Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000

Belgrade's FEST 2000 K I N O E Y E:
Ordinary People at an
Extraordinary FEST

Belgrade's film festival shows normal life continues

Židas Daskalovski

No matter what the stereotype of the Serbian people in the American media and action films is, Serbs do things like any other nation in the world. Take culture and going to the cinema, for example. While the Serbian political scene has been in the state of flux after the cold blooded murders of the warlord Željko "Arkan" Ražnjatović and the Yugoslav Defence Minister Pavle Bulatović, some of its citizens have been standing in lines to get tickets for showings at the Belgrade film festival - FEST.

The festival was established in 1971 and was considered as a great cultural event in former Yugoslav times. At these times, audiences were large and the festival was followed with much hype in the media. Although the Communist elite watched the films closely, it rarely intervened in their selection. After the disintegration of Tito's Yugoslavia the festival ran into economic difficulties as public funding was withdrawn and then the political difficulties associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia followed.

Today, FEST features a variety of films from different genres and countries. As usual in the past few years, lack of finances and the sanctions against Yugoslavia have heavily burdened the organisers. Hence, for example, as a result of the ban on flying to Belgrade, all the international guests to the festival had to arrive in Belgrade via Budapest or another of the neighbouring countries' capitals.

World-class cinema

Still, in this millennium FEST, a record number of 103 movies were shown, including a wide selection of the best in world cinema. As FEST's curator Miroljub Vučković explained, many people from the film business helped Belgrade have the event. Thus, for example, Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair will have its European premiere at FEST. The Czech and French nominations for best foreign film at the Oscars, Návrat Idiota (Return of the Idiot, 1999) by Saša Gedeon, and Est-Ouest (East West) by Regis Wargnier will also be presented.

The experienced Italian director Pupi Avati will visit the festival and present three of his works: Testimone dello sposo (The Best Man), L' Arcano incantatore (Arcane Sorcerer), and Festival. Audiences at FEST will also be able to see works of a couple of promising directors. Among the young directors Belgian Frédéric Fonteyne will be represented with his latest offering Une Liaison Pornographique (A Pornographic Affair) as well as with his 1998 film, Max et Bobo. Latest films by young film makers from Germany (including all three films by Fred Kelemen), Russia (Aleksandr Rogozhkin) and Israel (Amos Gitai) will also feature at FEST.

From the films seen in the first half of the festival, Serbian critics praised two internationally acclaimed pieces -Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club and David Lynch's The Straight Story. Other well- known movies to be shown at FEST include the most recent works of Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, David Cronenberg and Luc Besson. Moreover, films from countries as far apart as Slovenia, Iran, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Greece and South Korea, will also be shown at the festival. In essence, FEST 2000 accomplishes to present to the Serbian audience a selection of the best of world cinema by showing both, big companies' "majors" and arthouse/independent projects.

Meeting up with the neighbours again

This year's FEST for a first time after the break up of federal Yugoslavia welcomes a Croatian film. Culture transcends politics and borders and so does Dejan Šorak's Garcia, story about the life in the 1990s of a young Croatian whose grandfather emigrated from their native land to Chile. Politics is also present in Jasmin Dizdar's Beautiful People, a black comedy about two former neighbours, one Serb and one Croat, who have been made refugees by the Bosnian war unexpectedly meet on a London bus.

The latter film was part of a special program is devoted to British cinema and FEST audiences were also able to see the latest films by Mike Lee, Mike Figgis, Michael Winterbottom, Christopher Nolan and Caleb Lindsay. Sexuality at the end of the millennium is the main subject of The Erotic Eye selection, showing films by Jane Campion, Gaspar Noe, Ventura Pons and Phillip Grandie. A dozen other thematic screenings will be represented at the festival, including The Eye of the City, The Eye of the Fatherland and The Eye of the Past, the latter being dedicated to the acting legends of Yugoslav inter-war cinema Ita Rina and Svetislav Ivan Petrović.

However, contemporary Yugoslav films was one area which was not well represented. This is slightly curious, as the Serbian industry is also managing to survive in harsh circumstances. Audiences at the Berlin Film Festival, which is currently underway, will get a chance to see Ljubiša Samardžić's Nebeska udica (Sky Hook), for example.

Given Serbia's economic difficulties, the success of FEST would not have been possible without the private initiative. In fact, the festival's owners, the Serbian film distribution houses Metro and Tak, hope that an even better selection of films will be there on offer for the next year's festival.

The ability in such unfavourable circumstances to focus all efforts on producing a film event which can rival those of most countries does challenge common preconceptions of Serbia is a barbaric and brutal nation: Are all Serbs just terrorists and villains?

Židas Daskalovski, 14 February 2000

Click here for the FEST 2000 website


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