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April 30  – May 21, 2017

Želimir Žilnik and the Black Wave

Actively engaged in making politically incendiary films for over 50 years, Serbian filmmaker Želimir Žilnik (b. 1942) was a pioneering member of the radical Yugoslav “Black Wave” who, in 1971, read from the stage a manifesto entitled "This Festival Is a Cemetery" on the opening night of his stunning short, Black Film. Žilnik spoke about the worthlessness of abstract humanism, the exploitation of poverty and the “alleged bravery and socially conscious filmmaking which just represents the ruling fashion of bourgeois cinema.” No other film director in Serbia has remained committed to the idea of socially provocative and politically engaged filmmaking as persistently and as permanently as Žilnik.

Žilnik was born in a Nazi concentration camp in Nis, in what was previously called the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to politically active parents. After Žilnik’s mother was executed, Želimir was released and raised by his grandparents. His father, a Slovene communist activist, was eventually captured and executed by the Chetniks. Thus Žilnik’s fierce determination and political awareness springs from a deep-seated place, manifesting into a life dedicated to documenting complex social situations through both filmmaking and practicing law.

The Black Wave—which included Želimir Žilnik and Dušan Makavejev—were a group of filmmakers in Yugoslavia in the 60s influenced by Italian neorealism, the French New Wave, and other similarly minded eastern European filmmakers. Žilnik in particular was greatly affected by Agnes Varda’s Happiness [Le bonheur, 1965], which he maintains is an endless source of inspiration. Reaching its height in 1967 – 1968, the Black Wave was united by a belief in the freedom of artistic expression and the desire to reform the cinematic language. Filmmakers fought for the right to depict the darker side of humanity and to openly criticize the policy of the socialist state. The Yugoslav government violently cracked down following the riots of 1968, and many filmmakers, including Žilnik, were prevented from making films and forced to leave in exile.

Renowned for his use of non actors and blending of documentary with fiction filmmaking in a kind of “docudrama,” Žilnik remains steadfast in his dedication over the past fifty years to making films that represent people on the edge of non existence, those who the 1960s communist Yugoslavian government would not officially recognize. The unemployed were featured in The Unemployed, neglected children were the focus of Little Pioneers, and Žilnik masterfully documents and presents a very taboo acknowledgement of the homeless in his work Black Film of 1971.

Žilnik’s long and illustrious filmmaking career can be roughly divided into at least four distinct periods, almost echoing the number of distinct political changes in Serbia-Yugoslavia over the same time period. In the 1960s , Žilnik focused on social- political documentaries, youth culture, communism and the many resistance movements. Incensed by Žilnik’s anarchic Early Works, the government violently suppressed both his second feature film and the entire Black Wave. Žilnik fled Yugoslavia, thus beginning his second period in West Germany. However, his exile was short lived, since his radical productions were also censored in that country, and he was forced to head back home. During Žilnik’s third period, he embraced television and the freedom to make projects that reach the masses. This was a prolific period for Žilnik; from 1977 to 1990, he made eleven movies for television, two features, a mini series and a number of shorts. It was also during this time that Žilnik conceived of a new genre of film, the documentary drama. Žilnik empowered people from the fringes of society—street children, the unemployed, workers, homeless people, foreign workers, transvestites, illegal immigrants—in the creative process of filmmaking by constructing films around their individual stories. Working swiftly in television, he was able to immediately document political upheaval in works like the ethnographic melodrama Brooklyn—Gusinje, commissioned by Belgrade TV, set in a small village in Montenegro at the Yugoslav-Albanian border.

Žilnik’s storied life and filmography is ultimately one not easily defined or summarized, but it is full of determination, energy and appreciation of life. From the very beginning, Žilnik has focused on the relationship between ideology and society, and he came to fashion the clearest mirror of the social system by simply having his protagonists play themselves. – Jeremy Rossen

Special Thanks:  Jed Rapfogel—Anthology Film Archives; Jurij Meden—George Eastman Museum; Film Center Serbia; Boris Nelepo; Sarita Matijević.


Film descriptions by Jeremy Rossen, Boris Nelepo and Jurij Meden.
         

Sunday April 30 at 7pm

Brooklyn - Gusinje
(Bruklin – Gusinje)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik. With Ivana Žigon, Skeljzen Ujevic, Lidija Stevanović
Yugoslavia 1988, 16mm, color, 85 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

Upon Žilnik’s return to Yugoslavia after his German exile, he directed a series of cooperative television and cinema works for TV Belgrade and TV Novi Sad. These progressive films foreshadowed the growing tensions and socio political upheaval that would soon forever change the social order throughout the Balkans. In Brooklyn – Gusinje,a young seamstress is lured to a bordering mountain town between Yugoslavia and Albania to wait tables in a cafe with the promise of freedom and more money. She falls in love a man—recently returned from New York—who she hopes will rescue her from the drudgery of her everyday life and bring her back to the States. Žilnik uses this love story as the pretext for examining Albanian family values and traditions, particularly the strained relationship between the younger and older generations. The result is a uniquely intimate study of integration, tradition and culture in the Balkans that attempts to mitigate ethnic ignorance and the increasing hostility toward the Albanians.

