Gordan Mihić, Author and Screenwriter:

Writing is My Only Defence

It is paradoxical that I took fewer hits from the regime and a lot more from some people from the profession – because of their envy and malice, but I wasn’t particularly disturbed because of that, nor has it ever interfered with my work. This work has always been my only defence

Gordan Mihic

His creativity can be divided ideally. When he was young, he worked as a journalist, the most beautiful job if you leave it on time. Then he gained fame as a screenwriter and author of short stories and novels, only to become a professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the age of 50. He was the only one who didn’t have a university degree, but he held classes for students that nobody skipped. For the past ten years he has been a pensioner who doesn’t stop writing. Gordan Mihić wrote the best plays and scripts about little people, which he calls them for lack of better words.

His plays, TV series and films represent that part of the history of domestic film and television that does not become dated and which does not lose truth and beauty with time. They include Gospodin Foka, Siroti mali hrčki, Sivi dom, Pas koji je voleo vozove, Žuta, Varljivo leto 1968, Terasa na krovu, Srećna Nova l949, Dom za vešanje, Balkan ekspres, Kamiondžije… and they are among the treasures of the national film and television vaults. And while we’re mentioning the TV series Kamiondžija (Truckers), which is still repeated on RTS, it is worth noting that this story of two truck drivers continues after many years, more than 40 years after the story was originally told. There are new actors instead of the unforgettable Miodrag Petrović Čkalja and Pavle Vuisić, while Gordan Mihić writes a new story about two little people, truck drivers, who live similar lives to those lived by Paja and Jare. After the collapse of the companies in which they worked, today’s heroes somehow survive by meeting customers of all types – from the heavily impoverished via petty criminals to opportunist entrepreneurs with lots of money… Mihić explains: “While I was looking for authentic stories of modern truckers, for the umpteenth time, I came to the same conclusion that everything here is difficult, slow and hardly changes, that the lives of ordinary people do not depend on their work, effort and abilities, but rather on managerial castes, which are sometimes less capable, sometimes barely capable and most often completely incapable.”

And who is Gordan Mihić, who was born in Mostar on 19th September 1938?

He has amassed fifty feature films and eighteen television series and has worked with the greatest actors and directors. He can take satisfaction in seeing that even today there are reruns on television works that he realised several decades ago.

With his wife, actress Vera Čukić, he lives for a good part of the year in their house in a village in Serbia, while his daughter, Ivana, an actress and producer, visits them occasionally.

When you walk the streets of Los Angeles you can encounter embossed on the footpaths MIHIĆ CO. Are those your ancestors who paved part of America?

– Yes, some of my ancestors paved part of America. I discovered that completely by accident when I visited Los Angeles for the first time in 1965… I was a young journalist and they sent me from the newsroom for no specific reason: we got two free airline tickets and it was decided I would go just because I had relatives in California… When I arrived it turned out that the relatives had changed their address and telephone number in the meantime. I felt a bit lost – the city was fascinating, but without any knowledge of the language everything seemed foreign and pointless. I wandered the downtown area for a day or two, in extreme heat, feeling lost and helpless, then suddenly, while I was standing at a set of traffic lights, my eyes fell to the street and there I saw my surname!

It is an understatement to say that it was a shock. After the initial excitement, and some strange happiness, I moved on and began to look around the footpaths throughout the area – and everywhere I found carved: MIHIĆ … with our letter “Ć” at the end. Later, when I found an uncle, he told me that at the beginning of the century, when Los Angeles started to grow from a village into a city, the main makers of footpaths were the Mihićs, masons who came from Herzegovina, from our native villages of Poplat Gornji and Poplat Donji…

So, that’s the story of the ancestors.

Everything in my work that could later be called a success cannot be compared to the feeling of happiness that I felt when, as a fifth grade student (now that’s first grade) of the Second Belgrade High School I got five or six awards at an anonymous school competition

And you?

– I am also from Herzegovina, but my fate didn’t take me across the ocean. I was born on the eve of World War II. I can’t remember my homeland, nor my father of my grandfather, his father… They were killed, along with another four Mihićs, in the first Ustasha slaughters. My mother, brother and I saved ourselves by fleeing to Serbia.

