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55th Thessaloniki IFF - Zelimir Zilnik Masterclass
4 November 2014
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55th Thessaloniki Film Festival

31 October - 9 November 2014

Zelimir Zilnik Masterclass

A fascinating masterclass titled Reality and Miracle was presented by TIFF honoree filmmaker Zelimir Zilnik, on Monday, November 3, 2014, at Pavlos Zannas theater.

The masterclass was moderated by Dimitris Kerkinos, programmer of the Balkan Survey section. Zelimir Zilnik shared with the audience his valuable experience on how he made his movies under very particular political and social conditions, and also presented the methodology he applied.

Young Zelimir Zilnik

As a pioneer and radical filmmaker, Zelimir Zilnik gave -throughout his career- voice to the powerless, praising the essence of being human. Presenting the Serbian filmmaker to the public, Mr. Kerkinos described him as a successor to different traditions of avant-garde film, a director ahead of his time who recorded the dramatic changes that took place in his country through new forms of storytelling. "With low budgets, Zelimir Zilnik makes a kind of documentary fiction, develops the form through the content, creates collaborative scenarios and employs amateur actors to portray their own selves," said Mr. Kerkinos.

Zelimir Zilnik expressed his delight at the fact that mostly young people attended his masterclass. "When young people listen to a man of my age, they wonder “is it time for him to go home and give space to our generation?΄ ΄. And they may be right”, he said. He added: "I΄ll explain why animated images are fascinating to me. Nothing from what I’m going to tell you is the norm, nothing from what I’m going to show you is a call to imitate my example. Every artist is doing something totally unique. If you ask me what I’ve learned over the years, I will tell you that I’ve learned mostly from my mistakes and also from watching movies not only to my liking and my personal taste”.

Talking about his first movie Early Works, which was filmed in the fall of 1968, inspired by the writings of Karl Marx, Mr. Zilnik explained: "It was a time of turmoil, but also of optimism and hope. It was the time that small, poor and weak Vietnam was liberated from the French and the Americans, the era that proclaimed racial equality and also the time when many African and Asian countries gained their freedom ... At that time young people expressed their protest against the new sovereign relations in society and this changed everyday life in Western Europe in a radical way. But also in the socialist world ΄΄seismic waves΄΄ were recorded after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. This country attempted to follow a particular course of socialism, like Yugoslavia. A hope was born then in the communist world, about greater justice and strengthened workers΄ rights. My generation did not remember the disasters of World War II, lived 20 years of progress and a comfortable life and suddenly the concept of socialism was seriously in doubt. I was 25 years old then and I participated in demonstrations in Belgrade. I was thinking how it is possible to express in a cinematic language our feelings. So I ended up doing this movie. "

Early Works (1969)

This film made by Zilnik was different from the mainstream movies of the era and consequently sparked public debate. The filmmaker explained: "While it was a relatively simple film, it had a huge impact - articles were written, discussions were held by both supporters and critics. The film had screenings for about two months, and then the court intervened and banned it, but we had the right to defend our work. What we tried to say was ΄let us express what we feel’. Thus, the film continued to have screenings at festivals and even won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. Then we felt that the days of socialism were to end, it was like a goodbye blues song ".

Speaking about his film The Old School of Capitalism, the Serbian movie maker said: "It was common to observe that these declarations on democracy had faded. We had puppets instead of a normal parliament. The neocapitalists which had speculated during the war, with the help of politicians, managed to conceal the origin of their funds. They claimed that these funds derived from loans taken from workers in their business!" Zilnik wanted to highlight this important point, seeing "the new ruling class to unleash new class struggle against the majority of workers, who considered it as an enemy even worse than socialism. In 1945 socialism deprived some capitalists of their wealth. This wealth was spent on labor-management – actually it was spent in the management of political party executives. But socialism in Yugoslavia differed, workers had rights, invested part of their earnings in their businesses, there were in a way shareholders. And we, filmmakers, we were freelancers..."

