Experimentation of Anyone — Part III

Experimentation of Anyone — Part III
Erna Banovac, Vatroslav Mimica, Dunja Ivanišević & Ivan Martinac

Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Experimental Film (1963-Nowadays) curated by Ivana Momčilović

We continue the third part of the program “Experimentation of anyone – Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav experimental film”, revealing on the forgotten traces, movements, connections, images, colors, sounds, shadows and lights of emancipatory exploits by Yugoslavian cinema amateurs. Many years later, they still shine in the darkness like the trajectories of the living organisms that have survived the deepest ocean depths, still managing to produce that enigmatic bioluminescent glow. This selection by dramaturge Ivana Momčilović, is available from January 21 to February 21, 2021, presents four films: Erna, by Erna Banovac (1963); Samac (The Lonely Guy) by Vatroslav Mimica (1958); Žemsko by Dunja Ivanišević (1968), Sve ili ništa (Everything or Nothing) by Ivan Martinac (1968). This is the third part of the program dedicated to experimental Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cinema which, on this occasion, pays tribute to Erna Banovac (1947-2020) — the first woman to pass the kino-amateur test, thus becoming a member of the Kino Club Belgrade at the age of only 17.

 

Erna (~1963) by Erna Banovac
8mm transferred to digital media (2011), black-white, production Kino Klub Beograd, SFR Yugoslavia. With: Erna Banovac, Dragan Kresoja. Sound: Zoran Uzelac Music: Zoran Simjanović

Erna Banovac left behind only one film, which exists today likely in an abridged version, as all the others are lost. We don’t know for sure what she went on to do later in life, but it seems after working on editing for a period, she completely abandoned the world of cinema. However, this amateur film, realised while Erna was only 17 or 18 years old,  is a masterpiece which, in the form of a poetic manifesto, addresses the ecological and social dangers that emerged in the 1960s. The “jump-cut” sequences allow for an alternation between images of natural disasters, tsunamis, melting glaciers or felled forests (all found footage), and shots of crowds queuing in front of shops (most likely filmed in Eastern bloc countries). Then, soldiers and a group of people are seen rushing somewhere, likely in an act of rebellion. Between those shots, the gaze of a young girl and boy (Erna and actor/director Dragan Kresoja) are accentuated by alarming music. Suggesting a kind of self-fiction or conscious self-portrait, between Courbet’s “Self-portrait of the desperate” and Dürer’s works, the gazes seem to anxiously analyze the past and future of the world around them. Seeing her film after more than 50 years, Erna declares: “Birds have been cut from their branches, people’s lives have been cut off by wars, a young man and a girl remain and do not know where to go, with them a single bird is left alone”. The final shots of the film follow indeed a lone raven, as well as the launch of rockets into orbit, questioning in a disturbing way the meaning of man’s expansion in the Universe while the Earth seems abandoned to its problems. Nearly 60 years later, Erna’s poetic warning is still more relevant than ever. The power of this crystalline message, coming from a women amateur filmmaker, is felt like a gaze turned towards us. A gaze that observes us with wide-open eyes and disturbs us with the way it anticipates environmental issues, way before recent climate storytelling.