Once, long ago, you told the story of that incredible escape…

– We were saved by my uncle, Slavko Hadžić, the pre-war correspondent of daily Politika from Mostar. At that time, suffering greatly from tuberculosis, he was in Belgrade, where he had worked as a judge until the outbreak of the war. His wife and young son were in Mostar, like my mother, my brother and I, and another four of my aunts with three children … Without contacts in the occupied Belgrade, alone, desperate, he still tried to find a way to get us out of Mostar. He was already losing hope, with all attempts having failed, and then one evening he met a German soldier who spoke to him in Serbian.

It turned out that this man, who was called Franc and was a Banat German, remembered my uncle from a trial. He’d tried his father in some family dispute over inheritance. My uncle had given a just ruling and Franc was grateful. My uncle, of course, was not up to such stories; he was coughing and looked lost and desperate, and Franc asked whether he could do something to help. My uncle found it strange that he had no marks on his uniform, he seemed quiet, inconspicuous … Franc explained that he worked as an assistant clerk at a military post office near the railway station … So, what can I do to help you? – he asked my uncle. Franc insisted on hearing what it was all about. He heard the story, recorded the data, took my uncle’s address and left…

The next day, early in the morning, someone rang the bell and uncle opened the door … and was left breathless. Instead of quiet and inconspicuous assistant clerk at the military post office, he saw Franc in the uniform of a German major. What happened? This brave man took the uniform of his boss, who was on a long trip, used the night to stamp and write orders to the command to immediately bring to Belgrade six women and six children.

He went by train, found us and brought to Belgrade. My mother later said that along the way the Ustasha had wanted to check his papers several times and to take us off the train … but he so convincingly played the part of the arrogant, angry major that they gave up and let us continue on…

I’m talking about this because of the simple and wondrous truth that even in the worst times, someone who you counted on the least can shine as a flame of hope, faith in people, in the meaning of life in general darkness and suffering. It was no coincidence that Franc and my uncle met on some side street back in 1941. It was not just caprice and a dance of destiny. Rather it was that which we call the will of God and the victory of good over evil, in the moment when it seems that evil triumphs, that all hope is extinguished, that every faith is turned into ashes.

How long did you stay in Belgrade?

– Two Years, and from there come my first memories. We lived in a damp, dark little room in Admirala Geprata Street, then somewhere on Pašino Hill and from there, after some bombing raid, we moved to Sokobanja. There passed my childhood, those eight years that determine later life.

No system can prevent a writer from writing, unless it reduces him to the bare bones of life. As a journalist in my youth I was twice dismissed, but I didn’t have a tough experience as one of the creators of black film

When did you get interested in film?

– In Sokobanji existed the Ton Ozren cinema that showed films in three acts. The school headmaster determined which films school children were allowed to watch and which they weren’t on the basis of the title. There was always a delegation at his door: I remember him, even today, standing in the stairwell of his apartment, a large, noble, serious man, Jovan Jović, patiently listening to the lies of older students that their relatives in Belgrade had already watched some film and strongly recommend it, precisely for kids … And the title, he asked. A pause… How to tell him: Phantom Rider, Child of Oklahoma, Shot at dawn, Song of the dead lover, Mirror of Passion … When, finally, we got approval, and that good man mainly gave it, along the main street started a stampede to the cinema.

However, I went to the cinema more because of friends; film did not seem so important to me – unlike books. As children today would say – I didn’t buy into it. And later, until the end of secondary school, film was somewhere on the periphery of my interests, not strong enough to separate me from literature.

When did you first feel that moment of success, when you first thought: hey, Gordan, now you’re somebody?

– Everything in my work that could later be called a success cannot be compared to the feeling of happiness that I felt when, as a fifth grade student (now that’s first grade) of the Second Belgrade High School I got five or six awards at an anonymous school competition. With my head shaved in protest at the fact that I had to quit the days of my childhood and come to Belgrade to further my education, I was wearing my winter coat inside out, always complaining about something and immediately earned an E for governance. We stood in the school hallway, the smallest of us somewhere at the end, and in the first row, next to the school administrators, several already famous young writers, students of the final grade. I sent the work not hoping for anything at all: and then, respectively, the director read the codes and called on the winner to come and receive the prize money. I went out, as I said, five or six times. I bought winter boots for my mother, a watch for my brother. And the rest – after treating my friends in the cake shop next to the Grmeč tavern, I was left with enough for a train ticket, because I was constantly rushing back to Sokobanja…

Whose biography did you steal when you wrote screenplays, which writer did you steal from?

