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Vol 3, No 15
30 April 2001
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Milcho Manchevski
Milčo Mančevski:
A director who doesn't like the rain
The Rain Comes Again?
Macedonian director Milčo Mančevski interviewed
Necati Sönmez

When war broke out in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, everybody asked which Balkan country would be next. Macedonia might well have been on a few people's lists.

But in 1994 came a remarkable Macedonian film debut that not only was at the fore in its native country but also attracted international attention. The interest came not just from the film's plot, acting, effective use of music and cinematography (although all these did garner praise) but from the analysis of the Macedonian situation in a region about to be consumed by internecine war. Its message was that a barbaric cycle of war and inter-ethnic hatred could only be meaningless.

The film was Pred doždot (Before the Rain, 1994) and the director was Milčo Mančevski. Macedonia did not become engulfed in a Bosnia-style ethnic war, and it would seem, although it would be hard to prove the connection, that his homeland had headed his filmic warning.

Now, however, Macedonia's ethnic problems seem to be flaring up again. Do they need another celluloid reminder? If they do, they may well soon get it, as Mančevski's second film is currently in post-production and will receive its world premier at the Venice Film Festival in August.

Necati Sönmez spoke to Mančevski about his first warning film, the current Macedonian situation and his new film Dust.

The predictions you made in Pred doždot are becoming true once again. Was it really so inevitable that the war spread to Macedonia?

I absolutely do not think that it was-or that it is-inevitable for war to spread to Macedonia. Pred doždot is a story of human condition, of moral dilemmas when people are caught up in historical events. The film was not a documentary on Macedonia, nor was it one on former Yugoslavia or the Balkans. It was not even trying to explain the specifics of the actual wars in the Balkans over the last ten years.

It was good to hear audience members in various countries say that the story of the film was very relevant to the people in their countries: from India to Northern Ireland to Israel... they said the film could have been set there.

Pred doždot was about other things as well, about the joy of homecoming, about the cycle of violence, about self-sacrifice, about the responsibilities of the reporter, about the feeling one has just before something big is about to happen, about how time possibly works... but it is not so much an explanation of what is going on in Macedonia now. What we now have there are armed gangs, provocateurs and racists trying to drag the country into violent ethnic conflict.

The concept of human rights has been kidnapped by terrorists fighting for territory. This diminishes the real human rights issues. In Macedonia, we have a case of killers abusing the phrase "civil rights." As they kill, they train civilians how to talk to foreign TV crews, building on the concept of the eternal victim; forced conscription by terrorists takes place in ethnic Albanian villages; the local media reports of forged mass graves prepared for propaganda purposes. The current government in Macedonia has been turning a blind eye on preparations for separatist activity.

The real human rights issues must be addressed, but the situation on the ground is as follows: there are primary schools, high schools, colleges and (within a year) a university in Albanian. How many universities in the Scottish language are there in Britain and how many in the Basque language in Spain?

There is a theater, several newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and programmes in Albanian on national radio and TV. Albanian parties have been partners in coalition governments since the country gained its independence, Albanian representatives sit in Parliament, a number of mayors, six ministers and several ambassadors are Albanian (in addition to a Gypsy/Roma representative in Parliament and Serbian, Turkish, Bosnian and Vlach newspapers, parties, and programmes).

The Macedonian citizens of Albanian origin should start talking responsibilities in addition to acquiring rights. They need to decide whether they are Albanians in Macedonia or Albanians from Macedonia. The Albanian political parties in Macedonia must stop condoning crime. If the justice system is ignored, civil society goes to hell. Sadly, no Albanian intellectual, non-government organization, or political party condemned conclusively (and without reservation) the murderous activities of uniformed men. Finally, people should stop expecting the state to solve their problems, and they should see this state as a state of individuals (with their rights and obligations), not of groups or nations or tribes.

How did the NATO intervention in Kosovo affect the fate of the Balkans, in your point of view? Have the actors of Pred doždot changed?

NATO helped the Balkans get rid of Miloševic and stopped the terror inflicted upon Albanians in Kosovo. However, as a side effect, NATO's bombardment and their support for nationalist militant groups is now helping escalate ethnic intolerance. Reverse racism is still racism, and its existence questions the possibility of breaking the vicious circle.

KFOR (NATO) says they don't support terrorist actions, but they turn a blind eye on terror over civilians in Kosovo and on attacks on sovereign Macedonian territory. They rule Kosovo-militarily and administratively-and since Kosovo is used as a military base for operations against Macedonia, theirs is the full responsibility for actions originating in Kosovo. They also have a mandate to disarm armed gangs, especially the ones they helped arm.

