In a first for South Africa, a festival entirely dedicated to Serbian films was held in Johannesburg at the end of November, exposing 15 Serbian films to local audiences. JOANNA STERKOWICZ spoke to the producers of Montevideo, Taste of a Dream, and the director of Death of a Man in The Balkans.
The opening night film of the Serbian Film Festival, which screened on 22 November at Nu Metro Montecasino, clearly demonstrates Belgrade-based production company Intermedia Network’s mission to make films that shed light on the positive aspects of previously strife-torn Serbia, and to emphasise values such as friendship, diligence and heroism.
A charming and delightful film, Montevideo, Taste of a Dream successfully combines soccer history with themes of patriotism, aspiration, brotherhood, rivalry and love.
Set in Belgrade in 1930, the film focuses on 11 largely unknown soccer players and their journey from impoverished neighborhoods to the formation of the national team before the very first World Cup in the Uruguayan capital city of Montevideo.
It was the film’s creative producer, journalist Zvonimir Simunec, who originally conceived the idea of making a screen adaptation of Vladimir Stankovic’s best-selling novel of the same name.
“When Vladimir informed me that he wanted to write something about the Soccer World Cup I told him he couldn’t do it without including Belgrade in the storyline,’ explained Simunec. “Together we added local elements into his story as here was an opportunity to create something about one of the most important events in Serbian history.
“I approached Intermedia Network and proposed they produce the film. Fortunately they saw the potential of the project.’
Montevideo, Taste of a Dream is based on fact and follows the adventures of two real life Serbian soccer stars – Tirke and Mosa. The scriptwriters also introduced a few fictional characters to help depict the Serbian mentality of the time.
Tijana Konstantinovic, CEO of Intermedia Network, one of the biggest independent production companies in Serbia, noted that the choice of Dragan Bjelogrlic as director was unusual.
Said Konstantinovic: “We considered many different directors but didn’t think that they could accurately depict the emotional journey of the characters. Our aim was to make a movie with different emotions to all the Serbian films produced in the past 10 years. A lot of these films have been about the conflict in the country – about war, sanctions, etc. We wanted to present a fresh, nice story with new faces.
“Dragan Bjelogrlic is a well-known Serbian actor so we knew he would be able to get the best out of the cast. The five male leads in the film are now big stars, as are the three girls.’
Most of the actors playing the soccer team in the film, as well as the female leads, were sourced from the Academy of Dramatic Art in Belgrade. The “soccer team’ had to train for six months prior to shooting to look like authentic players.
A key role in the film is that of the young, crippled orphan who narrates the story. He is played by Predrag Vasic, who at 12 was the only youngster in the cast with an established career.
Although released theatrically and screened extensively at film festivals throughout the world, Montevideo, Taste of a Dream is actually a pilot for a TV series of the same name.
“Feature films are not yet a business in Serbia – they exist to promote TV series,’ commented Konstantinovic.
Simunec added: “We believe the TV series caused a small revolution in the Serbian production industry. When we were making the first film and the series we knew we had something special on our hands and planned a sequel. This covers the players’ arduous 22-day journey to Uruguay and the World Cup itself, where they won the bronze medal.’
According to Konstantinovic, the film was financed through various film funds in Serbia, sponsors and private investors.
“There is a fund for cinematographers within the Ministry of Culture and there is also the Belgrade Film Fund. In addition we received funding from the Ministry of Sport and the Football Association,’ she said.
Montevideo, Taste of a Dream was the biggest theatrical hit in Serbia in the past seven years, attracting 525 000 cinema goers.
The film has been released in the Slavic countries as well as the US, Canada, Austria and Australia. It has won numerous awards such as the Audience Award at the Moscow International Film Festival and the Best Picture Award at the Beijing International Sports Week.
Other films from Intermedia Network to screen at the Serbian Film Festival in Johannesburg included When Day Breaks, Love and Other Crimes and the documentaries Cinema Komunisto and O Gringo.
Filmed to resemble a single webcam shot some 80 minutes in duration, Death of a Man in The Balkans was written and directed by Miroslav Momcilovic.
“This film is a black comedy, which is a speciality of the Balkans,’ quipped Momcilovic. “When growing up my outlook on life was partly shaped by my grandfather, whose personal motto was that life is a mortal disease.’
In Death of a Man in the Balkans, a lonely composer commits suicide in front of his computer web camera.
“The film is about what happens after the suicide when all the neighbours come into his flat,’ explained Momcilovic. “It looks a bit like an episode of Big Brother. While waiting for the police to arrive, the neighbours sit in the dead man’s flat, eating, drinking and playing chess.’
Momcilovic shot the film over 10 days in a flat, with a budget of 10 000 Euros.
He continued: “I used to be a table tennis star and was inspired to write the script for this film because of what happened at a match I went to last year. During the match an old man died and so someone called an ambulance. Then the players continued playing the match, with the dead body lying right next to them.’
Momcilovic rehearsed the actors for two months prior to shooting and filmed 10 minutes of the script a day.
“I don’t know why I chose to make the film from the point of view of a web camera; maybe it was to get a totally objective view of a strange event. Each day we would shoot 10 minutes of the script. There was no editing or video compositing on this film, I literally just cut the 10-minute shots together so it looks like one scene and a single shot.’
Death of a Man in The Balkans was released theatrically and won the Independent Camera Award at the Karlovy Film Festival 2012.
The Serbian Film Festival in South Africa was held under the auspices of the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Pretoria.
screen africa magazine – january 2013