Experimentation of Anyone. Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Experimental Film (1963-Nowadays)

Experimentation of Anyone. Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Experimental Film (1963-Nowadays)
Krsto Škanata, Ante Verzotti 

Curated by Ivana Momčilović

” First day,  19th Dec. 1963.
Pansini:
-We will inaugurate some consultations and the GEFF festival.
We asked one kid from the street to cut the opening ribbon.
Come and cut it. So, now let you write down the time: it’s 10 45 am, 19.12.1963.
– opening of the  GEFF-”

Book 1 Geff, 1967

 

EXPERIMENTATION OF ANYONE / YUGOSLAV  AND POST-YUGOSLAV EXPERIMENTAL FILM (1963-nowadays)

Experimental short film in socialist Yugoslavia found its base in the so-called “amateur film” which was developed in amateur cinema clubs across all the major cities of the federation after the Second world War: in People’s Technics (Narodna tehnika) clubs and, especially  in the 1960s and 1970s, as a singular and intriguing phenomenon that lasted until the breakdown of the country in the early 1990s. This proceeded in accordance with the open laboratory of self-management which was the basis of the emancipatory project in SFR Yugoslavia as self-management and self-organization were spread from the factories to the field of culture. According to a survey conducted by one of the Yugoslav amateur filmmakers from Bosnia and Herzegovina (Zlatko Lavanić) “cinema clubs in Yugoslavia were, without a doubt, the only places where a group of people, despite individual differences, could form a common aesthetic platform”[1]. Moreover, the cinema clubs were part of the socialist project of spreading art and technological achievements not only to professional and academic circles, but to all layers of society based on the hypothesis that everyone (also children[2]) is capable of emancipation and experimentation, incorporating a range of experiences and media, including ones based in production of films.

Thus the tireless experimentation of Yugoslav amateur filmmakers fundamentally moved from the initial practice of amateur film, begun in 1895 when Auguste Lumiere filmed his daughter Andrée, in Le Déjeuner de bébé (0:38) and La Pêche aux Poissons Rouges (0:44), opening the wide new horizon of the “family film” and with it, the great advertising pitch used by amateur camera manufacturers of the 20th century: the possibility to immortalise the faces of one’s loved ones[3]. Although the family film remained for a long time the king of amateur cinema, the Yugoslav amateur film adventure[4] has broadened its perspective: onto experimental society and all its transformations — through film and in film.

In some way Yugoslav experimental amateur creation reverses Godard’s statement from Notre musique, stating according to Ranciere’s interpretation that for Godard “fiction is a luxury, and that the only thing left for the poor, for the victims, is to show their reality, to bear witness to their own misery.”[5] Affirming that true critical art must displace this type of fundamental division, Yugoslav amateur cinematic experimentation stays as a kind of counter-witness to such a logic. It shows that the social and political narrative of the  emerging experimental egalitarian and emancipatory society that has witnessed many losses during anti-fascist stuggles in the Second World War, could be transmited through some kind of experimental aesthetic materialism: through the highest level of abstraction and poetization – a capacity inherent and belonging to all. Just as Godard’s entire poetics does, inventing new languages and new fictions for old struggles.

However, despite the wave of Yugoslav amateur film which ended in some way in its own negation – in the dissident professional-author film, a large part of the Yugoslav amateur cinematographers continued for many years traveling to the most unexpected and undiscovered territories and waters, preserving at every point the deeply impregnated topics of the collective and emancipation. And as one of the most distant points on the map of realized freedoms, the culture-politics of amateurs of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia left behind itself the Festival of Experimental Genre Film for indisciplinary enthusiasts. GEFF (1963-1970) was a specialized experimental and unconventional amateur film festival that dealt primarily with the non-existent, as the existing was constantly being questioned. Its goals were:

 To fight conventional film, and especially against conventional work in an amateur movie. To get the amateur film out of the tight amateur box, to break the boundaries that exist between amateur and professional film. The film is one, as was concluded on the consultations in Sarajevo a year ago talked about the definition of amateur film (…) We were not working to determine what an amateur movie is. Someone makes a movie as an amateur, and a professional is in the profession. On the other hand, one amateur movie can be subsequently sold. So it is not possible to say what is amateur, what is a professional film. If we can not determine this, then there is no reason to divide films into amateur and professional ones[6].

