Without the Martovski festival [March Festival], for all these decades, the domestic film scene wouldn’t only have been poorer, but I’m convinced it wouldn’t even have survived, says film director and screenwriter Želimir Žilnik, president of the Jury for the 67th/68th Martovski Festival.
What is the greatest significance of this festival, in your opinion, and how do you see its place today, in a contemporary context?
This festival has been, and today remains, a pillar of support for the survival, impulses and search for values in our profession.
Short film has been a format in which the first steps are taken since the very birth of moving pictures. Authors, collaborators and producers thus profile themselves, alongside viewers and film critics, checking themes and styles, offering provocative and taboo content.
Many screenwriters and directors have been inspired by some event, fateful act or story recorded in a short film to work further and articulate that in a feature film project.
Just as Scorsese, Godard or Buñuel debuted with short forms, so did Puriša Đorđević, Makavejev, Žika Pavlović and all the others.
The recognisability of our films abroad happened in the early ‘60s, thanks primarily to the quality of those works, but also to the Martovski Festival.
We’ve had agile production companies, registered for short and animated films, since the late ‘50s. Dunav Film, Zagreb Film, Sutjeska Film, Viba Film etc. The Martovski Festival was like a kind of “state championship”.
I recall the entry into Trade Union House of “teams” of great authors: Krsto Skanata, Puriša, Štrbac, Živko Nikolić, Vera and Ljubiša Jocić, Majdak et al, from Dunav Film. Vukotić, Krešo Golik, Nedeljko Dragić, Zlatko Bourek et al, from Zagreb Film. Bato Čengić, Petar Ljubojev, Vefik Hadžismajlović, Suad Mrkonjić, Zlatko Lavanić et al, from Sutjeska Film, etc. etc. etc. The audiences applauded these maestros even before seeing the new films, because they knew what they’d already had an opportunity to see. And they knew what international awards they’d received between two editions of the festival.
Every March enticed at least ten to fifteen selectors and directors of the world’s most famous short film festivals to Belgrade. They would invite a selection of around a dozen of our films to participate in their own festivals.
We know that the first and only Oscar came to this area as far back as 1961, with Vukotić’s Surrogate.
You were the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Martovski Festival. Do you have any special, personal memory that connects you to this event as a filmmaker?
Every attendance of this festival was an event worth remembering, both because of the new films we watched and because of encounters with colleagues.
And the support of viewing critics and odd the award also aren’t forgotten.
Let’s return to the start. It was in 1967 that my debut documentary “Journal of Youth in the Countryside, Winter”, was included in the festival programme. The jury placed it in the information section, to be watched early in the afternoon. The auditorium was half empty, but it felt like the film was well received.
It was seen by lots of film critics, who protested against its exclusion from the competition. The jury had no arguments, and the film aroused broader interest.
It received two awards in the end: the award of film magazine Ekran and the Youth Award, from critics who wrote for youth publications.
That was the first time I experienced the ability and strength of film, to manage to fight for its own survival.
I had two films at the next year’s festival: Little Pioneers and The Unemployed. They won the Silver Medal of Belgrade.
They were screened over the course of a month in Oberhausen. The Unemployed won the Oberhausen Grand Prix, for a documentary.
Award-winning short films were shown at that year’s Pula Festival, as curtain-raisers to premiering feature films.
Dragiša Đurić, the director of Avala Film, invited a few of us whose shorts were “well-received” to send screenplays for our debut feature films to Avala Film by 1st September. We were confused, surprised.
Đurić said: “that’s an established practise. Take care to ensure the film is simple, low-budget, because we take risks.
We started shooting Early Works in October 1968.
Now you understand why I don’t skip “March”.