Bring Your Own Films


Going to a cinema seems like the least popular way to see a new film in Belgrade – last year’s statistics show that, on average, only three percent of capital cinema capacities are used during a day. However, there are movies that are hard to find in a regular, illegal way – at numerous carton-table pirate DVDs dealers around the town, or through Internet downloads. These films, independent, low-budget, or just out of the mainstream, are becoming more and more popular among Belgrade’s cinema-goers.

While recent blockbusters are being shown in almost empty cinema halls, capital’s „Free zone“ film festival, focused on socially engaged, marginalized films and documentaries, is having sold out screenings a couple of years in a row. In that kind of cultural and social climate, when the oldest and biggest city movie houses are being turned into caffes and betting places, Belgrade has seen a new cinema space established last year, the Illegal Cinema. And it’s not operated by illegal DVDs dealers — it is, actually, providing a legal way to see recent films for free.

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Founded in June 2007 by cultural organization TkH-Centre and Belgrade independent scene Druga Scena, the Illegal Cinema is a place where marginalized and hard to find films are shown. Entrance is free of charge, and everybody is allowed to participate in suggesting or acquiring films for screening, under one condition — to speak about them and initiate discussion after the end of a film. In this way, Illegal Cinema wants to erase a strong border between editor and audience. TkH-Centre states that this cinema is an open, educational project, focused on exchanging content different than those existing in mainstream art institutions, thus influencing local cultural setting.

In a limited space of some 30 seats, screenings are held of documentary, activist, queer, anarchist, forbidden and other underground films.

The Illegal Cinema is located in the new facility dedicated to capital’s independent cultural scene, called Magacin, in the very heart of Belgrade. Screenings are scheduled every Sunday at 6 p.m. The cinema space isn’t big, but it’s large enough for a new, underground movie house. Its premises were formerly a warehouse for books, used by the Nolit publishing company.

Besides films, Magacin is a place where you can see various exhibitions and attend debates on cultural issues. Once in Kraljevića Marka street, which is near Zeleni venac green market, find number 4, in front of graffiti-filled passage which will take you to the entrance of Magacin.
This alternative center is not a squat. It is formally attached to the public institution Dom Omladine, and established on an idea to merge cultural NGOs and public space.

— Our goal is to provide space and logistics to the initiatives that are valuable, but otherwise lack the opportunities to become visible, explains Sergej Beuk, programme editor of Magacin. For some time now there has been huge demand for such a place, tailored exclusively for the avant-garde cultural scene — he adds, announcing plans to expand Magacin’s capacity.

Most recently, the Illegal Cinema hosted a screening of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a documentary in which the director Kirby Dick tries to trace members of the evasive Motion Pictures Association of America’s independent council, an influential regulatory body which censors and rates all produced video materials for broadcasting. Among the most striking titles was Execution of a Teenage Girl, a secretly filmed documentary about the public hanging of Atifa, 16 year-old Iranian girl, prosecuted by the so called Morals Police, on charges of crimes against chastity.

— The idea of this kind of cinema shows that in Serbia there is a serious spectator’s core which is interested in so-called art movies. I think that we, besides Internet and two or three Belgrade film festivals, don’t have a chance to be informed enough about what’s going on in current European and world film, — says Belgrade film director Mladen Đorđević, known for short horror flicks and a successful documentary on Serbian porn-industry, called Made in Serbia. Action of organizing more such festivals should be supported by the state, its competent ministry, because such projects are not very profitable — adds Đorđević.

More recent controversial screenings in Illegal Cinema included Raspberry Reich, hard-core gay porn disguised as a political critic (or vice versa). Besides the not-so-well-known authors, and films by Serbian “black wave” directors such as Jovan Jovanović, Illegal Cinema hosted screenings of documentaries on migration and human trafficking. Part of programme is dedicated to forbidden movies, most prominent being Salò, by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. After this film was shown in Italy, Pasolini was killed. The Illegal Cinema has also displayed a documentary Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die, in which the role of pro-fascist political forces in Pasolini’s murder is clearly shown.
While underground movie houses are new to Belgrade, they are a wide-spread phenomenon in European capitals, such as Paris or London.

In Manchester, a group called Filmonik hosts a “bring your own film” night, which is a concept similar to the Illegal Cinema. Screenings are reserved for marginalized films only, and are held in a jazz club.

Paris is famous for an underground cinema, constructed in a series of interconnected caves of some 400 square meters under the famous Palais de Chaillot. Remnants of this cinema were found by the police in 2004. It had been used by a group called La Mexicaine de la Perforation, who hijacked public spaces for art. Mission of this group was to “reclaim and transform disused city spaces for the creation of zones of expression for free and independent art.” One such zone was created in Belgrade for the first time.

Other than the Illegal Cinema, less regular, underground screenings in Serbian capital are rarely organized by various alternative movements, mostly in privately owned spaces, such as galleries of cafes.
Director Mladen Đorđević says that the idea of Illegal Cinema also shows that the energy of local film lovers hasn’t faded away:

— In a time when old films are easily accessible through Internet, it looks like there is not enough enthusiasm to investigate and reach these film rarities. There should be more “illegal” organizing of this kind, and these Illegal Cinemas should remind of film-worshipping places, which are secretly organized in a time when “film religion” is endangered.

Dušan Lopušina / “White city” magazine, November 2008



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