The Slovenia Times

Time for the Next Generation of Filmmakers



The history of Slovenian film did not begin with the country's independence. As a national cinematography, Slovenia already existed even when the nation itself was part of Yugoslavia. In fact, the year of independence brought with it a great shock to the film industry - the bankruptcy of Viba film, which had operated as sort of a national studio or production service during the socialist years. Frankly, its days had long looked numbered. During the nineteen eighties films came out only sporadically and those that they did arrive were greeted with a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences alike.
Nonetheless, when Viba's bitter end finally came an uncertain situation became even more so. It took three years of persistence from those working in the industry for a national film fund to be established which, by providing budget sponsored funds, finally institutionalised support for cinematography. It was a move which put the responsibility for the realisation of film projects firmly on the shoulders of independent producers. Independent, yet dependent on the fund which backed 78 projects from its establishment up until 2010.
That's a figure which becomes even more powerful when put into context. Over the sixty years which separate the release of Slovenia's first feature (In the Realm of Goldhorn, 1931) and the launch of its first feature as an independent country (Grandma Goes South, 1991), 122 features were made. Yet in the twenty years since independence, 83 films have reached the screen - nearly half of them directorial debuts.
The nineties introduced a young generation of creators, all of whom have systematically implemented the elements which Grandma Goes South proved to be important. It's a relatively straightforward recipe for success, according to one of the most influential Slovenian film critics. "Slovenes don't ask much from their films - only some story, a bit of emotion and a handful of laughs," argues Marcel Štefančič Jr. "If a film ignores these basic demands, they don't come."
For the twentieth anniversary of independence, the magazine I edit asked critics to name their favourite Slovenian films made post-1991. Strikingly, the top five consisted of three debuts: Bread and Milk (2001, Jan Cvitkovič), Idle Running (1998, Janez Burger) and Ekspres, ekspres (1997, Igor Šterk). All have followed the formula for a successful Slovenian film: all managed to combine positive critical feedback with large audiences and also bagged a number of international awards. In the case of Bread and Milk, its director took home the Golden Lion of the Future at Venice. All are in the list of the sixteen Slovenian films which have received an international release.
Nevertheless, two decades after Slovenia gained independence, its film industry remains trapped between two main obstacles. First: while there is now state funding for cinematography, it is limited. Second: Slovenes just aren't going to the cinema as much as they once did. And, when they do, it often isn't to see Slovenian movies.
The biggest ever domestic box office smash, Going Our Way (2010, Miha Hočevar) is a notable exception. It drew 205,000 Slovenes to the cinema (one in ten of the population) and was beaten only in the popularity stakes by Hollywood juggernaut Avatar. The others in the top three by viewers are Cheese and Jam (Branko Đurić, 2003) and Rooster's Breakfast (Marko Naberšnik, 2007).
It is surely no coincidence that both Hočevar's and Naberšnik's films starred established television stars. The recognition helped drived success. But this highlights another problem with the industry: this is a nation without established modern film stars. And with just five features being made a year, only a very limited number of actors are getting the chance to become experienced in acting for the big screen.
It seems as if our filmmakers would be ashamed of thrillers, horror stories, comedies or war films. None of this, however, justifies the chronic shortage of Slovenian filmmakers willing to take on a non-traditional genre. They also steer clear of animation, and of films aimed at children. And contemporary Slovenian cinematography has avoided confronting the more daring and radical issues of social transition. This is partially conditioned by production situations, where a costume drama - for instance - would represent a huge logistical effort.
Just as the country itself stands as a crossroads, so too does Slovenian film. The "revival" generation is now entering middle age and has in any case already demonstrated its reach. We now eagerly await a new generation; one which has known nothing but an independent Slovenia and one which might just be willing to create a fresh wave of Slovenian cinematography.


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