In 1968, Early Works had caused reactions but continued to be screened in theaters, but in 2008 "no one agreed to screen the film The Old School of Capitalism. Thus, screenings were taking place in factories that were occupied by workers. We realized that in this way the workers had material for discussion and reflection. Giving them a voice, we gave them a way to boost their confidence. Thus, this issue, which was the biggest taboo among the systemic media started to be heard". The filmmaker was surprised when he was invited to several former Yugoslavian countries, which had similar experiences in the post-communist period. "There is a public discussion of these issues, although I doubt whether a solution will be found. However, with the little help of similar examples we see that the supposed death of the working class is not happening in absolute silence, "concluded Zilnik.

Mr. Zilnik also said that the use of digital technology gave him the opportunity to research sensitive issues and then to form this material into a movie. This happened in the film Kenedi goes back home, about the Roma community in Serbia, which is undergoing radical transformation. During the war, many Roma refugees fled to Europe and, in order to maintain their refugee status, had to send their children to school. The kids that in later years returned to Serbia, no longer had the chance to attend school there, because they did not speak any Serbian anymore, but German, Italian, etc. "We decided to do an act of solidarity," explained the filmmaker. “Eventually it was a much discussed project. Indeed, a delegation of the Green Party in the German parliament asked the government to provide support to every child that returned to Serbia. We have shown omissions of state authorities, while the public began to see the contradictions of European legislation, because no one can deny a child their right to education in its best spoken language. Eventually we realized that they had concealed the agreement signed by the state about readmission of refugees after the war and the fact that Germany gave financial assistance for each child returning home, to the host country in order to organize training, "said Zilnik.

Marble Ass (1995) 

During the masterclass, extracts from his films were screened and then the filmmaker talked about the techniques he employed, combining the fiction and documentary. "The combination of documentary and fiction leads to a hybrid kind of film. Also, the movie crew has to stay in the background, in order to avoid an offensive presence in the shooting sessions, because that confuses amateur actors. People need to express themselves freely, but we have to choose the best shots very carefully "said the filmmaker. An example is the movie Marble Ass, which presents the life of transgender people forced into prostitution. The movie was based on stories and experiences of the protagonists. Speaking about this fiction and documentary hybrid, Mr. Zilnik noted: "This technique is found in all kinds of art – sometimes it is called collage or novel, based on facts. This is not something new. For example, Tolstoy based ΄War and Peace on historical events. The work of each author bears his signature, of course, but we haven’t invented something that did not exist before”.

Following Zilnik’s lecture, he received questions from the audience on the financing of films and the role of the internet and digital media in his work. "At the time we lived in a country of 35 million people, now we live in a small country. The choice of subjects is important for someone who is seeking funding from producers. In this way, talented filmmakers, who are not well known, have the opportunity to make a movie every 6-7 years ", replied Mr. Zilnik. "I live in a turbulent region and season, which is something difficult to explain," he said, adding that for him making movies is "an excellent tool to capture what is happening in people΄s lives, a diary with a camera and a crew."

Regarding the new tools and changes introduced in cinema, Mr. Zilnik noted that although movie theaters are becoming fewer and fewer and they only show mainstream productions, "a new universe is born, with the help of digital media: DVD’s and the Internet. We live in a much richer universe of new images, and the access to old movies made by great directors that was extremely difficult for us, is now made easier. The democratization occurred mainly in the field of distribution. We had many limitations with the 35 mm film which was costly. Today, with cheap equipment, digital editing and digital cameras there are many opportunities for young people. Many new movies are filmed and among them you can find diamonds. The future of the moving image is brilliant. But the production of low budget films requires more patience and the effort of the filmmaker to gain fame takes more time”.

Original source: Thessaloniki IFF official site

  Early Works
  The Old School of Capitalism
  Marble Ass
  Zelimir Zilnik
  Thessaloniki International Film Festival
  Balkan Presence at Thessaloniki International FF 2014
  Greek Cinema at the 55th Thessaloniki FF
  Thessaloniki IFF 2014 on Twitter
  Thessaloniki IFF 2014 Balkan Survey
  Thessaloniki IFF 2014 Zelimir Zilnik Tribute
  Thessaloniki IFF Official Site
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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