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To say there is plenty of inspiration for documentary making in Serbia is an understatement. Centuries of conflict, countless inspiring inventors, and some of the most passionate people in the world make for a truly invigorating cocktail. There are plenty of documentaries that focus on Serbia, but these are the best.
Released towards the end of 2017, The Other Side of Everything has been greedily picking up the plaudits ever since. Documenting the tumultuous lives of Serbs over the last half century should be a nigh on impossible task, but Mila Turajlić more than manages it here. Her activist mother is the subject of the film, which weaves through the death of Yugoslavia, the chaotic years of Milošević and everything else in a truly masterful fashion.
Boris Malagurksi’s recent efforts have unfortunately jumped into the nationalist flag-waving waters with two feet and no arm bands, but The Weight of Chains remains an important take on the destruction of Yugoslavia. Making no secret of his bias towards the Serbs, Malagurski focuses on the economic and imperialist side of the conflict, with some persuasive comments along the way. The Yugoslav collapse is an immensely complex thing, but the Subotica-born filmmaker works in an enjoyably palatable fashion.
Russia Today might be a questionable hub of Russian propaganda on the news side of things, but it is difficult to argue with the quality of many of its documentaries. On the 15th anniversary of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia, the channel produced this documentary about the impact of that 78-day bombardment. The results are not for the feint of heart.
BBC’s initial six-part coverage of the end of Yugoslavia has not aged particularly well, but its cast of interviewees means it remains important viewing for anyone looking to understand the confusing wars. All of the key players get the talking head treatment here, from Slobodan Milošević to Franjo Tudjman via Momir Bulatović and the rest. The presentation is a little simplistic, but the characters continue to fascinate.
Yugoslavia presented what it referred to as a ‘third way’, an ideological society that took the best parts of communism and capitalism in an attempt to offer something more to the citizens of the world. It needed money to fund this, of course, and legend has it that the country sold off its advanced space program to the Americans for truckloads of cash. This somewhat tongue-in-cheek documentary is a hugely entertaining retelling of that supposed story, and will leave you with no small amount of questions when all is said and done.
Serbia itself managed to avoid the grotesque violence that destroyed Croatia and Bosnia as Yugoslavia fell apart, but that isn’t to say that everything was hunky-dory in Belgrade and the rest. A wave of unorganised crime took over the city as the authorities lost all control, with young gangs killing anybody and everybody for nothing more than the thrill and the chance to be in the newspaper. Vidimo se u Čitulji (See You in the Obituary) is a documentary focusing on the gangsters themselves, and what happens when kids playing mafia go overboard.
For 51 weeks of the year, Guča is just another small Serbian village. The 52nd week sees it become the centre of all things brass, as the annual Guča Festival kicks into action. Brasslands is a documentary about that festival, with the focus given to the first American band to participate following NATO’s bombing of Serbia. Can music heal political wounds?
In 2001, a mass grave was discovered on the outskirts of Belgrade. That doesn’t sound like the cheeriest way to start a film, but Depth Two isn’t the cheery type. At times thrilling and almost always disturbing, the film tackles the anathema subject of atrocities committed by Serbs in Kosovo in a brutally honest manner.
On the one hand, Village Without Women is an entertaining comical portrait of south Serbian village life and the desperate attempts of three middle aged men to find wives and to keep their village alive. The other hand is less cheery, and this is an often depressing look at the isolation of the south and the patriarchal system. Either way, it is a fascinating watch.
Socialist leaders always seem to have a particularly intense interest in cinema, and Tito was no different in that regard. Cinema Komunisto tells the story of the birth and evolution of the film industry in Yugoslavia, from gun-happy, anti-fascist throwaways to the wild eccentricity of the ‘80s. Plenty of the key players give candid interviews throughout, making this a must for anyone interested in film and the Balkans.