1997 and Četvrti čovek/The Fourth Man, Dejan Zečević, 2007). Then, of course, there were comedies, from romantic (Three Palms for Two Punks and a Babe, Radivoje Andrić, 1998) to regional (Seljaci/Peasants, Dragoslav Lazić, 2001) and sports (Ona voli Zvezdu/She Loves Zvezda, Marko Marinković, 2001). The genres included a musical film (Munje/Dudes, Radivoje Andrić, 2001), but also a horror (TT Sindrom/ TT Syndrome, Dejan Zečević, 2002), and even a youth fantasy (Šejtanov ratnik/The Devil’s Warrior, Stevan Filipović, 2006) and historical fantasy (Čarlston  za Ognjenku/Charlstone & Vendetta, Uroš Stojanović, 2008). Another characteristic of Serbian genre film was the combination of film and music, especially the rock and turbo-folk subculture. Thus turbo-folk singer Dragana Mirković played the heroine in the musical Slatko od snova/Sweetmeats made of Dreams (Vladimir Živković, 1994) and sang in the film in English (Kronja, 2001: 60), the plot of Dudes (Radivoje Andrić, 2001) revolves around the drum'n'base subculture, while the plot of A3 – rok end rol uzvraća udarac/A3 – Rock&Roll Strikes Back (Petar Pašić, 2006) – the third part of the series We are not Angels – is based on a satirical confrontation of turbo-folk and the old Yugoslav rock culture. It is interesting that this comedy, which ridicules the glitzy kitsch of the turbo-folk industry, was produced by TV Pink, the television company that created the subculture.  

The strong reliance of the Serbian film industry on genre and subculture practices began to wane in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, in the period that the Serbian critic Srđan Vučinić called the time of the death of cinema halls (Vučinić, 2008: 206). This is the period when cinema halls began to be closed in large numbers, the cinema market thinned down, the leading producers turned to TV, and local attendance of Serbian films decreased considerably.

After the fall of Milošević’s regime in October 2000 Serbian film found itself in new circumstances. There was no more embargo, Hollywood returned to the local repertoire, and under the new coalition government Serbia entered into its thorny version of normalisation. One of the aspects of this normalisation was the introduction of regular public co-financing of films and the establishment of film institutions. In 2004 the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia abolished the Film Institute (founded in 1959 as the centre for the professional training of film personnel) and on 9 December 2004 founded its legal successor, the Film Centre of Serbia (Filmski centar Srbije - FCS), a local version of West-European film institutes or boards. From 2005 there were also regular tenders, and from April 2006 these were held by FCS. Almost at the same time, however, Serbia faced the process of cinema-hall closure, which had peaked in Croatia six or seven years earlier. During this period of the “death of cinema halls”, according to Srđan Vučinić, “by the autumn of 2007 almost all the cult cinema halls in the centre of Belgrade had been shut down,” (2008: 206). This understandably devastated the attendance of domestic films, which decreased immensely although it still remained respectable on the relative regional scale: in 2006 the best-attended domestic film We are not Angels 3 sold 114,474 tickets, in 2007 Crni Gruja i kamen mudrosti/Black Gruya and the Stone of Wisdom sold 131,948, in 2008 Charleston & Vendetta sold 147,764, in 2009 Sveti Georgije ubiva aždahu/St George Slays the Dragon sold 115,840, and in 2010/11 Serbia again had a real box-office hit, the sports-history play Montevideo, bog te video/Montevideo, Taste of a Dream by Dragan Bjelogrlić, which was seen by about 400 thousand viewers in only eight weeks of distribution. Similar success happened a year later, with Srđan Dragojević’s new film Parada/Parade (2012). For the Serbian film economy, however, it was unfavourable that such hits gradually became the exception, and films with attendance of over 50 thousand rare.[31] Thus Vučinić asks, in his overview of newer Serbian cinema: “Can film, regardless of quantity, genre diversity and a new poetic approach, even exist in a state in which the cinema network is expiring?” (Vučinić, 2008: 206).

In the new situation of renewed institutional support and market decline, Serbian film naturally also changed in outlook. The first effect of normalisation was the return to cinema of the older Yugoslav authors, most of them renowned and affirmed directors who had barely worked or had not worked at all in the 1990s, in the period of a kind of wild capitalism in the film industry. During the nineties many of the classic old filmmakers in Belgrade – who belonged to the black wave or to the Prague school – felt disoriented in the new film economy and found it difficult to secure funds for a film. Of the “Prague” generation, only Emir Kusturica and Goran Paskaljević had continuous careers. At the time when the old cinema system was breaking down they were already acknowledged international directors and continued to work in foreign co-production arrangements: after 1990, Paskaljević made one film each in the USA, Ireland and Albania.[32] The only member of the “black wave” who worked without pause in that period was Želimir Žilnik, who made seven films after 1990. But these were extremely low-budget, live-action/documentary films without professional actors, which, although they were off-mainstream, sometimes had festival success (Mramorno dupe/Marble Ass, 1995) or even sound attendance (such as the documentary Tito po drugi put među Srbima/Tito Among the Serbs for the Second Time from 1993).

These, however, are exceptions. In Serbia, too, like in Croatia, most of the directors from the earlier period disappeared from the scene in the nineties. With the beginning of normalisation, however, some of them returned. The film title Buđenje iz mrtvih/Awakening from the Dead (2005) is symptomatic for the whole age; it is a film that brought the Yugoslav veteran Miša Radivojević back to cinema after eleven years. Both for Radivojević himself, and for many authors of his generation, the beginning of the new decade really was a kind of “awakening from the dead”. The directors that came back to Serbian film after 2000 were: Srđan Karanović (Sjajem u očima/Loving Glances, 2003, after 12 years pause), Slobodan Šijan (Siroti mali hrčki/Poor Little Hamsters, 2003, after 15 years pause), but also Goran Marković, who had in the period between Tito and Me (1992) and Kordon/Cordon (2002) made documentaries and written plays, but had made only one live-action film (Urnebesna tragedija/A Roaring Tragedy, 1997).

