Screening 3

21 May - 03 June

As part of Želimir Žilnik exhibition “Shadow Citizens”, more than 20 Žilnik’s films will be available for online viewing. Many of these are rarely screened, and all are being made available online to this extent for the first time. The films trace various periods and different working conditions within Žilnik’s practice. They are organized in five sections, each available for viewing during the exhibition for two weeks.

The descriptions of the films were composed using material provided by Želimir Žilnik, primarily through several long conversations in Novi Sad and Zagreb, which extended over many months. They are stories that follow the curiosity of the curators surrounding Žilnik’s memories of the experiences of making each film, which he patiently and generously shared. As personal traces such as these open up future research and interpretations, the particular method of their collection, if there was one, was described by Želimir with yet another story: “As Mao Zedong said to his successor Hua Guofeng: With you in charge of business, I can relax.”

WHW interview with Želimir Žilnik, april 2018


Paradise. An Imperialist Tragicomedy (1976), 90 min

A multinational company owned by Mrs. Judit Angst is facing financial difficulties. She decides to hire a group of young anarchists to fake her kidnapping. After a couple of weeks spent in confinement, she will be able to justify the downfall of her company before the people, and at the same time it will also build her status as an opponent of destruction and chaos. A direct inspiration for the film was the kidnapping of Peter Lorenz, a center-right politician from Berlin, in the early 1970s. Lorenz spent two weeks in the captivity of the Bewegung 2. Juni terrorist group, from which he was released after the government met the kidnappers’ demands. The case was subsequently exploited for the benefit of his election bid to become the mayor of Berlin.

The film was planned as a big production with a 250,000 DM budget, and Žilnik had already extensively scouted various locations in Munich and was negotiating the participation of prominent actors such as Hanna Schygulla and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The atmosphere in the city was tense due to concerns around terrorism and the growing prominence of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction). Because of the dynamics of local city politics at the time, Bavarian television withdrew its support for the film. As a result, Žilnik lost both his funding and the producer who facilitated the TV collaboration, so he decided to do the film in a more low-key manner. His production budget shrank to 60,000 DM, which came from some previously confirmed sponsors, and he moved forward with a team of people who were enthusiastic about making the movie happen—such as, for example, his costume designer, Giesela Siebauer, who agreed to play the leading female role. During the editing process, done at Filmverlag der Autoren, colleagues were already warning Žilnik that the film would get him into trouble.

Paradies premiered at Werkstattkino in Munich. Although the audience was enthusiastic, Žilnik learned that the police came the day after and asked that the film be removed from the cinema’s repertoire. To evaluate the response his film might receive upon wider release, Žilnik decided to show it to a committee of prominent film critics who worked for the broadcaster ARD in Frankfurt. After watching the film, they advised him not to show it to anyone. Upon Žilnik’s return to Munich, he was almost immediately visited by the police. They couldn’t find anything to link him to terrorism, but saw receipts that showed that some of the film’s collaborators had been paid in cash. Claiming this amounted to tax fraud, they arrested Žilnik and his cameraman, Andrej Popović, and took them to Polizei Presidium at midnight. Žilnik called Alexander Kluge, who at the time was the president of the Directors Association and also a lawyer, to help them out. Kluge negotiated that the police would drop charges and release Žilnik and Popović from jail, on the condition they would leave the country. They had twelve hours to pack before the police escorted them to the Austrian border. They were never officially registered as expelled or banned from returning.


Little Pioneers, (1968), 18 min

Socially neglected children who are taking care of themselves dare to break the law and commit theft. They argue with parents who neither understand them nor have affectionate feelings for them. As a counterpoint to this story, we see a TV show where a popular actor-entertainer Gula (Dragoljub Milosavljević) addresses happy and carefree children. After two days of filming, Žilnik was arrested because the police suspected that the youngsters were pickpocketing and stealing under his supervision. He was locked up for twenty-four hours until documents came from the Neoplanta production house saying that both Žilnik and the “young actors” were in fact making a film and that all the money, bags, and watches they had were props. The film won a prize at the Yugoslav Documentary Film Festival in Belgrade, as well as at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, taking the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.


Early Works (1969), 87 min

In an allegorical manner, Early Works recounts the story of young people who took part in student demonstrations in June 1968 in Belgrade, and, as its opening credits state, it includes “additional dialogue by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels.” Three young men and a girl, Yugoslava, defy the petit-bourgeois routine of everyday life. Wishing to “change the world,” inspired by the writings of the young Karl Marx, they go to the countryside and to factories to “wake up people’s consciousness” and to encourage them to fight for emancipation and a life worth living. In the countryside, they face traditionalism and squalor, but they show their own limits, weaknesses, incapacities, and jealousy. They get arrested. Frustrated because the planned revolution has not been realized, the three young men decide to eliminate Yugoslava, who is the witness of their impotence. They shoot her, cover her with the party flag, and burn her body. A dark pillar of smoke going up into the sky is the only thing that remains of the intended revolution.

