When Boris Matić, the director of the Zagreb FF and my friend, asked me some months ago to put together a Roma-devoted programme similar to the one that we organised in Rotterdam in 2004, Once We Were Birds: Romani Cinema, I was, on the one hand, pleased that the Roma people and films about them would again get special attention, but on the other a bit worried whether this would be possible, given the small scale of the programme in Zagreb.
Undeterred, we continued, in the belief that the project should be attempted. Our next step was to make a selection of a selection: to choose five titles from the 30 or so shown in Rotterdam. The 18-month-long research and criteria we used for our selection in Rotterdam appeared difficult for this festival, because not only was the number of films to be limited, so were the technical possibilities. Hence we have not included rare films made by Romani filmmakers such as Toni Gatlif and Pisla Helmstetter (France), Melanie Spitta (a Sinti from Germany), Dufunya Vishnevsky (Russia).
We did include two classical films well-known in this region: Emil Loteanu’s Tabor ukhodit v nebo (USSR, 1976) and Aleksandar Petrović’sSkupljaci perja (Yugoslavia,1967), with which we hoped to tickle the memories of the older generations that grew up with these films, and to give younger generations the chance to see them. Both films respectfully show the Roma culture, customs and music, which is alike but which differs slightly from country to country. When Tabor ukhodit v nebo was shown in Rotterdam last year (for the first time in the Netherlands), every screening sold out.
I could not see my favourite film on the big screen again but when I popped in for a while, I could here people singing along with the Romani singers in the film. A marvellous experience.
The latest Roma-related feature, Dallas Among Us, was produced this year and is a Hungarian-German-Austrian co-production directed by a Romanian film-maker living in New York, Robert Adrian Pejo. If we were to judge it from the point of view of Roma-related films, we could stamp it “made by Gadjo for Gadjo audiences”, noting that the melodrama in the film prevails but whether it is patronising of the Roma is another question.
As for documentaries, there are three of them in our programme: two longish ones and one short. Želimir Žilnik’s Kenedi se vraća kući has aroused a lot of discussion, not only after screenings in Rotterdam but everywhere it has been screened. For many viewers, the film is shocking, as it shows deportations of Roma people from contemporary Germany and their involuntary return to the Balkans. They’re going back to places that were once their homes but with which they now have nothing to do and which have little or no emotional value for their children who were already born in Germany. This film is consciousness-awakening – at least, for those of us who dream of a Europe without xenophobia.
Bahman Kiarostami’s Infidels offers us a special opportunity to have a look at the mysterious and distant lives of the Godars, known in Iran as Gypsies. And the US-produced Jaisalmer Ayo!, made by the artists Pepe Ozan and Melita Tchaicovsky Greene, who spent a few months with nomadic tribes in the Rajasthan desert in northern India, tries to trace the origins of the European Roma and to make a historical and
cultural linkage between the two.
At this point, I should like to make a special mention and dedicate this whole programme to a charismatic filmmaker I had the privilege to get to know during the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2004 and who recently died: Melanie Spitta. As a German Sinti, she was active in the Gypsy civil-rights movement, and as well as being a film-maker, worked as a publicist. She was also an adviser to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Even though her films have not been included in this year’s programme, I believe that there will be a special occasion for Croatian audiences to see them in the future.
programmer of the International Film Festival Rotterdam
(with the special thanks to Dina Iordanova, Professor of Film Studies, University of St. Andrews and David Altheer, journalist of the Times, London)