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Friday May 5 at 7pm

Newsreel on Village Youth, In Winter (Žurnal o omladini na selu, zimi)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1967, 35mm, b/w, 15 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

Shot in the neighboring villages bordering his hometown of Novi Sad, Žilnik’s film debut probes the bars, dances and streets to document the unrest and bubbling energy of young people enjoying themselves yet growing restless by the moment. Žilnik’s first film contains what would become his trademark style: blending documentary and fiction with a corresponding aesthetic boldness and directness, zeroing in on political issues deemed socially unacceptable and declared taboo by the government.

 

Little Pioneers (Pioniri maleni, mi samo vojska prava, svakog dana nicemo ko zelena trava)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1971, 35mm, b/w, 14 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

Little Pioneers, its title taken from a 1968 pioneer song, documents the stories of children living on the streets. The children speak openly about their experiences of abuse and squalor, while projecting a certain joy. Žilnik juxtaposes the confessions with scenes at a circus where the children congregate and have fun like "normal" youth, thus contradicting the government’s generally positive representation with a more accurate portrayal of children abandoned by their families and society.

 

June Turmoil (Lipanjska gibanja)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1969, 35mm, b/w, 10 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

Žilnik documents the student demonstrations in Belgrade i n June 1968 as the entire world is about to burst at the seams in revolt. Students bond with the community in solidarity against the government.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Hungarian Ballads
(Sedam mađarskih balada)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1978, digital video, color, 30 min

As traditional Hungarian ballads are sung by residents of the Vojvodina villages, the film shows the environment and work each song describes.

 

 

 

 

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Želimir Žilnik in Person

Friday May 12 at 7pm

Early Works (Rani radovi)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik. With Milja Vujanović, Bogdan Tirnanić, Čedomir Radović
Yugoslavia 1969, 35mm, b/w, 87 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

"My film speaks about the impossibility of changing the world with romantic means and a feeling of alienation." – Želimir Žilnik

One of Žilnik’s most commercially successful films and winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin in 1969, Early Works was filmed in the autumn of 1968 while the drama of state socialism in Yugoslavia unfolded. This was, as Žilnik states, “a time of intense discussion in half the countries on the face of the earth about whether it was possible to establish socialism, according to Marx’s principles, before industrialization with a small proletariat.” This semi-autobiographical work focuses on three revolutionaries determined to spread communist revolution throughout Serbian villages. They explore various socio political realities: working in a factory, educating farmers, being sexually promiscuous, disseminating political propaganda, engaging in war. Investigating leftist movements of the 1960s while incorporating the roots of Marxism—the screenplay is based on quotations from Marx’s work of the same name—Early Works ultimately captures a certain state of helplessness on the part of revolutionaries to change society and themselves. "The film tries to demystify the religious myths of socialism," says Žilnik. The disjointed structure of the film and collage of filmmaking techniques consummates Žilnik’s powerful, anarchic vision at this explosive time.

Preceded by

Black Film (Crni film)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1971, 35mm, b/w, 14 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

One of the most important and radical films of the late 1960’s, Black Film reveals Žilnik's personal commitment to social change, expressed through his act of bringing home—to his wife’s dismay—half a dozen homeless men late one night. While they enjoy themselves, the filmmaker tries to “solve the problem of the homeless” carrying along a film camera as a witness. Žilnik includes at the end of the film a “proclamation” that “the film is about the position of filmmakers and intellectuals, who although they pretend that they are changing the society and helping people, are actually not doing anything but making films.”

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Želimir Žilnik in Person

Saturday May 13 at 7pm

The Old School of Capitalism (Stara škola kapitalizma)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik. With Živojin Popgligorin, Robert Paroci, Zoran Paroškii
Serbia 2009, 35mm, color, 122 min. Serbian and English with English subtitles

In the major masterpiece of his most recent period, Žilnik orchestrates several complex scenes populated by large groups of people in heated arguments. Steering their improvised political discussion, Žilnik films with three cameras simultaneously and allows the antagonists to talk it over or even fight it out, refraining from offering any ready-made solutions.

The Old School of Capitalism is based on the first wave of worker revolts to hit Serbia upon the advent of capitalism. Desperate workers bulldoze through factory gates and are devastated to discover the site looted by the bosses. Eccentrically escalating confrontations, including a melee with workers in football shoulder pads and helmets and the boss and his security force in bulletproof vests, prove fruitless. Committed young anarchists offer solidarity, taking the bosses hostage. A Russian tycoon, a Wall Street trader and US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Belgrade unexpectedly complicate events that lead toward a shocking conclusion. Along the way, the film produces an increasingly complex and yet unfailingly lively account of present-day, in fact, up-to-the-minute struggles under the misery-inducing effects of both local and global capital.

