One of the most interesting documentary’s I have seen recently was about something that I knew little about. Mila Turajlics Cinema Komunisto (2010) covers the politically charged history of Yugoslavian cinema from 1945 until 1991 and embraces the important part film lover Josip Broz, known to his countrymen as Tito, played in what was one of the leading film industry’s in Europe. It is also the story of a country that no longer exists - except in the movies.
In June 1946 following the end of WW2 the government of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia created the State Committee of Cinematography to establish film production companies in various parts of the country. The first and the biggest was Avala Films located in the Socialist Republic of Serbia’s capital city Belgrade. Built and financed by the State it became an important part of Yugoslavia’s political regime that was happy to use it as a propaganda tool. It produced its first feature film in 1947 and up until its last production, in the year 2000, the studio participated in the creation of 400 documentaries, 200 feature films and 120 co-productions with foreign companies; its pictures won more than 200 awards in various world wide film festivals.
When Yugoslavia split from the Soviet Union in 1948 it meant that no more films from the Mosfilm Studios were to be made or shown in Yugoslavia so the studio turned to America and managed to attract Hollywood productions and actors, including Yul Brynner, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Orson Welles to come and use their facilities. Two of the best-known movies were The Battle of Neretva (1969) starring Brynner, Welles, Hardy Kruger and Franco Nero with Picasso designing its film poster and The Battle of Sutjeska (1973) starring Burton as Tito. Both were historically correct patriotic war films depicting the role of the Yugoslavians in fighting the Nazis. Avala Film Studios became known as the Hollywood of the East with an instruction from central government to ‘never let them (the American’s) notice they are not in Hollywood’
It was alleged by his own personal projectionist Leka Konstantinovic, a man who still obviously has a great regard for his own boss, that Tito, who was a big film fan, watched a movie every day for 32 years totalling 8801 films. His favourite genre was the Western. He also made sure that Yugoslavia had its own Film Festival each year at Pula.
Jacques Ranciere the French philosopher said of the cinema that ‘The history of cinema is the history of the power to create history’ Allegedly in Tito’s Yugoslavia all school children, along with the countries workers were expected to see the films made in their own country. Yugoslavia was second only to France for being a European country in which domestic films were more watched than foreign films. But unlike almost anywhere else behind the old Iron Curtain Western films were widely distributed. A most interesting and informative piece of documentary film making that I would highly recommend.