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FESTIVALS / AWARDS Serbia

The Belgrade Festival of Auteur Film wraps amidst Film Center controversy

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- The 27th edition of the festival closed with Janko Baljak’s film about Želimir Žilnik, amidst a Film Center Serbia scandal that saw funding refused to Žilnik, Goran Marković and Srdjan Dragojević

The Belgrade Festival of Auteur Film wraps amidst Film Center controversy
Director Goran Marković receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival

It has been an explosive week in Serbia, with mass protests (see the news) over President Vučić's plan to allow the infamous Rio Tinto mining company to extract lithium in the country, and a Film Center Serbia (FCS) funding controversy that overlapped with the 27th edition of the Belgrade Festival of Auteur Film (26 November-3 December).

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At the gathering, Omar El Zohairy’s Feathers [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
took home the Grand Prix, Kiro Russo's The Great Movement [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
won Best Director and Best Cinematography, while Kira Kovalenko’s Unclenching the Fists [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
bagged Best Screenplay and the "Vlada Petrić" Award for the Most Cinematic Sequence.

The event closed with an out-of-competition screening of Janko Baljak’s documentary ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik) [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
, a tribute to the legendary Serbian director whose career spans over 50 years, and whose new project fell victim to a scandal involving the managing board of Film Center Serbia that unfolded during the last few days of the festival.

In detail, the FCS’s managing board overturned the decision on the funding allocated following the special competition for projects by eminent directors. The selection committee that decided on the funding, chosen by the FCS, approved financing for the new projects by Žilnik, Goran Marković and Srdjan Dragojević, which was then annulled by the managing board. Even though the board includes professionals such as filmmakers, film journalists, critics and archivists, it is presided over by a political figure close to President Vučić, Jelena Trivan, who has been at the centre of other controversies, including last year's untransparent selection of Dara from Jasenovac as Serbia's Oscar submission.

On the other hand, Marković is a vocal opponent of the regime, Žilnik's films are always anti-authoritarian and subversive, and Dragojević's new project deals with topics that would likely turn out to be tricky for Vučić. Plus, his features are very popular with audiences.

The competition for eminent directors has been introduced to facilitate easier access to funding for filmmakers with a proven track record, but the managing board annulled the committee's decision without any formal explanation. This prompted an outcry in the public and the press, including scathing statements from trade unions, to which the board responded by saying that the contest would be repeated and that the filmmakers were free to apply to it and any other funding contest – which essentially defeats the purpose of the competition that the FCS established in the first place. The fallout from the controversy saw several members of the managing board resign.

During the festival, Marković received a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the board of the festival, headed up by Srdan Golubović, another acclaimed filmmaker and outspoken opponent of the current government, issued a statement at the closing ceremony, saying that it stands with Marković, Dragojević and Žilnik, warning that this "case of a collision between art and politics feels like censorship" and asking, "Does it make any sense to have a film festival in a country where freedom of artistic creativity is in danger?"

Here is the full list of award winners at the Festival of Auteur Film:

"Aleksandar Saša Petrović" Grand Prix
Feathers [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
- Omar El Zohairy (Egypt/France/Netherlands/Greece)

Best Director
Kiro Russo - The Great Movement [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
(Bolivia/Qatar/France/Switzerland)

"Gordan Mihić" Best Screenplay Award
Kira Kovalenko, Anton Yarush, Liubov Mulmenko - Unclenching the Fists [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(Russia)

“Aleksandar Petković” Best Cinematography Award
Pablo Panagui - The Great Movement

Special Mentions
Great Freedom [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sebastian Meise
film profile
]
- Sebastian Meise (Austria/Germany)
107 Mothers [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Peter Kerekes
film profile
]
- Peter Kerekeš (Slovakia/Czech Republic/Ukraine)

"Vlada Petrić" Award for the Most Cinematic Sequence
Unclenching the Fists - Kira Kovalenko

Brave Balkans section

Best Film
The Land of Warm Waters - Igor Buharov, Ivan Buharov (Hungary/Slovakia)
Special Mention
Displaced - Samir Karahoda (Kosovo)

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