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Friday May 19 at 7pm

Kenedi Goes Back Home
(Kenedi se vraća kući)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Serbia/Montenegro 2003, 35mm, color, 78 min. Romany, Serbian and German with English subtitles

The first film in what would ultimately become Žilnik’s famed Kenedi trilogy follows street hustler Kenedi Hasani and his friend as they roam the streets of Serbia seeking Kenedi’s parents. Kenedi Goes Back Home is Žilnik’s account of the Roma people who were forced to flee from the war in the Balkans to Germany in the 1990s and who, ten years later, are forced against their will to return to Serbia. Žilnik shows the immigrants' lives in relation to the prevailing ideology shaped today by the borders between rich and poor and by the often- racist selection process that determines who will be accepted into Western Europe. In presenting the dilemmas and identifying the crises these people face, he appeals for a solution.

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Saturday May 20 at 7pm

Kenedi, Lost and Found
(Gde je bio Kenedi 2 godine)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Serbia/Montenegro 2005, 35mm, color, 28 min. Romany, Serbo-Croatian and German with English subtitles

Two years after completing Kenedi Goes Back Home, Žilnik stumbles upon his main protagonist in Vienna. Kenedi proceeds to retell the dramatic story of his recent past. Two years before, he had decided to climb over the walls of Fortress Europe again to reunite with his family and was caught while illegally crossing the border between Hungary and Austria. After spending months in a deportation center he finally managed to escape, but the Austrian officials have him cornered again and are about to evict him to Serbia. Kenedi decides to build a house for his family there and settle down, yet he puts himself under significant financial strain, causing him to ponder his future options.

 

Kenedi is Getting Married
(Kenedi se ženi)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Serbia/Montenegro 2007, 35mm, color, 80 min. Romany, Serbian, German and Italian with English subtitles

Perhaps it is in the restless gypsy Kenedi, who feels like he does not belong anywhere, that Žilnik has found his archetypal hero—someone willing to stand up for the people the director has been supporting for decades. Celebrating this particular cycle as Žilnik’s most personal work, film curator Jurij Meden describes Kenedi as Žilnik’s alter ego. In this third installment, Kenedi is desperate and in a severe financial crisis after building a house for his family. He decides to hustle for quick money turning tricks, but when he finds out about new liberal European laws on gay marriages, Kenedi sees possibility and begins looking for “marriage material” in order to obtain legal status in the EU.

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Sunday May 21 at 5pm

Marble Ass (Dupe od mramora)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik. With Vjeran Miladinović, Nenad Racković, Milja Milenkovć
Yugoslavia/France 1995, 35mm, color, 87 min. Serbian with English subtitles

"One of the heroes of the war responds by inverting gender roles, others respond to violence with violence." – Želimir Žilnik

Marble Ass conveys Žilnik's criticism of the militant attitude and patriarchal features of Milosevic’s system in the 1990s, while depicting the catastrophe through the fringes of society in Belgrade. This is the first work in Serbian queer cinema, featuring two transgender prostitutes, Merlin and Sanela, who turn tricks with Serbian men. In the desolate atmosphere of war, destruction and omnipotent violence, Merlin and Sanela comfort the clients with physical affection. Marble Ass is Žilnik's call to pacifism and is a study in finding different ways of solving inner conflicts.

 

Tito Among the Serbs for the Second Time (Tito po drugi put medju Srbima)

Directed by Želimir Žilnik
Yugoslavia 1994, digital video, color, 43 min. Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

“I wanted to confront people with their past.” Želimir Žilnik

It is Belgrade in 1994. A man dressed in Marshal Tito’s uniform appears and, instantly, groups of people flock around him. In Tito A mong the Serbs for the Second Time, Žilnik brings the former Yugoslavian dictator back among the people in the streets of Belgrade so he may see how his people are now living without him. Tito’s double wanders around the city and procures remarkable reactions as people gather speak to him, feeling the need to formulate their destinies.

Žilnik collects statements from a cross section of Serbian society, revealing its attitude toward the past and the current government. The picture he creates is complex. He presents a diversity of attitudes and moods, often punctuating the dominant story with comical scenes and, also, moments of tragedy, such as in talks with refugees from Bosnia or with soldiers who have returned from the front. The filmmaker shows people who have grown accustomed to their lack of freedom, to their leader, to swift and zealous conversions to other ideologies and events, without ever finding time to comprehend and digest their own attitudes. As Žilnik says, "And then, once the leader is gone, we malign him. The past disappears, is never rationally appraised. It becomes a big black hole, a taboo, a gap in our identity. And taboos lead to repression and the savagery in Bosnia."

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