 The second consequence of the market decrease and the renewal of subsidising was the widening of the poetic space. The greater reliance on government support and the smaller dependence on the market provided directors with a broader field and resulted in the appearance of distinctly art films, such as Radivojević’s Awakening from the Dead (2005) and Odbačen/The Reject (2007), or Obični ljudi/Ordinary People (2009), a film by Vladimir Perišić which was screened in the Critics Week in Cannes in 2009 and won the Heart of Sarajevo award. Feature-length animated films were also made, like Film noir (2007) by Risto Topaloski and D. Jud Jones, and Technotise - Edit i ja/Technotise – Edit and I  (2009) by cartoonist Aleksa Gajić. In 2009/10 this shift from the mainstream obtained the first components of a consistent model. Many films appeared in this period with an “explicit approach to sex and violence, which were socially provocative”, was how director Mladen Đorđević described this change (Njegić, 2010: 24). Typical examples of these “direct, uncompromising, investigative” films were the works of Mladen Đorđević, both the documentary Made in Serbia (2005) and his live-action pornographic snuff film Život i smrt porno bande/The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009), which the Croatian press, after its Zagreb première, described as “shocking” and “a film of blood and sperm” (Njegić, 2010: 24). Besides Đorđević’s films, there were also the documentaries of Boris Mitić (Doviđenja, kako ste?/Goodbye, How Are you?, 2009), and the films Miloš Branković (Nebojša Radosavljević, 2008), Hitna pomoć/The Ambulance (Goran Radovanović, 2009), Flešbek/Flashback (Aleksandar Janković, 2010), Srpski film/Serbian Film (Srđan Spasojević, 2009), and Clip (Maja Miloš, 2012). Although it is too early to talk about a rounded poetic model, the films and directors of this group have some things in common: the complete rejection of mainstream standards of production and style, mixing live-action and documentary, avoiding well-known and affirmed actors, emphasised stylisation (including black-and-white camera), selection of characters from the extreme social margins and social outcasts, inclination to the bizarre, violent, erotic and even pornographic. At the end of the decade the young Serbian cinema chose this kind of shock strategy and low-budget l'art pour l'art films as a reaction against the fall in attendance and the “death of cinema halls”. The new Serbian film also used this radical approach to distance itself from the Americanophile, genre and anti-auteur taste that had dominated the earlier generation and age, and it turned in two opposite directions: towards the more pronounced auteur film, or towards films that exploited a particular genre but which in their radical use of violence and erotica stepped out of the mainstream. Rejected by viewers who turned to historical-populist films, lacking the developed co-production network of directors of the previous generation, young Serbian authors tried to turn their marginal position and low-budget films from a weakness into an advantage by intensifying contrast to the mainstream, either in subject-matter or in stylistic radicalism. 

In this period the structure of the by then thinning number of domestic hits changed. Before the beginning of the two thousands the biggest Serbian box-office hits were in one way or another socially relevant, and their subjects were the war, and social and political crisis. A good example of this is Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, Wounds or Rage. In the post-Milošević period films with a pronounced escapist note took the strongest market position: these were Zdravko Šotra’s amazingly successful folklore melodramas (Zona Zamfirova, 2002; Ivkova slava/ Ivko’s Saint’s Day, 2005),[33] period piece comedies (Pljačka Trećeg rajha/The Robbery of the Third Reich by Zdravko Šotra, 2004; Crni Gruja i kamen mudrosti/Black Gruya and the Stone of Wisdom by Marko Marinković, 2007), or fantasy films (Šejtanov ratnik/The Devil’s Warrior by Stevan Filipović, 2006; Charleston za Ognjenku/ Charleston & Vendetta by Uroš Stojanović, 2008). Whereas in the nineties Serbian film was obsessively linked to the present, after the fall of Milošević and after Serbia remained alone, the preferred subject of Serbian films became the past, either from the Ottoman period (Zona Zamfirova, Ivko’s Saint’s Day), from the time of the Serbian rebellion (Black Gruya), or from the period just before and after World War I (Charleston & Vendetta, Saint George Shoots the Dragon, Montevideo, Taste of a Dream). In this sense it is symptomatic that between 2007 and 2011 the most popular domestic films were costumed historical titles, and in 2009 all the three most popular domestic films were historical.[34]

This can better be understood if we remember that Serbia became independent in this period, however, not of its own will but because the remaining component parts of the former federation had seceded, even Montenegro and Kosovo. At the time when it remained alone and was redefining its identity, it used cinema to map its past and it found a haven in history, in the period before the political dividing lines and traumas of the 20th century. Russian film went through a similar stage after the dissolution of the Soviet empire, when Russia “remained independent” and lost its imperial power and self-respect. At that time, according to Vladimir Padunov, scholar of Russian cinema, “For the first time in a thousand years the Russian elite got the task of forging a national state on the ruins of a multinational empire,” (Iordanova, 2005: 233). It was in this period that a wave of looking-back films were made about the idyllic “better” past in imperial Russia, of which the most famous and most typical was Sibirskiy tsiryulnik/ Barber of Siberia (1997) by Nikita Mikhalkov.[35] A similar “forging of a nation on the ruins of the multinational” can clearly be recognised in Serbian cinema, which, just like its Russian counterpart, “desires emancipation and wishes to be left alone” (Iordanova, 2005: 234). In this process it finds a safe haven in what is specifically Serbian history (not collective/South-Slav), where the “better past” is shown either as a rustic idyll (like in Šotra’s historical romances) or as a period of collective hardship and pride.[36]

A perfect example of this cultural tendency is undoubtedly Montevideo, Taste of a Dream (2010), a sports-history play directed by Dragan Bjelogrlić which became the greatest Serbian cinema hit in the winter of 2010/2011, with as many as 400 thousand sold tickets in the first eight weeks of distribution. Taking place in 1929 in the Yugoslav metropolis Belgrade, which the film shows as a modern city of trams, Charleston and parties with jazz music, the film describes the efforts of Belgrade football players and football fans to take the team to the first world football championship in Uruguay in 1930. They are thwarted by the boycott of the Croatian players and clubs (after the assassination of the Croatian politician Radić and the proclamation of the royal dictatorship on 6 January 1929), but also because the king and the political and financial elite do not show any interest in the project. In the final happy ending, the Belgrade team wins in a friendly match against Bulgaria, the enthusiastic crowd collect contributions for the trip to Uruguay, and the players and stadium audience join in singing the Serbian national anthem Bože pravde/God of Justice. The political parallel between what happens in the film and real life at the time when the film was made is oblivious: after its neighbours turned their backs on it, abandoned by all, Serbia nevertheless finds a way to achieve something in sports and redefines its identity – now no longer a Yugoslav identity, but Serbian. The box office success of Montevideo is completely understandable, because the film is political wishful thinking about the possibility of a successful Serbia on the ruins of Yugoslavia.


