For me, the most exciting thing about a film festival is the unknown. Amazing story or wretched trainwreck? No one knows because no one has seen most of these! If there’s a gap in the day, I will pick something to fill it. So today I could have taken a break or powered through to film #3 by 2pm. Obviously, I slammed a coffee and went to see CINEMA KOMUNISTO. Very lucky for me. It’s a thoroughly and exhaustively researched film about Josip Broz “Tito,” ruler of the former Yugoslavia from the 1940s until his death in 1980, and his passion for movies. Tito recognized the power of cinema to sculpt an identity and project an image. Of a people, a history, a nation. Tito left a cinematic history of a country that never really existed, sort of like the false image you’d get of America if you only watched John Wayne films.
Filmmaker Mila Turajlic spent 5 years researching archival films to put the doc together and it shows. Not in a dry Ken Burns sort of way either. The archival footage is so alive because she waded through an overwhelming amount of it. Filmmakers surrounding Tito shot EVERYTHING. Morning coffee. Watching films with his projectionist, Leka. Hanging with Mrs. Tito. And, better yet, Turajlic also found behind the scenes footage of the prominent directors, ADs, production designers and film stars. She then did present-day interviews with them, concretely linked it to their archival materials, and when possible shot them in the same (now crumbling and decrepit) environs. She and her editor, Aleksandra Milovanovic, then used these to do lovely leaps in time from past to present.
I also learned all of these cool bits of history: Once convinced a filmmaker was telling a story that Tito thought was important, he’d let them do anything. They once blew up a bridge in Jablanica, Bosnia – which is still lying in the river! And Pablo Picasso designed a film poster for “Battle of Neretva.”
The audience first meets Yugoslavia as Stalin gets the boot and is then introduced to Tito’s carefully crafted, successful and abundant cinema-Yugoslavia. Once he dies, it all unravels. Both the real Yugoslavia and his celluloid one.
Mila and Aleksandra finished the film four days ago and I had the immense pleasure of being in the first audience to see it. It’s an incredible piece of historical documentary filmmaking that is also an engaging and fascinating story.