Miroslav Bata Petrović, an amateur filmmaker turned director, met Erna again in 2017 in Belgrade, and after 50 years, showed her her short film (provisionally dated to 1963 and digitized in 2011 by Erna’s editing teacher, Marko Babac). This is the only clue as to when Erna’s film was made. In Bata Petrović’s film, we learn that registering a woman at the Kino Klub Belgrade was not common, that the entrance exam was complex, and that the men first laughed at the idea of a girl with the camera. They advised her to make “a film about nudists on Belgrade Lake” — which she did and was awarded 1 kilo of lemons as a prize “for the worst film of the year”. Encouraged by this negative experience, with the will to prove her intention and to show the feminine side of the story, she made the film Erna, which in 1965 or 1966 won the Grand Prix of the Festival of Pančevo (SFR Yugoslavia). Although Erna’s membership card shows that she had been a member of the first category of the Belgrade Film Club since July 1964, the exact year of the film’s creation (1963/64/65) remains unclear, as does the original version of the film. However, Erna’s kinetic manifesto of visual poetry knows a better fate than the debut of Tressie Souders, the first African-American director and her only film A Woman’s Mistake (1922). Souders spent the rest of her life as a housekeeper and her film remains forever unknown (it is only known through writings of the African-American community of those years). The freedom inspired by Erna’s efforts is reminiscent of the amateur filmmaking freedom of a Maya Deren (the protagonist of her own kinetic experiments), but also of the visual activism of contemporary South African photographer Zanele Muholi, who talks about the position of women and the world around her while being the subject of a series of self-portraits. To conclude this homage to Erna, we can point out that for Erna and so many other women and men, the amateur film club represented what Virigina Woolf describes in “A Room of One’s Own”, that is to say, a place for necessary creation of fiction, in the reality of the world around which “fiction weaves a spider’s web, but always leans on the corners”.

 

Žemsko (1968) by Dunja Ivanišević
Camera by Andrija Pivčević. N8; 6’57; HD color video, Kino Klub Split, SFR Yugoslavia

Due to an unresolved mistake, Tatjana Dunja Ivanišević’s film Žemsko, produced by Kino Klub Split, was never sent to the Pančevo Experimental Film Festival of 1968. It was therefore not shown until 1987. It is another film amateur, Lordan Zafranović (who later became a director as well) who retrieved this film from oblivion 19 years later. Dunja Ivanišević, the first woman amateur filmmaker in Split, acquired the right to present two synopses to the amateur cinema commission, after she passed the related exam in 1968. For the synopsis to the film Žemsko, she received a 7-meter color film strip as well as an excellent cameraman, Andreja Pivčević. The main role was entrusted to the actress Iskra Kuzmančić. Subtly, through movement and sound, Ivanišević examines the commodification of the female body in the stereotypes of women’s magazines and advertisements ; in the representations of the male body of Michelangelo’s sculptures and the woman-object: the motionless body of a woman laying on a white sheet. Through her own enjoyment of music selected on a gramophone, she dances sensually, barefoot on the parquet while playing with a representation of a male idol image on the wall. The main feminine character exists autonomously, outside of the norms and conventions, as the subject. The film ends with a sight outside the window, which opens to the perspective of a clear blue sky and a flying bird.

While she waited for her first and only film to be screened, Dunja Ivanišević gave up on experimenting with celluloid. For the rest of her life, she dedicated herself to educational work, working as a history teacher at the Split art school and continuing her experimentation with words — becoming later a poet and translator. Fifty years later, her only film still distinguishes itself, with its first signs of emancipation, as the first Yugoslav feminist film experiment.

 

SVE ILI NIŠTA (All or Nothing) (1968) by Ivan Martinac
Normal 8mm, b & w, color, 10’30, Kino Klub Split SFR Yugoslavia

Ivan Martinac is one of the most complete figures of the experimental scene of Yugoslavian amateur cinema. A student in architecture, he arrived in Belgrade from Split (via Zagreb) at the beginning of the 1960s out of a miracle of love. His films are thought and conceived through a mathematical montage of the smallest photograms and although he lived for cinema, he never lived from his practice. Later employed in a state architectural company, he dedicated his free time to his passion, experimental cinema, and became the initiator of a generation of amateur filmmakers who reunited around Cinema Mondays at Kino Klub Split. It is impossible not to evoke his cosmological and mystical side, a “Malevic” side to his being, through which he immersed himself in cinema and poetics as in heaven, leaving behind him 50 filmed masterpieces, 12 books of poetry and the life of a devotee. His existence, dedicated to the miracle of salvation in which he deeply believed, and which comes differently for everyone, is proof of the universalist possibility of coexistence with the Other. Believing in providence, which in his words was a combination of architecture, states, sounds, mysticism, miracles, mathematics, poetry, chess, astrology, he was for many a Franciscan of Yugoslav cinema who, with his cinematographic language, built a world close to the ideal of the great beyond. The beyondness or otherness, to which he aspired breathlessly for being the perfect expression of the unknown, could also be seen as Yugoslav modernist experimentation.

