As in many countries, Macedonia's cinemas are dominated by Hollywood fare. Igor Pop Trajkov looks at film institutions in Skopje that are now using EU money to reverse this trend and build links to European film culture.
Evidence of possible positive tendencies in the field of co-operation between the European Union and the formation of a local cinema repertoire are the among latest film developments in Macedonia. In a number of organisations, the influence of pan-European institutions, in cultural and financial sense of the word, has been strengthened. However, as is mostly the case, it seems that far more time will be needed for these European influences to have any discernable effect on the day-to-day patterns of culture consumption. In other words, there is currently a lack of interest among audiences to watch European films.
The practice of going to see European films has long been lost. Although there is strong evidence that, for example, in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s European films were even more popular than American ones, now the situation is totally reverse. The audience is totally used to the traditional Hollywood blockbusters, and the purchase of a cinema ticket for a European film is considered an expensive treat for a minority of people. Therefore, American films have turned out to be the nectar for the masses and European films meant for the minimal elite.
Two institutions in Macedonia are contributing to the European-led effort to overcome this problem—the Macedonian Cinematheque and the Art Cinema in the Youth Cultural Centre in Skopje.
In the years after the Second World War, in the time of the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia did not have its own cinematheque. ooportunities to see historically important films were limited to occasional visiting projections done by the Yugoslav Cinemateque, based in Belgrade (which, by the way, is the fourth largest film archive in the world). What was typical of the post-war years was that there was a great interest in Macedonia for projections done by the Yugoslav Cinematheque, and this ultimately led to the formation of the independent Macedonian Cinemateque.
Another note-worthy feature of the Yugoslav Cinematheque presentations was the presence of a young academic audience who were willing to have lively post-screening discussions. However, it could not be further from the truth to say that academics were solely responsible for forming institution. If we look at the cinema repertoire of the post-war years, it is clear that most of the films are high budget Hollywood productions with works by European directors in the minority. However, despite the numberically smaller number of these screenings, they were very popular with Macedonian audiences (as they were in other countries in central and southeastern Europe).
Names that made the most money at the box office in Macedonia in the 1960s are Alain Resnais, Francois Truffaux and Federico Fellini. Although they were profitable, they were not kept for long on the repertoire. So viewers that missed them on their release were left with the only possibility to do so, on the whole, at these special film projections that were organised by the Yugoslav Cinematheque.
If one looks at the conditions in detail, one can conclude that this was a completely original and independent institution, independent of society's ongoings that is unfortunately to this day without its own screening hall.
All these events led to the creation of the Macedonian Cinematheque, the first independent cinematheque among the then Yugoslav republics. On 29 April 1974 published was the Act for the Foundation of The Macedonian Cinematheque, which as an institution was set up not only to preserve domestic film productions but also to present foreign cinematographic treasures. This latter function mostly attracted the local attention and the attention of the mostly young audience in the 1970s and 80s. Curiously, despite its independence as a body and its remit to present films, the Cinematheque had no screening facilities of its own, a situation that has only recently been rectified.
The projection of these European films was the only opportunity to satisfy audiences' hunger for these productions marginalised from the repetoire by the emerging dominance of the Hollywood blockbuster. I myself vividly remembers the 1980s when in the Youth Cultural Centre (then known as the Dom na Mladi '25th May') in front of a full auditorium of mostly high school and university students films such as Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976), Tarkovsky's Zerkalo (Mirror, 1975) and Bergman's Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963) . The young audience was again the one who was especially interested in the open discussions, mostly involving directors of the so-called Yugoslav "Black Wave." The Cinematheque's projections nurtured the general film culture of the population by screening old cult films, such as the classics of German Expressionism and French Surrealism.
This situation continued until the beginning of the 1990s and the fall of Yugoslavia, when it became necessary to find a new solution for the work of these institutions, which had previously been connected on a federal level. In this period, the Macedonian Cinematheque strengthened its activity in promoting the domestic cinematographic inheritance and in promoting the institutions remarkable archive and technical work in restoration abroad. Among the most impressive presentations have been the restored silent films by the pioneering Manaki brothers, shown at the Venice film festival.
Also popular is the publishing of specialist literature, such as the first Macedonian film magazine Kinopis, as well as a number of books cinema in and outside of Macedonia and two bilingual (English and Macedonian) collections of essays Cinematographies of Small Nations (1997) and Refugees and Film (1994). The importance of this should not be underestimated, because for the first time we are faced with an organisation which is both original and professional in dealing with the film publications. This cannot be said of the previous ten years when almost everything is left to improvised film reviews in the printed daily media, written mostly by journalists with no specialisation in film.
The new geopolitical situation of the 1990s and Macedonia's aspirations for European Union accession brought Macedonian institutions closer to EU standards. Initiated by the European institutions and their financial aid, the Macedonian Cinemathequ finally got its own screening room, situated in the newly opened UNICEF Art House. This event, the numerous literary publications, the presentation of the Macedonian cinemateque inheritance at film festivals, the attractive CD-ROM as well as the web site (www.makedonija.at/kinoteka), contributed to the Maceodonian Cinematheque becoming not only a significant institution for the region, but also Europe. The Director, Vesna Maslovarich, told Kinoeye that in the pipeline are also new activities in terms of technical equipping of the institution as well as more active presentation of the film fund to the home audience.
The Art Cinema
Anopther of the cultural venues that has enriched the presentation of European film in Skopje is the Art Cinema, opened four years ago, which functions within the framework of the Youth Cultural Centre. In the four years since it has been opened, mostly relying on its own potential, the art cinema has organised numerous retrospectives of European film directors, among which the one dedicated to the work of Krzysztof Kieślowski was especially successful.
Last year, a more serious step was taken to link with similar cultural events taking place in Europe. As for example linking with European Commission Europeene within the framework of their Direction generale de l'education et de la culture. The programme has numerous workshops, panel discussions as well as screening of European films. The name of the cultural event was CinEd@ys 2002 – European Film Heritage Week and will took place in 40 cities throughout Europe at the same time. Unfortunately, for financial reasons, the majority of European films to be screened in Macedonia were ones that had already been distributed and shown in the cinemas across the country and the expected arrival of Pedro Almodovar in Skopje to coincide with the event never happened.
In light of the amount of support from pan-European structures for such cultural seasons, Kinoeye asked the programme's director, Dragan Apostolski, whether the reason for this event taking place was for political or aesthetic reasons? His answer: both.
Igor Pop Trajkov
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