Radoslav Zelenović, Director of the Audio-visual Archive and Sanu Digitisation Centre

Culture Is a Finite Resource

This year marks half a century since I came to Belgrade. My path took me to the Youth Centre and Cinema Club Belgrade, a place where you could do a lot of things that couldn’t be done elsewhere

I was soon selected to be the editor of the film programme. Two programmes of the newly-launched FEST found their place in our film programme, Youth Forum and the widely-renowned ‘Vidici’ [Perspectives]. Everything with the Youth Centre started in 1971 and ended in 1979. And it was that year when I started working at Television Belgrade. Two programmes and everything that you conceive and implement is watched by the whole of Yugoslavia. It was then that we launched the third channel.

At the beginning of the 1990s I no longer felt good in TV. I was suspended several times for things that had nothing to do with the programming, so I left. I went to the Yugoslav Cinematheque Film Archives, which were in great trouble during that time. It was in that same year of 1992 that I also founded, together with Blažo Perović, the International Film Festival in Palić. That festival is this year commemorating its 25th anniversary, while last year it was proclaimed the best film festival in Europe by the EU Commission.

The key word in my life is risk. It was long ago that I heard that it’s bad to remember life on the basis of the risks you didn’t take.

I mostly took mine, including this last one. I am the director of the Audio-visual Archive and the Centre for the Digitisation of the SANU Building. An offer from SANU President Vlada Kostić is something that isn’t rejected.

I’m particularly proud of the fact that I protected and preserved the Cinematheque, this precious institution of world repute, from politicisation and financial scandals

My idea was to dedicate myself to arranging the building and writing a book, primarily about the time I spent at the Cinematheque, which I was the director of for 24 years. Some periods were extremely difficult, but those of us who worked at the Cinematheque during that time were aware that we were preserving the world’s cultural heritage recorded on film, which you only become aware of being a finite resource once it is gone. Cultural goods are a non-renewable resource, and that fact is what prevented us for years from sinking, to ensure we didn’t drown.

The archive has been completely restored. Through the European Commission for Reconstruction and Development, we received the Centre for Digitisation, which serves the entire region. We saved tens and hundreds of films from destruction, increased the Archive by 22,000 new copies of films, which represents one medium-sized European cinematheque, found the first Serbian film after eighty years – the Life and Work of Immortal Leader Karađorđe. We completely reconstructed the most important place for screening films in our country, the famous Kosovska 11, established the Golden Seal of the Cinematheque and, after many years, reconstructed the new building at Uzun Mirkova 1.

That struggle lasted the longest, from 1995 to 2011. At one point they took the building from us in order to turn it into a “department store for branded goods, because that was more profitable for the state”. Today this is a building with three cinema halls, two galleries displaying objects from the prehistory and history of film, its own library and a huge hemeroteca library of newspapers and periodicals. This venue was declared at a contest in London in 2011 as the most beautiful space of any cultural institution in Europe.

I tried to be as independent as possible, but that was neither easy nor simple.

Finally, what I’m particularly proud of is the fact that I protected and preserved this precious institution of world repute from politicisation and financial scandals.