The international community has to take full responsibility for all criminals, past present and future, they helped emerge as a result of their strategy in the region.

There is a jihad being waged under NATO's wing. The Taliban-style fighters are helped by NATO's desire to stay out of trouble. Not to mention the arming and training of the KLA in the past.

Milcho Manchevski
Mančevski: Warning Macedonia
If the international community wants stability in the region (rather than only a clean and sexy exit), it must participate in enforcing law and order while it runs the province. This includes fighting illegally armed men and the narco-cartels operating out of Kosovo and Western Macedonia. The activities of the narco-cartels (which flourished since NATO arrived in the Balkans) and the fight for real-estate are a bigger threat to the region than the mythical "centuries-old hatreds."

Look at the relationship between ethnic Turks and Macedonians in Macedonia. The myth would have you believe that there were centuries of bloody conflict between the Turks and Macedonians, but there is absolutely no tension or conflict between Moslem Turks and Christian Macedonians in Macedonia. On the contrary, the two communities have harmonious relations.

If you were to make a film about Pred doždot, which title you would prefer and what kind of story would it be?

The films I make do not deal with political issues, even though one can argue that every film has a political message. Sylvester Stallone and Julia Roberts send a political message even if that is not their agenda. Any lifestyle is political; any moral system is political. Hollywood is as political as Fassbinder.

In real-life Macedonia, the saddest result of the current conflict might turn out to be the loss of a civil society. Insisting on the differences rather than on the similarities and achievements widens the gap. Escalating the level of friction is not good.

As a film-maker, how do you see the future of your country and how would you like to see it?

I would like to see Macedonia as a prosperous, peaceful and democratic country. I believe that it has the basis for such a development. I can't predict what would happen, since I have been proven to be a terrible prophet-I never thought the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo would happen. I also never expected violence in Macedonia, in spite of making Pred doždot. My film was a warning, not a prophecy.

A multi-ethnic society can be a beautiful thing, but there has to be mutual respect and the will to live together. And I mean, really mutual.

Your forthcoming film, Dust, begins in the Balkans as well and covers the entire 20th century. Can you tell us something about the story and mention any specific reason for choosing it?

Dust is a film about storytelling, about how history is told (not necessarily the big history of major events, but also the history of a single individual) and about what we leave behind once we are gone. (Is it a story, pictures, a memory or is it just dust?) The motto of the film is "Where does your voice go when you are no more?" Two stories intertwine
Milcho Manchevski's Dust (2001)
Dust: A Macedonian Western
and eventually become one whole. The first story takes place in today's New York City, and the heroes are a woman almost a century old and a charming thief. The second story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century in a province of the Ottoman Empire, and it involves two cowboys, a pregnant peasant woman, a revolutionary and an army major. I am fascinated by the ability of film as a medium to play with time. The filmmaker converts time into space: one second becomes 24 frames. In editing, when you move a piece of film, you are moving time. Who knows, this rearrangement may be more accurate to how time really operates than our standard concept of time as a straight arrow.

After a few unlucky experiences, how do you feel starting such a big production?

I have almost finished the film, so the feeling of starting the production is behind me. Of course, I was very happy that I managed to get the project into production. It took me a really long time to get to that point, even after the success of Pred doždot.

For a long time, it felt as if I would never make Dust, and that
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possibility was breaking my heart. I insist on full creative control, and that is the main reason why it took so long. In Hollywood, the director, even when he is the writer, does not have full creative control. That may be fine for some people, but it does not work for me. I invest too much of my heart in the films I make to let bureaucrats change them at will.

Good things take a long time. I was very lucky to work with a great and absolutely dedicated crew, even in harsh conditions. We shot in Macedonia in the hottest summer, with hundreds of extras in full uniforms in a heat of more than 40 degrees. We shot difficult nights in New York. The producers did the impossible by getting this ambitious film financed. And the cast was just brilliant: Joseph Fiennes, David Wenham, Adrian Lester, Rosemary Murphy, Nikolina Kujaca, Anne Brochet, Vlado Jovanovski, Salaetin Bilal...

Necati Sönmez, 30 April 2001

Necati Sönmez is a free-lance film critic based in Istanbul and a member of FIPRESCI. This interview originally appeared in the Turkish daily Radikal.

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