– The writer who literally possessed me during those first days in Belgrade was Thomas Wolfe and his book Look Homeward Angel. I had to stop reading because I went for an operation on my tonsils: I remember how the doctor looked at me in astonishment as I sat in the chair with Angels in my lap … When I talk about Wolfe, I mention him as someone who came after Dostoevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Thomas Mann, Maupassant, Balzac, Dickens, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe etc.

I really can’t say what I like the most from what I’ve written. I’m not one of the writers who is so fond of himself that he deals with his own past, the significance and trail that I left. I loved to write, and I am still like that today. That is all

What do you like the most of the things you wrote?

– I really can’t say what I like the most from what I’ve written. I’m not one of the writers who is so fond of himself that he deals with his own past, the significance and trail that I left. I loved to write, and I am still like that today. That is all.

Is it hard to write for your actress wife and for your daughter, who is an actress and producer?

– I met Vera when she was already a star of the Atelje 212 Theatre during its big days… She then crossed to the National Theatre and performed every night, carrying the repertoire. She received such fantastic reviews that in the beginning – I must admit – I was slightly scared to write something for her. It was only later that she starred in several of my best films and series.

With my daughter Ivana it was different: she worked for the first five years of her career with others, and only when she won her place did we begin to cooperate. Of course, I’m happiest when this cooperation brings real results: Vera, for example, for Diary of Insults 93 won four Grand Prixes and Empress Theodora, and Iva, for Mechanism, the award for the Best Female Role at the International Festival in Alexandria.

You recently won an RTS contest with your screenplay for the TV drama series The Coronation of Stefan the First Crowned: the First Nemanjić kingdom. The shooting of the series is expected to begin by the end of this year and it should be broadcast in the autumn of 2017, when we will commemorate the coronation of Stefan the First Crowned. When and why did you began to write the story of the Nemanjićs?

– Many years ago I wrote the script for the film Rađanje (Birth). The story unfolds in Serbia during the time of the first Nemanjićs. The war of brothers – Vukan and Stefan – over the throne, devastated the country, famine, fear, uncertainty and the birth of the first Serbian state, were the framework for a parallel story about a pregnant woman who flees from pillar to post and tries to save the new life that she carries in her womb… Because of these ideas I visited all the territories of old Raška and read many history books, trying to feel the breath of those longpast times, and finally I gave up on the project because no one showed an interest in the subject.

Still, that dream did not remain unrealised?

– It didn’t, because I resurrected it when I found out in September last year about the competition of RTS – for the Coronation of Stefan the First Crowned and the first Serbian kingdom. I had a small, initial story, but I had to create twelve one-hour episodes and return to studying history books. The time I had to work on the series was more than short, but I didn’t hesitate for a moment – I busily got to work, took the risk of nothing coming from all of this, wrote from day to day, night after night, and – finally – this time I had mor e luck.

In the series Gore-dole (Updown) recorded during the 1990s, you dealt with the collapse of the system of values that had existed until then. What is the value system like in Serbia today?

– Alongside the series Up-down, about the collapse of the middle class, I also made the film Mechanism, about evil and violence. Both projects are still very relevant today, as if they were recorded right now. In this sense, something that might be called today’s value system is trying to form in some new hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, like dawn after a long night. But we are, for the umpteenth time, at the beginning of who knows which consecutive rebirth, and there seems to be no way for us to draw lessons from the past. Our elite endlessly bicker, argue and insult each other; nobody acknowledges anything good done by anyone; these current elites deny any merits and successes of those former elites, and the former return the favour to the same extent, while – all together – they are followed by a terrible choir of keynote speakers, analysts, cartoonists and TV presenters who, crossing the boundaries of their – basically more than necessary and extremely important critical activities – often slip into the mud of ordinary scoffers, undermining everything that exists. And so it happens that the SANU President is warned for excessively spreading defeatism and depression. Is he heard by any of the players on the public political scene? Of course he is heard, but his opinion does not interest them.

We are, for the umpteenth time, at the beginning of who knows which consecutive rebirth, and there seems to be no way for us to draw lessons from the past. Our elite endlessly bicker, argue and insult each other; nobody acknowledges anything good done by anyone

Has the political system prevented you from writing?

– Never and no system can prevent a writer from writing, unless it reduces him to the bare bones of life. As a journalist in my youth I was twice dismissed, but I didn’t have a tough experience as one of the creators of black film. It is paradoxical that I took fewer hits from the regime and a lot more from some people from the profession – because of their envy and malice, but I wasn’t particularly disturbed because of that, nor has it ever interfered with my work. This work has always been my only defence.