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Thursday, September 11, 1997

Balkan directors' dilemma: compelling subjects, scarce funds

TORONTO (AP) -- Their homeland splintered by war, their traditional sources of funding depleted, filmmakers in the former Yugoslavia are struggling to produce works that can rivet domestic audiences and still make money abroad.
Directors from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia have been sharing thoughts on their common dilemmas during the Toronto Film Festival, which runs through Saturday. Nineteen films are featured in a special program on Balkan cinema.
Ten of the films were made in the former Yugoslavia since war broke out in 1991, and most are virtually unknown in North America.
Some of the films deal graphically with the violence of war; others detail its effects on lovers, families, refugees. Almost all convey some sort of message that nationalism -- the force that broke Yugoslavia apart -- is destructive.
"Everyone in the Balkans who defines himself as a nationalist is my enemy," said Zoran Solomun, a Croatian-born director who moved to Germany in 1990. His film at the festival, "Tired Companions," is a moving account of refugees fleeing former Yugoslavia after war breaks out.
Like Solomun, many Balkan directors have relied on production funds from Western Europe to finance their work. Bosnian director Nenad Dizdarevic went to France after Sarajevo came under attack in 1992, and completed his film, "Awkward Age," with help from the French government,
"My country is destroyed," Dizdarevic said at a symposium Wednesday. "There are a lot of priorities. Film is not as important as a lot of other things."
He estimated that Bosnian filmmakers will need international financial support for at least 25 years.
At the symposium, Dizdarevic was flanked by filmmakers from Belgrade, capital of what remains of Yugoslavia and a base for Serb nationalism.
Moma Mrdakovic, a producer of the 1996 Yugoslav film "Pretty Village, Pretty Flame," said he and his colleagues have had trouble finding international audiences even though the film is an unflinching examination of the prejudices and fears that turned Serb and Muslim friends into enemies.
"It's very hard for a film coming from quote-unquote Yugoslavia," Mrdakovic said. "Our director (Srdjan Dragojevic) was totally desperate."
Slobodan Sijan, another Belgrade director, said the Yugoslav film industry faces a financial dilemma.
"We have good domestic audience, but sometimes it's not enough to cover the cost," he said. "You have to satisfy the taste of the local market and also the European critics. Very often those tastes are opposing."
Sijan's 1980 black comedy, "Who's Singin' Over There?," is showing at the festival -- a story of bickering bus passengers fleeing from the countryside to Belgrade on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941.
Directors at the symposium expressed mixed views about the recent commercial success of the Oscar-winning Czech film "Kolya."
Some filmmakers said this proved that East European films could hit the jackpot. But Solomun said he had no wish to emulate "Kolya."
"I don't want to go in this direction," he said. "Somebody else can make the big commercial films."