For 32 years, Leka Konstantinovic was the personal film projectionist for Yugoslavian president and noted film enthusiast Josip Broz Tito. Comprised of interviews with Konstantinovic and other important figures in the brief but glowing history of Yugoslavian cinema, as well as archival clips from more than 60 films, Cinema Komunisto is a vibrant, fascinating celebration of a film industry—and a nation—that no longer exists. [Synopsis courtesy of The Tribeca Film Festival]
Director(s): Mila Turajlic
Producer(s): Dragan Pesikan
Editor: Aleksandra Milovanovic
Director of Photography: Goran Kovacevic
Composer: Nemanja Mosurovic
Co-Producers: Dejan Petrovic, Mila Turajlic, Iva Plemic Divjak, Goran Jesic
Sound Design: Aleksandar Protic
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
Responses courtesy of “Cinema Komunisto” director Mila Turajlic:
“At the same time as I was losing my faith in political activism as a way of reaching out to people, I discovered the world of documentary film…”
I was a student of politics and international relations at a time when our student-led revolution initiated democratic changes in Serbia. After less than a year I realised that all the energy and beliefs I had spent during the ’90s as a student activist against Milosevic did not translate so comfortably into understanding the nature of the system we were creating once we were in power. At the same time as I was losing my faith in political activism as a way of reaching out to people, I discovered the world of documentary film, which led me to re-evaluate my entire outlook on life and creativity. One of the first documentary films that had such an impact on me was Agnes Varda’s short film “Du côté de la côte,” and it was like being introduced to a whole new language, that allowed for the expression of thoughts and feelings in a way that I understood instinctively.
Filming in a “Ghost Town”…
“Cinema Komunisto” emerged out of a necessity to explore the old film studios that were built by the communists 60 years ago, and that are today a ghost town of abandonded sets and rotting costumes. Entering this world I felt both amazement and anger at how they’ve been forgotten, and this fuelled me on to film them before they disappear forever. As I started researching the history of the studios I discovered that their story is actually a perfect metaphor to tell the story of the creation and break-up of Yugoslavia. They played a key role in creating the narrative of Yugoslavia on screen, and the stars who came to shoot there, like Sophia Loren, Orson Welles, Kirk Douglas, etc added their glamour to the state-backed epics. I further discovered that the driving force of the story was President Tito, who was a huge film lover. His involvement in cinema shaped not only Yugoslav films but also the story of Yugoslavia. A turning point came when I discovered that Tito’s personal projectionist, who showed him a film every night for 32 years was still alive.
Setting up the ingredients for a “crazy megalomaniacal sage…”
Initially my idea was to cast archetypal characters – a film director, a studio boss, a film star, a set designer, and Tito’s projectionist – to be our guides to the story. A second layer would be added by using clips from over 300 feature films that were shot in the studios – the challenge was to find clips that, when put together, would tell the history of Yugoslavia, but the way it was presented in fiction films. All this would be intertwined with exclusive archive material, that when put together would form a mosaic, in which the lines between fiction and reality would become blurred, and the past and present would mix until the story came together in one crazy megalomaniacal saga.
Finding the pieces and putting them together…
The biggest challenge in making the film was the detective work – getting access to Tito’s private archive took over a year, but the things we discovered there were more than worth it – from telegrams sent to him by film crews, to his personal copies of film scripts in which he had written his comments. Getting access to certain places – like Tito’s bombed villa, was very tricky. Even though I had written a script, we shot 3 to 4 interviews with each character – I was researching archive while shooting, so when I found something significant I would take it to them for comment, which would then open another door and send me following clues to new things. The biggest challenge was structuring the vast material together in a way that would be entertaining and fast-paced, but still manage to get so many abstract ideas and themes into the story. I was lucky to partner with an incredible editor, Aleksandra Milovanovic, and the edit of the film took us over a year.
A Royal presence…
Many times we were aware that we were the last people filming in a certain place – like the defunct film laboratories of the studio, and the last witnesses to record someone’s story – so there was a very intense energy to the shoot. One of the oddest scenes we filmed (which didn’t make it into the film) happened at one of Tito’s old residences, which has now been returned to the Karadjordjevic family (the Yugoslav monarchy that had been removed by the communists). We were there with Tito’s projectionist as he was searching for his old projectors, when all of a sudden Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia walked into the shot – his staff had told him that we were there filming, and he came down to meet Tito’s projectionist and ask him questions about Tito!
I am working on a project that covers Serbia in the 90s and post-revolution, but again from a different angle – if “Cinema Komunisto” was Yugoslavia on a cinema screen, then this is Serbia through a keyhole. Also, as the anniversary of the Non-Aligned movement is going to be celebrated in Belgrade this year, we are working on a project looking at the development of the Third World, through the history of ther empowerment as a political bloc.