Geff’s tasks are: to stimulate the development of research work, to encourage experimenters, to acknowledge their work, to take amateur film out of the amateurish, to deepen the meaning of creation, to give it an equal meaning with other human activities, to demystify film as art, to take it out of the narrow film’s field, to connect it with all human activities.

Film cannot be separated from contemporary philosophical thought, from new tendencies in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, ballet, from technique and science, from society, from nature, because these are the parts of life that we live[7].

Conclusion
The selection of short experimental films proposed for screening on the 5th floor of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, during autumn / winter 2020/21, will show several singularities of the Yugoslav poetic and political project: the dialectical relation and correlation between amateurism and experimentation; the specific Yugoslav topography of “brotherhood and unity” (film clubs Split-Zagreb-Belgrade); the relationship between layered experimental film expressions and concrete “realization of freedom” working on the socially/politically “unimaginable” (GEFF festival; experimental amateur documentaries by Krsto Škanata); the influence of the self-managing social project on the autonomy of cinema clubs as well as the influence of strengthening the amateur approach towards reality (and art) in transforming the individual and reality through the most abstract forms and inventions. This selection will show only the surface a rich heritage that relies on the many, on everyone[8]. If the considerable part of these attempts are still in the digitization phase, many have simply not been preserved (let us remember for example the cinematic act of burning the tape in the projector in Zlatko Hajdler’s Kariokineza). But as Hajdler’s act of burning his “film” (December 14, 1965) emerges as a close echo of the immolation of US citizen Norman Morrison in front of the Washington Ministry of Defense (November 2, 1965) in protest of the Vietnam War[9] – the poetic and political roots, deeply human, revolutionary and emancipatory of Yugoslav amateur experimental films should be found precisely in the hidden and magical reverberations of everyday life, which at the time, as nowadays, needed to be constantly transformed. Such a sensible reconfiguration of reality, through the active participation of everyone, repeatedly questions the position of amateurs in the historical context of displacement and dehierarchization of knowledge and power: the position of the new role of the creator in an egalitarian society, in which this role belongs to all and by that is deeply political. The development of Yugoslav amateur cinematography and its direct link to experimental film shows finally that the amateur approach does not lead, as it was doubted, into  dilettantism but, on the contrary, into the most subtle forms of emancipation, abstraction and novelty. From amat[10] to experiment.

 

Part 1 of the selection starting on 17th of September includes four films. The selection continues on November 19th and January 21th 2021

Krsto Škanata
First Case: Man (PRVI PADEŽ ČOVEK)
SFRJ, (Dunav Film) 1964, digital​ format​ (origin​aly​ 35 mm), 13, 33 ‘, (with english subtitles)

In 1967 Willard Van Dyke, former director of the film department at the MOMA, selected Krsto Škanata, among some other film directors  as  a representative of the “Belgrade School of Documentary”  for the retrospective of Yugoslav short films shown at MOMA.  Despite the fact that Škanata — at the time an amateur working for the state film production house making educational films — and his  cinematic poems (55 in total) were loved by Jonas Mekas and critics from Cahiers du cinema as well as by the Italian documentarists, he is today one of the most forgotten post-Yugoslav directors of a generally forgotten era. Louis Marcorelles, a contributor to Cahiers du Cinema magazine and a supporter of “cinema-verité” and “cinema-direct”, compared him to the famous documentarians Jean Rouche and Richard Leacock[11], and Škanata at the time was highlighted as the most poetic and strongest author of the “Belgrade School of Film” defined as such in 1966, at the La Mostra Internazionale del Cinema Libero di Porretta Terme. Škanata’s polyphonic poems, in which he searches the cracks of the socialist project by building poetic pockets for the reconfiguration of inequality, rather than a dissident platform of futile critique, use a method that opens up space to point out problems, correct mistakes, continue debates. His approach has a counterpart in the work of Alexander Medvedkin, a forgotten Soviet director rediscovered by Chris Marker 30 years later and referenced in his masterpiece “Happiness”. Like Medvedkin’s kinopoezd (or ‘cinetrain’), Škanata traveled through Yugoslavia using a camera to record the cracks in the kaleidoscopic communist reality that was still to be imagined and practiced.