2.4. Bosnia and Herzegovina

If a turning point can be said to exist in Croatian and Serbian cinema between two very different periods in filmmaking and society in general – the nineties and the first decade of the two thousands – this turning point is probably nowhere as sharp as it is in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the case of B&H this turning point is between a period when there was practically no cinema at all, to a period when cinema rose to unprecedented heights.

In the nineties Bosnia and Herzegovina was engulfed in a war on its territory, a war that was incomparably more destructive than in Croatia. It was fought on practically the entire territory, included the most vicious war crimes, genocide and mass rape, and all the three nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina fought among themselves. The war ended without a real winner, and B&H emerged from the war completely destroyed, with poisoned inter-ethnic relations, politically unstable in the long term, legislatively and symbolically unfinished.    

Although some Serbian films were made on Bosnian territory under Serb control (such as Pretty Village, Pretty Flame), the Serbs in B&H did not undertake any significant film activities in the 1990s. On the other side of the front lines it was completely different, because there was a flourishing documentarist activity (mostly in Sarajevo). Its most viable and internationally most visible part was the production of the Sarajevo Group of Authors (SaGA) led by the affirmed pre-war director Ademir Kenović, who gathered around him a group of young directors, among them Srđan Vuletić and Pjer Žalica. During the siege of Sarajevo SaGA produced many noted short documentaries which did the round of world festivals, and the documentary omnibus MGM - Man God Monster (1994) by directors Ismet Arnautalić, Mirza Idrizović, Pjer Žalica and Ademir Kenović also played in the Quinzaine des realisateurs programme of the Cannes Festival.

During the war there was no live-action film production in B&H for understandable reasons, and the only films that appeared were those that had been in post-production at the time when the war broke out, for example Magareće godine/Donkey Years (1994), a film by Nenad Dizdarević based on the autobiographical novel for children by Branko Ćopić. The first live-action feature film of post-war B&H was made just after the war ended, in 1997, by the circle of SaGA filmmakers. It was the film Savršeni krug/Perfect Circle directed by Ademir Kenović, the script was by Pjer Žalica and the celebrated pre-war scriptwriter and poet Abdulah Sidran, who was the author of the idea and had written the scripts for Kusturica’s first films. Partly because of Sidran’s and Kenović’s high reputation, partly because the film had in fact been prepared during the war, partly because it was the first B&H film made at a time when the world public still had fresh memories of the siege of Sarajevo, the film attracted great attention of the media and film lovers, and entered the supplementary programme in Cannes. However, despite high expectations the film did not have the expected success.

After the war ended there was still no systematic film activity in the Serb part of B&H. As for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1998 its government founded the Cinema Foundation whose objective was to “co-finance film projects, encourage the creation of script material, aid the protection, preservation and presentation of the film heritage, aid international cooperation” (Službene novine Federacije B&H 16/98, see Ibrahimović, 2008: 118). This set up the basic institutional framework for live-action production. However, at that time the B&H Federation had no financial resources or positive political motivation for the continuous production of live-action features. The only feature film made in this intermediate period was Tunel/The Tunnel (1999) by director Faruk Sokolović, based on the idea of Nedžad Latić. This very stylised political drama set in the late forties was about the suffering of political prisoners, members of the “Young Muslims” group. On one hand this film was a hagiography made to politically legitimise the Bosnian political elite headed by Alija Izetbegović, former ideologue of the “Young Muslims” and one-time political prisoner. It was also the film in which Bosnia and Herzegovina tardily fulfilled its “revisionist”, anti-communist, “mandatory programme”, characteristic of all Eastern European, post-communist cinemas. But, just like earlier in Croatia, in B&H, too, films like The Tunnel were of no interest either to the West or to local audiences.

Until 2001, film in Bosnia and Herzegovina was by far the least promising of all the Yugoslav successor states. And then everything changed. Paradoxically, the film that brought this change was not of Bosnian and Herzegovinian production at all, nor was it made in B&H.  

The film was Ničija zemlja/No Man’s Land, the debut film of Danis Tanović (Zenica, 1969), former army cinematographer in the Army of B&H, an emigrant living in Belgium. In 2001, Tanović wrote the script and filmed the war drama No Man’s Land about two Bosniak and one Serb soldier who found themselves in a trench on no man’s land between the enemy lines. In 2001 the film premiered in Cannes, where it won an award for best screenplay, and in March 2002 it won the Oscar for best foreign-language film: before Tanović no (post)Yugoslav filmmaker had won this prize, although six of them had been nominated.[37]

No Man’s Land was the work of a Bosnian and Herzegovinian author, but the film itself had nothing to do with Bosnian and Herzegovinian institutional cinema. It was made in British-Belgian-French-Slovenian co-production, it cost 5 million dollars, which would have been difficult to secure in the Balkans, it was made on location in Slovenia, and two of the three star roles were played by Croatian actors (Rene Bitorajac and Filip Šovagović). Still, the Oscar won by a Bosnian director caused cinema euphoria in B&H and made the public and politicians give stronger support to cinema. This led to a period when B&H made more films, and also when Sarajevo films had a series of impressive successes.


In 2003 three feature films were made in B&H, two of which – both by former SaGA documentarists – won important international awards. The film Gori vatra/Fuse, an independent debut film by Pjer Žalica, won the Silver Leopard in Locarno, and Ljeto u zlatnoj dolini/Summer in the Golden Valley by Srđan Vuletić the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Festival. Both also had impressive local box-office success. In both cases the authors, who had spread the renown of documentaries during the war, won awards at important and carefully chosen B-festivals, and overnight B&H became an unusual cinema Frankenstein: a cinema without a studio, without a single 35 mm camera on its territory, but which had with only six films won an Oscar and two important festival awards. The finale of this successful series came in 2006, when the drama Grbavica by the debutante Jasmila Žbanić, about the relationship between a mother and her daughter who is the fruit of rape, won the Golden Bear at the festival in Berlin. After winning at Berlin Žbanić, until then a noted documentarist and conceptual artist, was greeted in Sarajevo in the way reserved for sports heroes. Film became a subject of national pride for the young B&H state, a factor of international legitimacy and a darling of the politicians. This new status was also reflected in audience attendance for domestic films, which was extremely high in that period. About 190,000 viewers saw Grbavica in B&H, according to data of the production company, although the film was not distributed in the Republic of Srpska.[38]  