All or Nothing, another film made during the iconic year of 1968, revisits the horizons of the in-existing, acting through dialectical sets: interior/ exterior, static/ mobility, leisure/ work, group meeting/ colors and black and white, classical and country music. Thus the terms “all” or “nothing” are embodied in the final image of one who dedicated his life to the belief that those who were “nothing” will turn into “all” — the murdered (one year earlier) Che Guevara whose began struggle continues its eternal life. 30 years later, Martinac published a collection of poetry entitled “Love or Nothing”, combining all his poetry written since 1962, emphasizing that love is a real totality.

“It seems to me that this is my most complex film. There is a real relation between the color and the black and white band, a real relation between the sequences, a real relation between technically ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ photography, between shots (from total to detail), the good relationship between static frames and mobile frames. All or nothing is born of itself” —Author’s notes from his “Filmography” on the occasion of 25 years of making the film.

 

Samac (A Lonely Guy) (1958) by Vatroslav Mimica
Color, 16 mm. Screenplay: Vatroslav Mimica, Ivo Urbanic; illustration: Aleksandar Marks; animation Vladimir Jutriša; music Kurt Grieder.

An animation masterpiece created within the Yugoslavian “school” of amateur cinematographic experimentation, the film Samac received the Golden Lion in Venice in 1958. Vatroslav Mimica, director of Yugoslav modernist feature films, including epics (Anno Domini (1573) or Peasants’ Revolt (1975)), is a film autodidact. Growing up in the Dalmatian hinterland near Split (Omiš, Mimice), Mimica quickly became a member of the communist movement after, as a medical student, he joined the partisan anti-fascist movement. There, without a day of clinical practice, he emerged into the field of guerrilla warfare medicine, under the most difficult conditions. At the liberation, aiming to leave the army and medicine, he became the director of the Jadran Film production studio (which he succeeded after various peripeteias but thanks to his war merits). Once again, he does not own any practice in the field but his own interest for cinematographic experiments. In this regard he said: “I analysed classic films by looking at them frame-by-frame on the editing table. For example: the films of David Lean, from whom I learnt dramaturgy; or Billy Wilder, from whom I learnt mise en scène, he is a great master of mise en scène. So when I did my first feature film, I was not unprepared. Of course, I was not so self-assured in all things, but nobody knew that except myself.”

The animated film Samac, a cartoon story on the alienation of modern man, announces the modernist tone of the Zagreb cartoon school (baptized as such by Georges Sadoul), which breaks with the typical animated realism of Disney, representing a singular artistic phenomenon. Along with Dušan Vukotić, Nikola Kostelac and painter Vlado Kristl, Vatroslav Mimica was one of the most important personalities of the first generation of the Zagreb Cartoon School. Through geometric expression (his films have been praised by film theorist Lotte H. Eisner for their expressionist modernism), the film follows an employee who, in the Kafkaesque atmosphere of the bureaucratic routine of his own life, faces fears and the apathy of solitude, finding its only freedom during the time of sleep and dreams. The dream brings the idea of ​​freedom and rupture: the final exit from determinism announcing the possibility of meeting the other individual towards the fulfillment of love. As a criticism of the reification and alienation of human relations, the brilliant designs of Aleksandar Marks — animated by Vladimir Jutriš, and realized by Vatroslav Mimica, along with music by Kurt Greideram — achieves an unforgettable cinematic moment evoking, through geometric abstraction and transformations, dreamlike anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shapes, turning colors and forms into the true oneiric creations