04 June - 17 June 2018
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.”
Belgrade in 2041 is an abandoned and devastated city covered in garbage. A couple of old men live there: a former journalist with his daughter, an ex-politician with his wife, and a former policeman who guards a boarding house where eight girls live. The old men bring up the girls in the spirit of the traditions of the former Yugoslav nations, which is a risky business because Southern Europe is being ravaged by a group that forbids any sort of remembering of the past.
While the “good guys” in the movie are played by established Yugoslav actors, or in many cases by non-professional actors, the “bad guys,” referred to as the inspectors of Southern Europe, are played by artist Tomislav Gotovac, theater director Ljubiša Ristić, and movie director Goran Marković. Yugoslav partisan fighter, politician, human rights activist, and historian Vladimir Dedijer, expelled from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1954, also appears in the film, playing a 127-year-old version of himself.
The story starts at the moment when the former journalist and the other remaining survivors start an action to revive Belgrade in order to mark the centennial anniversary of July 4, 1941, the people’s uprising against Yugoslavia’s German occupiers in the Second World War. The main character recounts the events of his youth, in the 1990s, when hatred and destruction prevailed and brought about the war and dissolution of the country. Upon the movie’s premiere at the 1986 Pula Film Festival, the media reported that it was clear from the film that Žilnik had lost connection to both reason and reality. Alas, the future in fact proved Žilnik right.
At the center of this docudrama are the events and tensions that occur during the shooting of a feature film about the Belgrade of a speculative future. The director of the film sets up unrealistic expectations of the producer. The producer engages workers of the city utility services as extras and to help her with set design. These people work for waterworks, sewer systems, and sanitation units. In this drama, we are immersed in their lives and the problems they face while trying to keep Belgrade a functioning city. By overstepping the budget of the film, the producer breaks the law, and during a court trial where the crew members are in the witness stand, we follow the drama of how a film is made.
Although this is not mentioned explicitly in the film, the science fiction film that the director is making is in fact Žilnik’s Pretty Women Walking through the City (1986); Good Morning Belgrade is its companion piece and a commentary on the working conditions in film production at the time. Both films—Good Morning Belgrade, made as a docudrama for television, and Pretty Women, made as a feature film intended for cinemas—were produced so that the budget of one supported the making of the other. This was a rather standard procedure at the time, as republic TV stations had high demand for a constant influx of new programming, and therefore had flexibility in commissioning new works and distributing the funds. At today’s rates, the budget procured for a TV film would be approximately €150,000, and as such required radical thriftiness—for example, there was one cameraman working both the movie and video Beta cameras for both films. Good Morning Belgrade was filmed during the day and Pretty Women during the night. A fortunate circumstance was that the architect Bogdan Bogdanović was the major of Belgrade at the time, and he agreed to give access to the civic services.
One night in the late 1960s, Žilnik picks up a group of homeless men from the streets of Novi Sad and takes them to his house. While they make themselves at home, the filmmaker tries to “solve the problem of the homeless,” carrying along a film camera as a witness. He speaks to social workers and ordinary people. He even addresses policemen. They all shut their eyes to the “problem.” Two days later, at the end of the film tape, Žilnik explains that the chances of solving this problem are grim, and politely asks the guests to leave his house.
The film was produced by Neoplanta Film. The title, Black Film, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Black Wave, a name coined through an official critique of a number of films made by young Yugoslav filmmakers in the late 1960s and early ’70s. It first appeared in a special supplement, titled “Black Wave in Our Film,” published in the August 3, 1969, edition of the newspaper Borba, the official gazette of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, and it was the first major orchestrated attack on the filmmakers of the new generation. It is believed that the article was prompted by Žilnik’s Early Works (1969) and Aleksandar Petrović’s It Rains in My Village (1968) winning several awards at Pula Film Festival that year.
The “Black Film Manifesto,” written by Žilnik, was often read publicly or distributed as a printout during the early showings of the film. For the screening at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 1971, a special copy was made in which the text of the manifesto was imprinted onto the film tape and became part of the film’s structure.
Black Film Manifesto
You are observing the class structure of Yugoslav society.
The lumpenproletariat and “humanist intelligentsia.”
Instrumentalized exploitation of the poor for filmic purposes.
A lesson to family Žilnik regarding the hungry, the dirty, and the stinky.
The child needs to be shown what life really is.
In the country that is not quite sure in its name, hymn, nor government, at the moment when basic needs (bread, milk, and dollars) are becoming increasingly expensive, the film caste is narcissistically enjoying the “elaboration” of the workers’ and peasants’ suffering. This enables them, as constitutive elements of the part of civic structure that manipulates society, an illusion of engagement and compassion.
Everybody should be screwed, including oneself.
Starting with scattering one’s own marital bed!
How would we feel if the wretches really
started putting it up our asses?
Luckily that is not going to happen.
I still need to make socially engaged films though. Because I am confronting two enemies—Firstly, my petit-bourgeois nature that transforms my engagement into an alibi and a business opportunity, and secondly, the powerful manipulators and structures of power who would only benefit from my silence.
Film—weapon or shit?
Look again at point 4
The two protagonists of the film, Vera and Eržika, have been working for the Trudbenik textile factory in Pančevo since they were thirteen. Now that they are about to retire, they face numerous problems and misunderstandings. According to the newly adopted law regarding pensions, only work from the age of fifteen is recognized. In order for the two of them to retire, they need to complete two more years of work, but Vera and Eržika want the first two years to be taken into account instead. Starting from this problem as the source of the dramatic conflict, the film shows the emotional states of the protagonists, their families and their communities (one being Serbian and the other Hungarian), relationships with their colleagues, and the various officials with whom they try to speak.
This is another example of Žilnik’s TV productions that were realized with the broadcaster’s permanent team and within their studios, as well as with a very limited budget and time frame, usually between two weeks and a month. Many filmmakers didn’t like these working conditions and the much smaller fees than those paid for feature films, but for Žilnik this was a very stimulating environment that enabled him to follow up the stories of people he would become interested in, as in this case of the two hard-working women fighting for their rights.
As television crews had easy access to the factories, Žilnik’s plan was to make a series of movies on workers’ rights, which were declining in the unstable political situation that followed Tito’s death in 1980. The movies Dragoljub and Bogdan: Electricity (1982) and The Way Steel Was Tempered (1988) are also part of this series.