EDN Member of the Month – Biljana Tutorov
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for October 2017 is Biljana Tutorov, Director, Wake Up Films, Serbia.
EDN has among other things talked to Biljana Tutorov about her latest documentary When Pigs Come and the documentary environment in Serbia.
After graduating from Art History at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, Biljana Tutorov studied Film Anthropology at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, and Ethnographic Film with Jean Rouch. Parallel to this, she studied Drama at Ecole Internationale de Thêatre Jacque Lecoq in Paris. Biljana is the author of several video installations, shorts, features and documentary films, video works and performances.
After 18 years of studying and living abroad, in Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Paris, she went back to her home town Novi Sad in Serbia where she founded the independent film production company Wake Up Films with the idea to develop and produce creative documentaries. She worked as a programmer for Free Zone Film Festival in Belgrade between 2013-2017. Besides EDN Biljana is also a member of EWA and EURODOC.
In August of this year Biljana received the EDN Talent Grant at the Sarajevo Film Festival for her film When Pigs Come. The EDN Talent Grant is an award created in co-operation between the Sarajevo Film Festival and EDN with the purpose of supporting promising new documentary filmmakers from the East European region. The winner is selected among the filmmakers with a documentary in competition at the festival.
EDN: Can you start by telling more about your background and your road into filmmaking? What has driven you towards documentaries?
BT: It was a long trip, which took me to documentary filmmaking. I come from Vojvodina, a region on the North of Serbia, which in the past was the borderline between the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empire. It is an incredible crossroad of cultures and still today we have six official languages. Yugoslavia was an even more exiting melting pot of influences; it was thrilling to grow up in that country and ever since my childhood I was fascinated with different cultures and wanted to understand more about the world I’m living in and its representations.
I was studying Art History in Belgium when the war tore apart my country and it didn’t make sense to go back at that time. I took time to think and study, guided by the idea that I need to gather experience and understand humanity before I start telling my own stories. I was more curious than ambitious, so I was guided by my hunger to learn and experiment. For years I attended the famous Saturday morning course Jean Roush was giving in Musée de l’Homme in Paris. I went to India to study traditional martial arts and finished by making my first film, a short fiction for kids funded by the Swedish Film Institute. At that time I had many friends who were accomplished documentary filmmakers - William Long, an Australian filmmaker taught me the precious basics and gave me a good start kick; Nina Hedenius, a Swedish filmmaker whose very personal films influenced my perception of non-fiction filmmaking; Yael Bitton, a great documentary editor and director who is also my very close friend. Later on I worked as the assistant of Želimir Žilnik, one of the most avant-garde Yugoslavian directors. In the meantime I became a member of a very popular Cargo Orkestar doing live VJ projection and touring around Europe and the Balkans… For me it was always about picturing the world, its secret and poetic side but also about politics and freedom - always in the name of some deeper truth.
It was really only with Wake Up Films that I became a professional filmmaker. I’m fascinated with this crazy world. It’s not so important whether fiction or documentary, but it’s about that possibility to fulfill a thinking process while observing, writing, filming, editing a film. It slowly became my tool. The documentary is exciting because the reality offers us a lot - it’s so unreal in a way. You can use anything to tell a story and keep thinking about it and changing all the way through to the very end of post-production. It offers a freedom that fiction most usually doesn’t because the production is more rigid.
EDN: What was the motivation behind launching your own company Wake Up Films in 2010? How would you describe the profile of the company and the type of films you work with?
BT: When I decided to return to Serbia, I was working on a film and I realized that there were no producers dedicated to documentary film in Serbia. Most of my Serbian colleagues produced their own films. I was obliged to do the same so I opened a production company. Very quickly, fellows from the region asked me to co-produce their films. A few years ago, co-productions with European countries were not so easy and not so common. I realized there was something I could help with.
Wake Up Films is a filmmakers company, our aim is to connect with filmmakers from around the world, team up and help each other to make thought-provoking cinema for an international audience. We are connected with similar production companies in the region and with passionate directors who love to switch to the producer's role as well. We support each other's films, watch and coach, produce and mutually co-produce films.
EDN and EURODOC helped me broaden the network and connect with some very dear colleagues we now work with.
EDN: You and the company are based in Serbia. Can you give a short overview of the current documentary environment in the country? What are the biggest advantages and challenges and is there funding available for documentaries?
BT: After many difficult years, the situation in Serbia is changing for the better. We have many talented documentary filmmakers. Some of them already have international careers, others are working on their first film. A rich documentary tradition started in the old days seeded by local kino clubs, which formed some of our greatest documentary filmmakers.
