Belgrade’s Underground Film Scene: Small, But Thriving

default3Every Sunday, the Illegal Cinema puts on a movie that has never been regularly distributed. But, although the screenings are free, there are strings attached.

Six o’clock had already come and gone while people were still piling in and taking their
seats in the small 25-square-metre room that no one would dare call a theatre. There are enough plastic chairs to cozily seat 24 people, however, and as the need arose, the organisers added more.

A group at the back of the room huffed and puffed over a laptop, trying to get the DVD to work and project the film onto a white section of an otherwise grey wall. “Where is the full screen option?” one member of the group asked. 

For the next 15 minutes, the audience watched and waited as the group set up the computer, picked the appropriate DVD and manually loaded the subtitles. But no one seemed to mind and one member of the audience even got up to help. The atmosphere was relaxed as people chatted away to one another.
Welcome to the Illegal Cinema, which takes place every Sunday at 6pm in the Magacin on Kraljevica Marka street. The name is a bit misleading, though, because there is nothing illegal about the screenings.

“In this project, ‘illegal’ means making space for contents, procedures and modes that are removed from local cultural production and distribution,” Marta Popivoda, the project coordinator who came up with the concept, said.
Screenings are free but come with two strings attached. The person who picks the movie has to introduce it and talk about why they picked it, and the people who attend have to take part in the discussion afterwards.

“It is important that the person who chooses the film talks about it because each individual treats each film in his or her own way,” Popivoda said. “This is part of our self-education process. We want to encourage discussion about, and understanding of, film instead of a passive consumerist approach to it,” she added.
As the time to begin the screening approaches, Bojan Djordjev, who had picked the film Histoire(s) Du Cinema, by French director Jean-Luc Godard, came up to the front and began to introduce it.

“The subtitles don’t follow throughout the entire film because this is part of Godard’s theory in this case,” Djordjev said, giving a short biography of the director. “I chose to play this film for you guys tonight because he not only uses film here but also employs photography, sound and text, which crosses the boundaries between film and language.”

Djordjev explained that the film would be shown in three parts over the following three weeks and a discussion would follow then. However, he encouraged people to speak up and comment during the actual film if they so wished.
Djordjev is on the mailing list of the 400-member Illegal Cinema. It is through this mailing list and the various discussion boards that members suggest films appropriate for screening each month.

What the films they screen have in common is that they have never gone into regular distribution in the country. They have included titles like Zeitgeist the Movie, A Place Called
Chiapas, and Auf Der Strecke.

“The project was conceived as an open self-educational arena in which people can exchange and contextualize auteurs and documentaries, and queer, anarchist, censored and other marginalized and – in the local context – barely accessible, films,” Popivoda said.

She believes the alternative film scene in Belgrade is growing. Popivoda also said the project, which began in June 2007, had come about because although there are now many film festivals in the country, no place in Belgrade showed “alternative” films on a weekly basis.

There is still no other outlet in the city for such films. However, Popivoda said the growing popularity of the Illegal Cinema has made her realise there is an audience in Belgrade for alternative films and she is hopeful the scene will continue to flourish.

“In this country, there are many fads and many projects of this sort come to life and die out very quickly,” she said. “But the fact that we’re still around and that there is a large audience here every week is proof of the fact that there are people in Belgrade who are genuinely interested in films that are not produced by Hollywood.”

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