Producers Kathleen Kennedy, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen will make a movie about how the power of rock ‘n’ roll helped oust the repressive regime of Yugoslavian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The producers have optioned the Matthew Collin book “Guerrilla Radio: Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio and Serbia’s Underground Resistance,” and set Zach Helm (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) to write the script. They have also secured the participation of Veran Matic, who ran the station during the tumult.
The producers will get a script for “This Is Serbia Calling” before aligning the film with a studio. First crack will go to Universal, where Kennedy-Marshall is based, and DreamWorks, where the Jinks-Cohen banner is located.
Project marks the first linkup for the Oscar-winning producers. Jinks and Cohen produced “American Beauty” and “Big Fish” and are prepping “The Rivals” for Steven Spielberg to direct. Kennedy, who produced “Schindler’s List” and “Seabiscuit,” is prepping such films as the Julian Schnabel-directed Johnny Depp starrer “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and the Tony Scott-directed Nicole Kidman starrer “Emma’s War.”
All three said the time was ripe to tell the story of the war in Yugoslavia and how the workers of one radio station risked their lives to defy a brutal government.
“This is the story of a pirate radio station in Belgrade that managed to stay on the air as the country crumbled and used music to fuel the last revolution of the 20th century,” Kennedy said. “The station became the center of resistance against Milosevic and a catalyst for the demonstrations and riots that led to his overthrow. Much of it was simply by playing songs that got young people to listen and rise up against what was going on.”
Jinks and Cohen said the core of the story is the perseverance of Matic and cohorts, who were shut down, beaten and arrested but kept coming back. When banned from reporting on incidents of police brutality and atrocities during an ethnic civil war, DJs kept the subversive spirit alive just by playing a steady diet of activist anthems like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the Clash’s “White Riot.”
“We decided to say to the people through music what we would otherwise tell the world in our news and comments,” said Matic, who still runs the station and is chairman of the RTV B92 management board. “The police didn’t understand the encoded language we were using, but the citizens certainly did. We were using humor and irony in our struggle against the dictatorship. Humor is so subversive and rigid that dictatorships are incapable of fighting against it effectively.”
When Milosevic hiked the tax on baby food to prohibitive levels, R92 encouraged parents to symbolically give their children to Milosevic. “Several hundred parents protested in front of his presidential palace,” Matic said, “which humiliated the government and Milosevic himself, resulting in the tax reduction.”
The station overcame a government ban on a concert by renting a van and some sound equipment and driving around while rock bands performed. And when Matic was presented with the MTV Free Your Mind award by Michael Stipe, the presentation came during a music show being broadcast by a Belgrade station owned by Milosevic’s daughter.
By the time bureaucrats realized that the government was the butt of the award, they halted transmission and created a national embarrassment. The station’s exploits came at a price, however.
“I was personally arrested and some of my colleagues brutally beaten. Radio B92 was banned four times, and on two occasions, Milosevic’s police confiscated everything we had,” said Matic. “For years, we worked under serious life threats and some of our colleagues were indeed murdered.”