In the film First Case: Man, we observe three examples of alienation of state bureaucracy towards individuals, including the miners of the Istrian mine “Raša” who, at the general assembly of the working people, intervene by suspending the bureaucratic decision of the directory team disallowing an injured miner a prosthesis for the arm which he lost in a mining accident. An open critique of the emergence of inhumanity and arbitrariness in Yugoslav society, whose perpetrators often remain hidden behind the mechanism of still existing hierarchy. In this film, as in the entire oeuvre, Škanata is interested in the “bestial side of bureaucratic arrogance”[12], but also in the counterbalance embodied in the beauty of man and his courage to face problems and injustices through a collective rebellion (strike, assembly of working people, collective assembly) and co(smic)mmunist justice. To do that, he uses specific film techniques and languages, creating a polyphony of collective subjects behind the camera, facing the construction of the new emerging collective — one of emancipated spectators, on the other side of the camera, in the cinema halls[13]. Through his specific use of poetical justice and methods of intertwining poetical and political themes, we could note that Škanata is the constructor of an experimental documentary genre and as such, a precious author who deserves his forgotten cinematic poems to be unveiled, even in the fleeting time of one screening.

Ante Verzotti
Five, 1965, 8’30”
Jukebox, 1966, 6’40”
Fluorescences, 1967, 4’30”
(on view until October 19)

The selection includes 3 films from Kino Klub Split, signed by Ante Verzotti which together form a certain unity. A black-and-white film Five (Pet) (1965) treats the topic of war and peace in a very specific way, by gathering a group of friends around a barbecue in an abandoned World War II artillery bunker by the sea, dealing with several temporalities reverberating in one; in the film Jukebox (1966) Verzotti continues the topic of mass destruction when in a small masterpiece he juxtaposes the two faces of leisure: the film shows the ball game “picigin” on a public beach in Split, ending in the negative of the same images transformed into an explosion — the film strip burning and melting as a resonance of the general fear of atomic destruction. The final point of this thrilogy is Fluorescences (Fluorescencije) (1967) where with the euphoric montage of image and sound Verzotti portrays poetic narratives of everyday life in Split, accelerated via a burst camera shots resulting in the non recognition and disappearance of the images. This film ends with a kind of unconscious homage to the empty and resonating Mediterranean landscapes of photographer-cartographer Luigi Ghirri.

Three films present pearls of amateur cinema production from the Cinema Club Split in the 1960s. Ante Verzotti later graduated from the Film Academy in Prague (FAMU),  became a professor of editing, and continued to engage in experimental photography.  At the time he was making the proposed films, he was an enthusiastic amateur.

 

The selection is proposed by Ivana Momčilović, dramaturge, researcher and indisciplinary educator, coordinator of Phd In One Night — collective platform for aesthetic education for all.

The selection is organized with the help of Kino Klub Split, Akademski Filmski Klub Beograd (AKK), Kino Klub Zagreb and Hrvatski Filmski Savez. Thanks to Sunčica Fradelić, Milan Milosavljević, Petra Belc, Diana Nenadić, Slavoljub Gnjatović and Marina Ivanović without whom this project would never be possible. Special thanks to Nataša Ljubisavljević, alias Nataša Mikamala for help in contacts with Dunav Film.

As part of the upcoming selection in Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, a specially made interview with Ante Verzotti, Sunčica Fradelić (actual coordinator of the Split Cinema Club, founded in March 1952), and Ivana Momčilović will be broadcast on November 19th 2020.

 

 *L’Experimentation de n’importe qui (Experimentation of anyone) – title of Anders Fjeld’s Doctoral thesis, Paris Sorbonne, 2016 using the following quotation from Jacques Rancière:

“The only communist legacy that is worth examining is the multiplicity of forms of experimentation of the capacity of anybody, yesterday and today. The only possible form of communist intelligence is the collective intelligence constructed in those experimentations”.- Communists Without Communism, Jacques Rancière- in The Idea of Communism, Verso, 2010

[1] Ivan Martinac, answering Levantič in the survey “Little filmmakers we are the real army” (Sineasti maleni mi smo vojska prava) in Sineast 3, 1968, Sarajevo

