Experimentation of Anyone

Experimentation of Anyone
Erna Banovac, Divna Jovanović, Krsto Škanata

Curated by Ivana Momčilović

The program Experimentation of Anyone which has involved the presentation a total of 20 films, dating from 1958 to 2012, all gathered by dramaturge Ivana Momčilović took place between September 2020 and April 2021. In four parts, the program constructed a parallel past for Yugoslavia’s, recorded forever on celluloid tapes. Unlike history, that is a consummated past which ends in cold academic objectivism, the Yugoslav past seen in the emancipatory and modernist experience of amateur cinema continues to build on and grow through the poetry of each subjective and rediscovered amateur frame.

The films by Erna Banovac, Divna Jovanović, Krsto Škanata will remain on the 5th floor indefinitely.

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”.

Divna Jovanović (1939-1991), Transformation (Preobražaj), SFR Yugoslavia, 1973, color, 3′

In Transformation, the poetic legacy of costume designer Divna Jovanović is complemented by experimental interventions directly made upon the film, such as celluloid scraping (rotoscopy), coloring or even inlaying secret messages from her previous films (1960 and 1963). The masterful transformation, at the beginning of the film, of the Yugoslav flag into a communist and proletarian flag (with a proletarian star), then finally into a red flag of love (a heart appears instead of a five-pointed star), reveals a message of necessary metamorphosis from national and state attributes to the society of the future: that of generic communism. The ubiquitous scribbled hearts of Divna Jovanović, ranging from the childish drawings of first loves to the “official” emblem of the historic red flag of the proletariat, takes the symbols of communism back to the original “utopia” – the idea of a society based on equality, which carries a message of peace and ultimate love. Love – represented through the symbol of first loves and awkwardly drawn hearts – also seems to be perceived by Divna Jovanović in a more generic sense: representing the vital functions of the muscular organ that breathes life into people on Earth, through a harmonized rhythm of contractions and the injection of essential oxygen. All these topics, from ecology to the re-examination of the role of women in the institution of marriage (and of the bride), make the poetic-political oath of Divna Jovanović more relevant than ever.

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.