In the next period B&H production continued to be small: a maximum of three feature films a year, and in some years (such as 2009) there was not a single domestic première. All the films were made with the help of a small local subsidy and with considerable co-production capital, less from the region and more from Western Europe. Even though they are not numerous, B&H films continue to achieve above-average international success and visibility. The film Snijeg/Snow (2008) by Aida Begić won the best film award of the Week of Critics programme in Cannes, the films Čuvari noći/Nightguards (2008) by Namik Kabil and Cirkus Columbia/Circus Columbia (2010) by Danis Tanović was screened in the supplementary programme of the Mostra in Venice, the Croatian-B&H co-production Armin (2007) by Ognjen Sviličić in the Berlin Forum, and Jasmila Žbanić’s new, second film Na putu/On the Path (2010) was again included in Berlinale competition.

In this period film production also began to awake in the part of B&H under Serb control, and in 2009 the first feature film was made in the new production centre in Banja Luka. This was the film 32. decembar/December 32nd by Saša Hajduković, a mosaic drama about the world of trophy women and transition entrepreneurs which shows the patriarchal, materialistic and disillusioned society of the new Balkan capitalism in a surprisingly discerning and gloomy way.   

Bosnia and Herzegovina also developed a rather untypical model of cinema organisation in which the fundamental and central role is not played by a foundation, or fund or institute but by – a festival. The Sarajevo Film Festival, founded during the war as moral support for the besieged population, turned into the central institution of B&H cinema during the first decade of the two thousands, the institution that takes care of promotion, foreign representation and preproduction incentives and programmes, such as the influential Cine Link. In this way the SFF made it easier for young Bosnian and Herzegovinian filmmakers to find co-production partners, and it also forged connections with authors from surrounding states for whom the Sarajevo pitching forum became an inevitable stage in the preproduction of films. However, the strong informal and formal role of the SFF did have critics in B&H. Since the SFF is in fact a privately-owned company, the local and regional press frequently criticises this system (Avdić, 2007: 4; Imamović Pirke, 2009).   


2.5. Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo

MACEDONIA was one of the first SFRY successor states to gain independence: it proclaimed independence as early as September 1991 and this was not – unlike in the case of Croatia and B&H – challenged from abroad. Thus Macedonia avoided involvement in the first stage of the Yugoslav wars, and the only pre-constitutive issue that appeared in Macedonia’s independence was that of its right to use the name Macedonia. It was Greece who challenged this right, and this conflict about the name has still not been resolved. This is why Macedonia did not become a NATO member, and why it did not move beyond the status of candidate in EU accession. 

The real source of instability in Macedonia was caused by the long-lasting, festering, internal conflict between the Macedonian-Slav majority and the Albanian minority. During the nineties this conflict was only on a political level, it strengthened during the war between the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, and definitely flared into a war in 2001, when armed conflict between the Macedonians and Macedonian Albanians lasted for four months, from March to June. The war ended in the Ohrid Agreement, which kept the state intact, gave Albanians greater autonomy and participation in government. The emotional distance between the two ethnicities, however, remained enormous, and invisible but deep social barriers were created between the Albanian and Macedonian parts of the country (or even parts of towns). All this shows that the development of Macedonia was somewhat atypical in the post-Yugoslav context. The early nineties – the period when elsewhere war raged – was a period of peaceful transition, but conditions in the country deteriorated in the early 2000s, in the time when elsewhere (Croatia, Serbia) the war leaders and movements had left the scene and when the period of normalisation had started. Thus it is impossible to clearly recognise two periods in film transition in Macedonia – like in Croatia, Serbia and B&H.  

From gaining independence to 2011 Macedonian cinema made 28 feature films in nineteen years – just under one and a half film a year. As elsewhere, the first period until 1997 was the most critical, when one film a year was made, or none (1992). Production increased in the middle of the following decade when four films were made in 2004, three in 2007, and then there was a halt in production from 2008 to 2010.

Institutionally, Macedonia did not move far from state administration in cinema. An autonomous film fund was founded in 2007 but its only source of income was the state budget. The Macedonian Kinoteka engaged in promotion and securing international contacts through the special programme Maccinema.

Despite lack of money and small production, Macedonian cinema was the first post-Yugoslav cinema to achieve major international success. This was done by Milčo Mančevski, a Macedonian director of commercial and musical videos living in New York. In 1994 he made the film Pred doždot/Before the Rain, a film in three parts with cyclically organised time. The film mostly takes place in an Orthodox monastery and deals with an armed ethnic clash between Albanians and Macedonians.[39] This film turned into one of the most popular art-film hits of the early nineties: in 1994 it won the Golden Lion and critics award in Venice, and also many other international awards (among others in Warsaw and Sao Paulo), and was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film. Most importantly, with Before the Rain Mančevski did a lot in outlining the model for the kind of Balkan film hit that would dominate in the nineties: this model was a combination of an engaged political subject, visually appealing, exotic Balkan landscapes and pronounced stylisation in directing.

No Macedonian film after 1994 came even close to repeating the success of Before the Rain. Even Mančevski himself did not manage to do this. His next films – the historical fresco from the time of the Balkan wars Dust (2001), the anthropological horror film Senki/Shadows (2007), and the live-action/documentary omnibus Majki/Mothers (2011) – had a limited impact. However, Macedonian films were successful at middle-level festivals: the drama from Gipsy life Gipsy Magic (1997) by Stole Popov won at the Mediterranean Film Festival in Montpellier, the drama about communist prison camps for political re-education Golemata voda/The Great Water (2004) by Ivo Trajkov won four prizes (including the grand prix) at the Mediterranean Film Festival in Valencia, Bal-can-can (2004) by Darko Mitrevski was awarded in Moscow and Motovun, “the first Balkan Dogma film” Boli li?/Does it hurt? (2007) by Aneta Lesnikovska was screened in the competition in Rotterdam, and the musical-political comedy Pankot ne e mrtov/Punk isn’t Dead (2011) by Vladimir Blaževski won in the important East of the West programme in the Karlovy Vary Festival. Of contemporary films, Jas sum od Titov Veles/I am from Titov Veles (2007) by Teona Strugar Mitevski enjoyed the greatest international visibility: it got a special jury commendation in Sarajevo, played in Toronto and was shown in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.  