This was Žilnik’s first feature film, produced by the biggest production house in Yugoslavia, Avala Film in Belgrade, and co-produced by Neoplanta Film in Novi Sad. The film passed the censorship commission in early March 1969, and premiered in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Skopje. After three months of successful screening in cinemas throughout Yugoslavia, extensive polemics in the media, and the film’s acceptance as an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival, Žilnik was summoned to the office of the director of Avala Film. The night before, the film had been screened at the presidential residency. The screening was interrupted, and President Josip Broz Tito allegedly asked, “What do these lunatics want?” At Avala Film, Žilnik was asked to sign a statement that the film was still in the editing stage. He refused, arguing that both the professional and general public would see through it as a lie. That same day, all copies of the film were confiscated and the “Decision on the temporary ban on public screening of Early Works” was issued. Court proceedings started just a few days later. Since he had a law degree, Žilnik defended himself and the film in court. The accusations were dismissed and the film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival a week later, where it won the Golden Bear for Best Film and an Award for Young Generation. That same summer, the film won several awards at Pula Film Festival.

The film stirred up much controversy in the political establishment, particularly due to symbolic, but also fairly explicit, reflections on the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet tanks in August 1968, as well as due to portraying the manipulation and persecution of the student activists who organized protests in Belgrade in June 1968. As a consequence, the Party Committee in Novi Sad organized an ideological campaign that proclaimed the movie to be anarchistic. Žilnik was criticized as being “under the influence of Trotsky and Rudi Dutschke” and was expelled from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. The film was withdrawn from domestic movie distribution, but at the same time, the official state exporter, Yugoslavia Film, distributed it in more than thirty countries around the world. The next time Early Works was to be shown in Yugoslavia was nearly twenty years later, in 1987, on state television. After Early Works, Žilnik’s next feature film, Freedom or Cartoons, was stopped halfway through the editing process in 1972, after he refused to cut parts from it. He finished his next documentary, Uprising in Jazak, in the spring of 1973 and left Yugoslavia for Germany.


June Turmoil (1969), 10 min

The film documents student demonstrations in Belgrade in June 1968, the first mass protests in Yugoslavia after the Second World War. Students were protesting the move away from socialist ideals, the “red bourgeois,” and economic reforms that had brought about high unemployment and emigration to Western Europe. During the protests, they also called for repercussions for the police officers who attacked the students on the first day. Prominent public figures and artists joined the protest in solidarity with the students. The film ends with a speech from the dramatic play Danton’s Death by Georg Büchner, delivered by the famous stage actor Stevo Žigon, who at the time was performing the role of Robespierre.

The political elite reacted very negatively to the protests. The police were sent to prevent the students from communicating their messages to the wider public. On the sixth day of the demonstrations, Tito made a speech on TV saying he understood the students’ dissatisfaction and that the government would act on it, and through this the students felt as if they had achieved their goal. Quite a few filmmakers were shooting the protests, but Žilnik’s was some of the rare footage that survived, since it was brought back to Novi Sad and wasn’t developed in Belgrade. It was brought back to Belgrade to be screened in 1969, and from the official point of view, it was criticized as being one-sided, while the students felt it was a reminder of the unrealized promises made to them. The same year it received a special mention at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. It remains one of the rare documents of the 1968 student protests and has been screened on numerous occasions over the past five decades.


One Woman - One Century (2011), 110 min

One Woman, One Century is a documentary film based on statements, interviews, and reconstructions of real-life events. The life story of Dragica Srzentić casts light on a number of events and people relevant to Yugoslav history before and after the Second World War. The film’s look at the century-long life of this woman-hero provides insight into the rarely mentioned segments of the ex-Yugoslav intellectual and ideological maze that traverses all the states in which this Istrian-born woman lived (Austria-Hungary, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, NDH, FNRJ, SFRJ, Croatia, and Serbia).

In view of Srzentić’s experiences as a member of the Yugoslav partisans resistance during the Nazi occupation, the phrase “One Woman - One Century” is more than a comment on her own longevity. Rather, her personal account is inseparable from the turbulent history of Eastern Europe during the Second World War and its aftermath. The documentary’s subject went underground, fled, was arrested and tortured, and cheated death more than once. Yet her words resonate with humor and dignity rather than anger or sadness. Žilnik gives Srzentić’s stories ample time, supplementing them with footage of her journey to a parade in Moscow and inserting animated sequences that underscore her achievements.

The film was so well received that a local TV broadcaster commissioned an extended series, which was produced in three episodes and includes longer excerpts of Srzentić’s interview. One Woman, One Century is considered a strong defense against the falsification of historical facts around the partisans struggle, which is a mainstream tendency in post-socialist states.