[2] From amateur to alternative film (Od amaterskog do alternativnog filma), Branislav Miltojević, YU film danas, Niš, 2013/ p. 77 Youth cinema clubs in our country (Kino klubovi mladih kod nas) Dušan Stojanović and p.110- Filmmakers in short pants (Filmadžije u kratkim pantalonama), Srđan Karanović/

[3] On March 22nd, 1895, the first screening took place for a small circle of professionals, at the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale in Paris, at the Salon Indien du Grand Café. An article published in La Poste of December 30, 1895  and quoted in many publications of the time, commented: “It is a workshop door that opens and lets out a flood of workers, with bicycles, running dogs, cars; all of this is bustling and teeming. It is life itself, it is the movement taken from life. » concluding in enthusiasm “When these cameras will be delivered to the public, when everyone will be able to photograph the beings who are dear to them, no longer in their immobile form, but in their movement, in their action, in their familiar gestures, with words at the tip of their lips, death will cease to be absolute.», published 27. 4. 2015 on the site of the Grand Palais, Paris during the exhibition “Lumière! Le cinéma inventé”

[4] Yugoslav experimental film found its inspiration in different echoes of the common world: Yugoslav amateurs read carefully the texts of Liborio Termine (” Sense of Super 8″), Maya Deren (“Amateur versus professional”), Amos Vogel (“Film as subversive art”)  and their films were in some way created (according to the testimony of some of them) as an anticipation of the current of avant-garde film that P. A.Sitney called in 1969 “structuralist film”,  and David Curtis further expanded through the category of “minimal film”.

[5]  “La parole n’est pas plus morale que les images” “Les intellectuels sont devenus des médecins qui ne soignent pas. Ils sont là pour dire et répéter que la société est malade.”, Jacques Rancière. Propos recueillis par Olivier Pascal-Moussellard, Télérama n° 3074,  décembre 2008

[6] First day 19.12. 1963 (“Prvi dan 19.12.1963”), in Mihovil Pansini, Vladimir Petek, Zlatko Sudović, Kruno Hajdler, Milan Šamec- Prva Knjiga GEFFA 63/1, Zagreb, 1967.

[7] From amateur to alternative film (Od amaterskog do alternativnog filma), Branislav Miltojević, YU film danas, Niš, 2013

[8] Due to the impossibility of still  accessing digitized examples of amateur films made by young people and children, this selection includes in addition to the majority of male authors, also some precious female authors. Although their minority presence in the selection represents only the reality of the general minority presence of women in the field of amateur experimental cinema — an important area for further research.

[9] Spaljivanje (Incineration), Vladimir Petek, in Film’s bulletin, the amateur film journal n° 12 (Filmski bilten, amaterski filmski časopis 12), 1966, Beočin, Jugoslavija

[10] Latin amat is a third-person singular present of the verb amō, meaning He, she, it – loves. The title of the experimental Yugoslav amateur film program in Aalto University, Helsinki, 2019 and Slovenian Cinematheque, Ljubljana 2020, was Politics Of Amateurs:  From Amato To The Experiment- Yugoslavia Case, (program proposed by Ivana Momčilović).

[11] Eléments pour un nouveau cinéma, L. Marcorelles, UNESCO, 1970.

[12]  In his book The Immovability of Vision – A Political Documentary Film after the Second World War (Neuklonjivost vizije–Politični dokumentarni film po drugi svetovni vojni ), Slovenska kinoteka, 2013, Andrej Šprah mentions  an article by Giorgo Trentin in the Cinema Società (August 1966), as a commentary on the film First Case: Man, which says that the power of Škanata’s film duel with society finds its sources in the fact that his critique is intended for a society of “justice and equality” – a “socialist society”, and that is why his critique is so strict and powerful. Because, says Trentino, to experience injustice constantly, in various parts of the world, is one thing, while what was experienced in socialism took on a different connotation. This injustice in a way unconditionally calls for justice. Which is exactly Škanata’s motto.

[13] Škanata certainly found his inspirations and sources for the kaleodoscopic new reality in his past as an active fighter in the proletarian amateur brigades in the anti-fascist war (1941-1945) which is the past “which never passes”.