Small and fragmented markets with a small number of cinema halls were a problem in all post-Yugoslav countries, but almost nowhere was this problem as pronounced as in Macedonia. Besides being demographically small (2.1 million inhabitants), Macedonia is also a country with one of the lowest statistics of cinema attendance in Europe: according to the report of the European Audiovisual Observatory, an agency of the Council of Europe, in the 2003-2007 period between 100,000 and 280,000 cinema tickets were sold in Macedonia every year, with a tendency of decrease.[40] This means that in the anyway not highly populated Macedonia between 0.04 and 0.13 cinema tickets were sold per person a year, compared with 0.6 in Croatia (2006), 1.3 in Slovenia (2009) or as many as 4 per person in Ireland. Besides Bulgaria (0.31 in 2007) and Romania (0.13 in 2007), Macedonia is the country with continuously the smallest number of sold cinema tickets per person in Europe. This alone makes it difficult to expect domestic films to achieve serious attendance. Surprisingly, there were exceptions, and certainly the greatest was Bal-can-can (2004) by Darko Mitrevski. This film of the road with components of political satire, in which the heroes travel through Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, B&H and Kosovo, turned into one of the major social phenomena of post-Yugoslav film: in small Macedonia it was seen by about 120,000 viewers.  


MONTENEGRO was politically, militarily and culturally closely tied to Serbia in the first half of the nineties. The Montenegrin citizens and political elite participated in the wars in Croatia and B&H, and until the mid-nineties Montenegrin policy was a firm ally of Belgrade and Slobodan Milošević. This policy gradually changed after 1996, when the Montenegrin authorities under Milo Đukanović gradually took over the policy of their former opposition and began to distance themselves from Belgrade. The process began with monetary separation (introduction of the German Mark and later the Euro), then by turning the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which consisted of Serbia and Montenegro, into a dual federation called Serbia and Montenegro (2003), and culminated in a successful referendum for independence in May 2006.  

Film activities in Montenegro developed in the same measure and speed as did separatist desires. During most of the nineties film production in Montenegro was practically non-existent: the old production companies were completely inactive, authors from the Yugoslav period passive, and there were no Montenegrin producers in the films made in Belgrade, even as minority co-production partners, although this was completely usual for film companies from Vojvodina. Things began to change in the late nineties when, according to Andro Martinović, “by returning to itself, Montenegro began to return to film” (Martinović, 2008: 318). First Montenegrin co-production houses were reactivated as partners in Serbian films made in Montenegro (Kud plovi ovaj brod/Where does this Boat Sail by Želimir Žilnik, 1999, and Belo odelo/White Suit by Lazar Ristovski, 1999). Montenegrin television produced several mid-length and short full-length TV dramas (Rođeni sjutra/Born Tomorrow, Draško Đurović, 1997, and Izabranik/The Chosen, Radoslav Stanišić, 1999), and in 1999 the established cinematographer and director from the Yugoslav period, Božidar Bota Nikolić (Balkanski špijun/Balkan Spy) made the first feature film in post-communist Montenegro – U ime oca i sina/In the Name of the Father and of the Son (1999).

Similarly as Balkan Spy, the film In the Name of the Father and of the Son was a “high concept” political farce in which Nikolić showed a satire of the totalitarian mentality, in this case of Montenegrin pro-Serbian militarism. The hero (played by the leading actor of Balkan Spy, Danilo Bata Stojković) is an elderly tobacconist and son of a partisan hero. Not wanting his own son to end up as a war casualty, he hides him from mobilisation in the attic, where the fugitive – left by his wife and humiliated by the war-mongering villagers – gradually goes mad. The story of the film is very similar to the well-known theatre play A Place With the Pigs by South African playwright Athole Fugard, but in the film Nikolić was in the first place interested in the ambience of Montenegro in the nineties, which he shows as a militant atmosphere dominated by the war-mongering media, the unbridled sway of the street and insincere political obsequiousness. The film (which was never completely finished) had only a number of public screenings, but it nevertheless awoke interest throughout the region as a “film of Montenegrin sobering”, or “the first film made across the Drina that shows their own role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a cathartic manner” (Pećanin, 1999).

The embryo of continuous live-action production in Montenegro began to grow on the eve of and not long after the referendum on independence. A visible mark of this change was Opet pakujemo majmune/Packing the Monkeys Again (2004), a youth drama by the debutante director Marija Perović, also the first woman director in the history of Montenegro. This film won the awards for best film, director, leading actress (Jelena Đokić) and supporting actress at the last joint national festival of Serbia and Montenegro in Novi Sad. This victory in competition with Serbian films signalled the new, propulsive cultural self-confidence in pre-referendum Montenegro, but was also interpreted as a symptom of crisis in the previously dominant Serbian film. 

In the next period a modest number of feature films was made in Montenegro, mostly by young authors: Pogled s Ajfelovog tornja/A View from the Eiffel Tower (Nikola Vukčević, 2005, based on the novel Zagrepčanka by Branislav Glumac), the youth drama Imam nešto važno da ti kažem/I Have Something Important to Tell You (Željko Šošić, 2005), the political satire Desant na Prčevo/Attack on Prčevo (Draško Đurović, 2008), the crime drama Gledaj me/Look at Me (Marija Perović, 2008), and the omnibus Ljubav, ožiljci/Love, Scars (2010) directed by four students of directing at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Cetinje (Ivana Ćetković, Branislav Milatović, Miloš Pušonjić and Mladen Vujačić), based on the short stories of Carver, Bukowski, Beckett and the Uruguay writer Mario Benedetti. To this list must be added the next film of the veteran Nikolić, an emigrant drama sited in Paris, Balkanska braća/Balkan Brothers (2005), horror film Posljednje poglavlje/The Last Chapter (2011) made by two brothers, Aleksandar and Nemanja Bečanović, and the political drama As pik/Ace of Spades (Draško Đurović, 2012) with Michael Madsen in one of the roles.