For a long time the problem was the financing and establishing of a transparent system of support. Thanks to the engagement of the Serbian Film Center and the DokSerbia association of documentary filmmakers we start to feel some kind of a new wave of Serbian documentary film. But there is still a lot to do, both legally and financially. I expect the fruit of this systematic work to be more visible in the following years. We are all connected and so far managed to make a critical mass and act through our professional association claiming the changes and slowly opening the doors for documentary film. For example, this week the Serbian National broadcaster finally established a regular documentary slot, which is the direct result of our common efforts, backed up by the Serbian Film Center which didn’t miss to recognize the vitality of our documentary community. EDN also gave a great support to our young filmmakers inviting them to be observers in recent workshops.
The problem is still the general situation in the country, which has a very autocratic political system and a government that controls all media. In my opinion this results in a kind of auto-censorship. I would like to see our filmmakers digging deeper into the symptoms of our society still heavily burdened by taboos and the inheritance of war years.
The advantage is that we live in a very alive society, full of problems, but also rich in strong stories and authentic characters. The lack of organization sometimes gives more freedom, you can find more creative and unusual ways to make films.
EDN: Your latest documentary When Pigs Come premiered at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival and won you the EDN Talent Grant. What is the film about and can you reveal what the title refers to?
When Pigs Come is a story dealing with issues which have troubled me for the last several years: the failure of the post-war era in the ex-Yugoslavia region; the abuse of the mechanisms of democracy in order to establish new dictatorships; the ever-rising confusion and discrepancy between the current political actualities in media and the bare reality we live in; the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inactions. Many have lost hope in using their voice to change something. We lost interest in politics and allowed lethargy to overtake us, in which values and collective responsibility are evaporating. Authoritarian systems based on thoughtlessness – with citizens and authorities alike – have taken their chance and returned to the stage. These are the issues relevant not only for the region, but the rest of Europe, as well as numerous other societies.
The heroine of my film, Dragoslava has four TV sets, three grandchildren, two best friends, and a husband with whom she fights over a remote control. She has lived in five countries without ever moving from her flat in a small borderline town. The media and politics creep into the family intimacy but she reflects on it with humor and determination. For the kids, she invents real life stories instead of fairy tales and keeps her desire to see a future of hope. For her every single gesture, from getting up in the morning and onwards, is an act of responsibility, which starts to change the world. I followed and filmed her for two and half years.
The title refers to the song, which she listens to while cutting out newspapers for her private archive. The title of the song is When Pigs Come, it is written in 1976 by great Yugoslavian author and dissident Bora Ćosić and is performed by Nada Knežević, a diva of Yugoslavian jazz scene. It sings about the confusion in times, which preceded the WWII when strange things started to happen among people who were loosing their criteria.
EDN: How did you find the main character Dragoslava and what made you decide to make a film on her?
BT: I knew I wanted to make a character-driven film, which questions the very fundaments of our political being. Dragoslava is actually my aunt, I know her well and I quickly realized I should film her everyday effort to understand the world and society she lives in.
She is more authentic and responsible than our self-centered intellectual elite, which is distorted from reality, missing the opportunity to inspire deep and permanent social change. Through her character, I tried to discover where exactly the initial impulse of civilian and political action lies: the bare minimum which is necessary for the healing process to begin.
EDN: When Pigs Come took part in the EDN workshop and pitch Lisbon Docs in 2014. What did it mean for you and the film project to take part and how has the funding process been since then?
BT: The EDN workshop and pitch in Lisbon Docs was a true turning point for this film. It was clear that I had found a very strong character - everybody recognized her and her struggle. That was a very good reality check and a strong wind in my back. Lisbon Docs provided me with contacts, which are still alive, but I decided to keep the co-production simple and regional and preserve the freedom of expression to make a film, which can be a political tool but also be understood internationally. The film is co-produced by Al Jazeera Balkans and Croatian Television, besides the usual Serbian Film Center funding for documentary film production and the regional film fund of Vojvodina. I also realized I needed a good editor from abroad to make the story more universal, which Thomas Ernst greatly helped with.
On the other hand, from early on I decided to work with an international sales agent who kept in touch with contacts I established during the Lisbon Docs.
EDN: What lies next for you? Any new projects in the pipeline?
BT: We are at the very end of my new documentary as director which is a much more ambitious coproduction than When Pigs Come. The working title is Cargo. In development phase is another project Aunts, a collective film by acclaimed European female directors, which EWA is helping with actively. The next two films are collaborations with the very talented young Croatian director Jure Pavlović - I’m producing his documentary Lost Dream Team which we developed in EDN workshop in Thessaloniki and Eurodoc. I’m also coproducing his very exciting and courageous fiction debut Awakenings.
We are also organizing the Balkan Documentary Center Discoveries workshop in Belgrade at the beginning of November and I’m involved in shaping a new female documentary filmmakers workshop organized by the Montenegrin festival Underhill. I realize that women in our region need more support to tell strong stories which will change the paradigm of female stereotypes in regional cultures. This concern is in the core of my future projects.
For more information visit: Wake Up Films
For an overview of all previous EDN Members of the Month, please visit: