War leaves scars on everything it touches, and local film industries are far from immune.
“In the old Yugoslavia,” says helmer-producer Ljubisa Samardzic, whose pic “Goose Feathers” is Serbia and Montenegro’s entrant in the foreign-language Oscar race, “no one ever cared who was a part of which nation or religion. The creative energies were mixing, and the results were more than positive. But the war and economic embargo turned people against one another.”
In turn, those regions stopped co-producing films — for political and ethnic reasons.
The history of Afghanistan is quite different from that of the Balkans, but, in some ways, the fate of its film industry is similar.
“Since 1947,” says Paris-based director Atiq Rahimi, whose film “Earth and Ashes” is Afghanistan’s foreign-lingo Oscar submission, “Afghanis were able, with very little money, to make some 60 films in all genres: musical comedies, melodramas, action films, etc.”
After the Soviet invasion in 1979 until very recently, Afghan film production has been virtually nil. “Earth and Ashes” is one of a handful of features made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. It tells the story of an old man and his grandson who travel across a beautiful but desolate landscape to a coal mine to inform his miner son that their village has been destroyed by bombing and his entire family killed.
A French co-production, pic served as something of a training ground for young Afghani filmmakers. “I’m very happy to hear that most of those young people are now involved in making their own short films,” says Rahimi.
Although Rahimi says aspiring Afghan filmmakers are keen on making comedies, it seems inevitable that war will continue to be a backdrop for Afghan films. “Afghanistan has endured 23 years of war. Each family, each region, each person has so many stories to tell the world.”
The same can be said of films coming from the former Yugoslav republics. “People are finding inspiration in the everyday life of a war-ravaged and impoverished country,” says Belgrade-based Samardzic. “All this tackled our senses, and we took those questions of life and death as thematic inspiration.”
Humor is finding its way into these films as well. Pjer Zalica’s “Hours and Days,” Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Oscar submission, eschews the dark comedy of Zalica’s previous effort, “Fuse,” for a more loving humor that grows from a soil of loss fertilized by war. It is comment based on the personal rather than political.
“Hours and Days” is largely the story of a family gathering that ultimately includes much of the surrounding neighborhood. The get-together is subtly infused with a sense of loss, made palpable when it is revealed that the father still mourns the death of his son in the war.
“I am an artist,” says Zalica. “I watch things with my eyes. The politicians who I see in Bosnia are, in great part, recycled criminals. I want to make films for the people who have suffered.”
Samardzic describes “Goose Feathers” as a film about characters who “are caught in the web woven by powerful political, social and financial forces they can do nothing about. It is set far in the past, but it is a film about the past that is supposed to warn people about the present.”
Although the current crop of Oscar contenders deals with the effects of wars that have, for the most part, ended, Srdjan Karanovic’s “Loving Glances” is a textbook example of how to make a film amid the uncertainty of armed conflict.
The film was originally set in Belgrade and was days away from pre-production when NATO began bombing Belgrade. Karanovic changed the setting to Skopje, but some of the original investors dropped out while waiting for additional financing. Finally, after the ouster of Milosevic and the return of relative calm, Karanovic was able to make his film.
He describes the essentially light-hearted love story in the midst of a war “just out of the frame” as trying “to find a diamond in the rough of history.”
The future for filmmaking in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia is, undoubtedly, in co-productions.
The upcoming “The Block House,” a U.K.-Bosnian-Croatian-Macedonian-Slovenian co-production, illustrates this. Producer Ademir Kenovic is Bosnian and the director is a Croatian, Rajko Grlic, who divides his time between Croatia and Ohio. London-based Film & Music Entertainment is the U.K. partner, with Danijel Hocevar’s E-Motion in Slovenia, and Vladimir Anastasov’s Sektor Dooel of Skopje (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) participating.
Needless to say, all would rather co-produce films together than shoot at one another.