Films by new Montenegrin filmmakers did not have any particular echo abroad, but they were a vehicle for a whole new generation of debutant directors and actors, who showed coherent poetic leanings, to step out on the scene. The films are mostly about young, urban people from the higher and middle class, stylistically the films are strongly aesthetic, rather escapist and apolitical. Most of them show a surprisingly strong desire to escape from any kind of local colour, and the characters and plots are placed in an abstract, middle-class, urban area that could be anywhere. This point of style is especially unusual because it differs profoundly from the dominant current in Montenegrin fiction, which is – for example in the books of Andrej Nikolaidis, Balša Brković or Ognjen Spahić – strongly engaged and polemicizes with political and national myths. Whereas Montenegrin fiction, with writing of this kind, won a place as a vivid and intriguing post-Yugoslav scene, this is not yet the case with Montenegrin film.

In the pre- and post-referendum period Montenegro also developed the basic cinema institutions: Kinoteka was founded (in April 2000), studies of directing and production were introduced, short film production was developed and co-production links established, among others also with Croatia, which co-financed the film Look at Me. Nevertheless, in 2008 Andro Martinović, Montenegrin director and head of Kinoteka in Podgorica, writing in Sarajevske sveske, said with despair that “something exists at this moment that we could … call Montenegrin film, but by no means cinema”, and outlined the key problems of film in Montenegro: no drama programme on television, lack of technical and technological base, lack of funds and closing of cinema halls (Martinović, 2008: 318-319).


KOSOVO entered the post-communist period as the smallest and convincingly the poorest federal unit of SFR Yugoslavia, also the federal unit with the smallest cinema tradition (Dragojević, 2009; Imami, 2009; Sopi, 2009). Although films had been made in Kosovo before, the real development of cinema began in 1966 after the fall of Aleksandar Ranković and the foundation of the Kosovo Cultural Centre, and then also the Kosovafilm film enterprise.   

The first live-action film in Albanian was not made in Kosovo until 1968 (Vuk sa Prokletija/Vuk from the Prokletije Mountains), directed by the Serbian guest director Miki Stamenković to the script of Albanian scriptwriters. The first film to be directed by an Albanian was made one year later – the documentary Jedno rađanje/A Birth by Ekrem Kryeziu (Imami, 2009: 66). However, the first live-action film with a Kosovo-Albanian creative crew was not made until 1978 (Era dhe lisi/The Wind and the Oak, Besim Sahatçiu). Until the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the local Kosovafilm Company made fourteen independent live-action films in which the authors were until the mid-seventies usually non-Albanian guests, and after the mid-seventies the films were made by Kosovars, the people of Kosovo. The golden period of Kosovo film lasted until 1986, when Kosovafilm made about one feature film every year, mainly in Albanian (Sopi, 2009: 19). This small tradition was frozen after Slobodan Milošević assumed power, when the Serbian policy became to eradicate the attributes of Kosovo autonomy, abolish the university in the Albanian language and minority cultural institutions. In this way Kosovafilm was liquidated, too, in 1993, and the films and technical facilities were handed over to Priština Radio and Television, which was part of Serbian Radio and Television (Imami, 2009: 69). During the nineties Kosovo lived under conditions of real apartheid: Albanians were removed from all the pores of social life, culture in Albanian was exclusively non-institutional and that in Serbian was centralised and directed towards Belgrade. Because of this there was no systematic local film activity, and the only film made, Kulla/The Fort (Agim Sopi, 1991), was made semi-illegally, in co-production with Slovene Television.

During 1998 the interethnic conflict in Kosovo grew into a guerrilla war which escalated during the Serbian attack and the refugee crises that it provoked. NATO intervened from March to June 1999 and by bombing Serbia forced the Serbian army to retreat from Kosovo. Since then Kosovo has in fact been independent, but formally it is functioning as a UN protectorate (UNMIK) and uses the Euro as its currency. On 17 February 2008 Kosovo formally proclaimed independence, and the recognition of this independence produced a serious diplomatic breach both within the UN and the European Union. By the middle of 2013 Kosovo had been recognised by 96 states, most of them American allies, and most, but not all the EU members. Kosovo is thus not a full member of the UN or of other international organisations. On the ground it functions as an independent state which, however, does not control its north-west fringes, the majority Serb regions north of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The establishment of UNMIK very quickly restored cultural production in Albanian: the first documentaries were made already in 1999, and the first live-action film in 2000 (Vjeshta e trëndafileve/Autumn of the Roses, Agim Sopi). In 2003 the ministry of culture was formed and it immediately began to co-finance films. In 2005 the film academy and the Kosovo Cinema Centre were founded (Qendra kinematografike e Kosovës; Sopi, 2009: 20). The first three feature films were made in this period of enthusiasm, Etjet e Kosovës/The Thirst of Kosovo (Sunaj Raca, 2004), Kukumi (Isa Qosja, 2005) and Anatema/Anathema (Agim Sopi, 2006). However Kosovo, which was in any case poor, was additionally ravaged by the effects of war and undefined political status, so that the economic foundations for cinema were poor. There was no production at all or any institutional financial support between 2005 and 2008, but the situation improved during and after 2009, when few more films were completed, the metaphysical, stylised drama Përtej Rrugës/On the Other Side of the Road (Yll Çitaku, 2009) political comedy Gomarët e kufirit/Border Donkey (Jeton Ahmetaj, 2010), and the drama Agnus dei (Agim Sopi, 2012).

Most transition cinemas began their new film histories with “revisionist” films about the recent dark past, or with films made to politically legitimise the new ideology. To a certain degree this was also the case in Kosovo. The Thirst of Kosovo and Anathema deal with the sufferings of Albanians in the Kosovo war but – in the case of Anathema – also with the difficulties of a single mother in the patriarchal Kosovo society. Border Donkey by the director Ahmetaj is a political comedy that shows the difficulties of the Albanians during the seventies and eighties, in the period when their ethnic body was divided between two totalitarian states (Albania and SFRY) that eyed one another with mistrust, and where the border region was an area of constant tension for which Albanians on both sides bore the brunt. Ahmetaj’s film is a kind of high-concept political comedy and has poetic similarities with films of a similar genre made in Albania (such as Kolonel Bunker/Colonel Bunker (1998) by Kujtim Çashku or Slogans (2001) by Gjergj Xhuvani).

Nevertheless, of the five feature films made in Kosovo immediately after its secession, Kukumi (2005) had by far the greatest international echo. It is a black comedy by Iso Qosja, a director who also worked in the Yugoslav period and whose film Proka (1984) is often singled out as a classic of Kosovo production from the eighties (Sopi, 2009: 19). Kukumi attracted attention as a film that starts off in the opposite direction of what is usual; it is a satire about “state building” in the young Kosovo state, a black comedy about a group of psychiatric patients who escape from a sanatorium just after the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence and descend on the “normal” world which is, at that moment, far from normal. This unexpected, somewhat subversive approach to the new statehood awoke interest abroad, so Kukumi became a minor festival hit. It won the jury award at the Sarajevo Festival, and then also the peace award of the Veneto region, which is awarded as part of the Venice Festival. 

A further limiting factor for film production in Kosovo is the practically non-existent home market, considering that there are only three or four cinemas in all of Kosovo (Sopi, 2009: 21). Under such circumstances, live-action feature films in Kosovo are still more often the exception than the rule, but the simpler and cheaper documentary production is developing. Kosovo documentaries are shown at regional festivals like Zagreb Dox and Sarajevo FF, some of them win prizes, like Darsmat dhe pampersat/Wedding and Diapers (2007) by Antoaneta Kastrati Cooper Johnson and Caseya Cooper Johnson, which won an award at Zagreb Dox in 2008 (Nurkollari, 2008). Kosovo is also developing the documentary film festival Dokufest in Prizren, which has since its foundation in 2002 acquired considerable regional renown.  

Translated by Nikolina Jovanović. The translation is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre.


[1] Author’s cinema was institutionalised in the late sixties, when new legislation was introduced, in which authors and particular projects received funding, instead of production companies as it was before.

[2] The sensitivity of the communist system to politically provocative films oscillated in different periods, and some censor activity continued to the mid-seventies. But it is important to note that such films were openly debated about already in the early sixties, critics autonomously judged them and sometimes they also judged the activities of censors, and even communist-oriented critics and essayists sometimes defended these films (see Tirnanić, 2008; Pavičić, 2009)

[3] see

[4] Filmografija slovenskih celovečernih filmov, p. 259

[5] In the autumn of 2010 the comedy Gremo mi po svoje/Let’s go our own Way, by director Miha Hočevar, took first place, seen by about 185,000 viewers by February 2011 (Rudolf 2011).

[6] The films Odgrobadogroba/Gravehopiing by Jan Cvitkovič, Delo osvobaja /Labour Equals Freedom by Damjan Kozole, and Uglasevanje/Tuning by Igor Šterk.

[7] Such as Jelka Štergel, who headed Sklad at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, was dismissed, reinstalled after a court order in July 2009, and then dismissed again.

[8] In this, of course, there were exceptions, such as the very low-budget film of modest production Oča/Dad by the debutant Vlado Škafar, which was shown in 2010 with respectable success at the Critics Week of the Venice Festival, or the film Class Enemy by Kolj Biček, which was screened in the same program in Venice in 2013.

[9] During much of the nineties tendering was “continuous”, which means that there were no fixed deadlines or fixed number of films chosen, but the choice and timing was under the discretion of the film commissioner, which allowed the holder of this office wide opportunities for manipulation. In the last third of the nineties this office was held by Antun Vrdoljak, film director and former Vice-President of the Republic.

[10] In this text I use the term “independent film” in the inconsistent, colloquial meaning in which the professional cinema communities of the of former Yugoslavia usually use it. It refers to films made outside the national competitions for feature films or public TV, even if they received the government’s financial aid during postproduction. 

[11] “Kulturna politika - dokumenti”, in: Hrvatski filmski ljetopis, 12, 3, 1997, pp. 21-39.

[12] Sabotage by the contributors and a number of legislative imprecisions were the reason why the Act was amended, which was proposed by HAVC itself and enacted in parliament in July 2011.

[13] The only filmmaker whose films had a degree of international impact in that period was Zrinko Ogresta. His debut film Krhotine/Fragments (1991) was included among the five best European debut films, and Isprani/Washed Out (1995) won the Prix Italia television award. See Škrabalo (1998: 454).

[14] In his text Turković contests these arguments, saying that the poor box-office success of Croatian films is relative, that the opinion about the inferior technical polish of the production is based on inappropriate comparison with Western A production, and that film only seems to be glaringly expensive when it is compared with financing culture in general. 

[15] Jelena Rajković died young of cancer, and Ivan Salaj left directing for a long time.

Vlatka Vorkapić, after unsuccessful attempts to make a feature film, turned to ethnographic film and theatre, and finally reached cinema theatres in 2012 with a successful debut comedy Sonja i bik/Sonja and the Bull (2012).

[16] Brešan’s films were the greatest, but not the only hits in this period. Two other comedies also had a fair number of viewers: Tri muškarca Melite Žganjer/The Three Men of Melita Žganjer (1998) with 35,247 viewers, and Blagajnica hoće ići na more/The Cashier Wants to go to the Seaside (2000) by the debutant Dalibor Matanić with 48,768 viewers. One should also mention Milan Blažeković’s animated film Čudnovate zgode šegrta Hlapića/Lapitch the Little Shoemaker (1997), which in repeated replays and matinee and children’s screenings gathered almost 230,000 viewers by the middle of the next decade.

[17] At the same festival the composer Miroslav Škoro won an award for the music of that film.

[18] By the end of 2010 the number of screens in multiplexes in Zagreb had greatly exceeded the pre-war number of single screens. Besides in Zagreb, multiplexes were opened in Zadar, Rijeka, Šibenik, Split, Dubrovnik, Osijek, Slavonski Brod and Pula.

[19] Sorry for Kung Fu had 6,971 viewers, and Što je Iva snimila 23. listopada 2003/What Iva Recorded on 23 October 2003 had 5,687. All the data in this part of the text were supplied by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre.

[20] Pjevajte nešto ljubavno/Sing a Love Song by Goran Kulenović had 15,754 viewers, and Libertas by Veljko Bulajić had 11,131 viewers.

[21] The next film on the scale of domestic viewing was Nije kraj/It is not the End by the hit maker from the nineties Vinko Brešan, with only 6,533 viewers.

[22] Metastases by Branko Schmidt had 27,022 viewers, Kenjac/The Donkey by Antonio Nuić had 12,605, and Vjerujem u anđele/I Believe in Angels by Nikša Sviličić had 10,435.

[23] The next in attendance, 72 dana/72 Days by Danilo Šerbedžija, was by the middle of that year seen by 8,858 viewers.

[24] In the Croatian case this was Witnesses by Vinko Brešan (2004), in the Slovenian Spare parts by Damjan Kozole (2003).

[25] All the data in the text about the attendance of Serbian films are internal official data of the Film Centre of Serbia, for which I thank Miroljub Vučković.

[26] Of course, it is not true that Serbian film, besides Indian, was the only one that dominated its own market. Domestic film holds the same market position in many – mostly non-European – countries: Turkey, Egypt, Iran, South Korea. However, in the European context the market domination by domestic film during the nineties in Serbia really is an exception.  

[27] In We are not Angels the heroine’s father appears in camouflage uniform in one shot, for just a moment, and says: “Ljubinka, dear, Daddy’s going to war,” which one of the teenagers comments with: “He’s flipped out again.” This is the only reference to the current war in the film, and it is obviously ironic (Daković, 2008: 177). War and warfare are treated as undeserving of the attention of the smart youth, a matter for “flipped out oldies”.

[28] Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Pretty Village, Pretty Flame played at the festivals in Montreal and Salonika.

[29] The film had more than 80,000 viewers, and its attendance was probably increased by the bizarre decision of the Croatian distributor to subtitle it, which in itself caused a scandal and made people go and see it. 

[30] In 2009 this film was included in the specialised programme of the Zagreb Film Festival devoted to propaganda film, a programme that included Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl, and Disney’s propaganda films. However, when the film producers saw the context the film was being shown in, they withdrew it from the festival.

[31] In 2007 and 2009 only one Serbian film exceeded 50 thousand sold tickets, and in 2006 only two, one of which – Border Post by Rajko Grlić – was in fact a majority Croatian film in Serbian co-production. These numbers would have been excellent for Croatian and Slovenian cinema, but were far below what had become the standard in Serbia.

[32] In the USA Someone Else's America (1995), in Ireland How Harry Became a Tree (2001), and in Albania Medeni mesec/Honeymoons (2009).

[33] Just over one million viewers in Serbia saw Zona Zamfirova, and 617,000 viewers saw Ivko’s Saint’s Day. It is important to note that the films became hits despite a language barrier: both were made in the archaic torlak dialect of southeast Serbia, which the urban viewer finds difficult to understand. In Croatia and B&H they were subtitled, but this time, unlike in the case of Wounds, rightly so.

[34] Saint George Shoots the Dragon takes place during the Balkan wars, Drug Crni u NOB-u/Comrade Black in WWII  (44,943) in World War II, and Beogradski fantom/The Belgrade Phantom (30,414) was about the urban subculture of the 1970s.

[35] More in: Ravetto Biagoli (2005), Delcheva (2005)

[36] It is open to discussion whether this trend is typical only of Serbian film, or of Serbian culture in general, considering that the same type of searching for and finding “roots” in a specifically Serbian past can also be found in many books of fiction, such as the novel Vođa/The Leader by Aleksandar Novaković.    

[37] Franci Štiglic, Veljko Bulajić, Aleksandar Petrović twice, Emir Kusturica, Milčo Mančevski, and the Italian Giuseppe De Santis for the film Cesta duga godinu dana/A Road one Year Long made in Croatia.

[38] According to the data of the Deblokada production house.

[39] It is interesting that in this film Mančevski, under the influence of what was at that time happening in Croatia and B&H, invented an armed clash which had not yet taken place in Macedonia, but which would happen seven years later.

[40] European films strong as cinema attendance falls back, press release, European Audiovisual Observatory, Council of Europe, 2007.


Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

6. The Film of Self-balkanisation 1

The sixth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

5. The Film of Self-victimisation

The fifth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Cinemas in Central-Eastern-Europe at the End of the 1980s

The historical framework

In this chapter we attempt to delineate the socio-historical background of the Central-Eastern- European cinemas of the 1990s. We treat the period directly preceding the change of regime, namely the "end of the 1980s" as a relatively neutral period reference and describe events of the  period relevant to film history. Since state socialism collapsed in a different rhythm and logic in each country, we will discuss each country separately. As in previous chapters the descriptive approach will be complemented by a comparative one, since we also try to formulate the regional message of the transformation that took place in each country.

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

4. The Eastern European and the Post-Yugoslav Situation: Similarities and Differences

The fourth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Iván Forgács

The Concept

Could there be a full gap between a state's political function and its ideology and recordable values with a humane trend? If not, in what kind of elements can be revealed the link? Is the opportunity of the violence game for this humanism inside? Could that state oppressor machineries work in the context of the humanism? How much was the film art of the East European state socialism specific? How much can be the intellectual-artistic peculiarities of the region's film production derived from the ideological values represented officially in these countries? May we talk about socialist cinema art in any kind of sense?

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

3. The Context of Eastern European Cinema after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The third part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Theoretical Framework: Canon, Canonisation, School 

The political transformation in the East-Central-European region, which began in the second half of the 1980s and ended in the early 1990s, connected in two countries with the establishment of souvereignty, seems to be a perfect period – or to be more precisely, a perfect milestone in history – to analyse the constructedness of the canon. Although it is clear that changes in values systems do not occur from one day to the next, neither can they be understood as effects of historical milestone events, unless we pause the ever changing reality of culture. 

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

2. The Development of Cinema in the Post-Yugoslav Countries

The second part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Krasimir Kastelov

Postmodernist Film Interpretations of the Communist Past

(The Bulgarian contribution in the context of the Central and East European cinema)

The proposed analysis of key films from the Bulgarian and the East European cinema shows, that their postmodernist specifics is not accidental, but it reflects the overall feeling of crisis, lack of meaning and absurdity which has engaged the minds of many filmmakers from our region – something typical for the transition between two eras, when one cultural paradigm is put aside, but a new one is still not widely adopted. On the other hand, the appearance of those films, in my opinion, refutes the premature conclusions of some Western theorists that the postmodernism is already dead. 
Thirty years after the first swallows of the postmodernist cinema in the West, the film art in the post-totalitarian East European countries takes advantage of its lessons in order to make sense of some of the unpleasant episodes of the communist past, “with irony, not innocently” by Umberto Eco’s definition. The wide international reaction to most of the titles, analyzed in the current overview, suggests perhaps the right path for overcoming the nostalgia of that era.