HANNA STEIN WE ARE NOT CINEPLEX. WE CAN WAIT.
In the Yugoslav history, amateur film collectives shifted from small, bourgeois circles during the 1920s, into political instruments after World War II, and, more recently, into communities entangled at the crossroads of consumerist and artistic practices. Following the structural path of amateur filmmaking and Kino Klub Zagreb’s collective practices, this study should be read as a puzzle of field notes, interviews and historical findings, personal impressions, immersions, and memories, as seen from different standpoints and over various timeframes.
→ Zagreb. I am standing in front of the building at Trg Žrtava Fašizma 14, near the Fascism Victims Square, beneath a big board, which makes it clear that I have found the entrance I was looking for. At its centre, I discover the logo of Zagrebačka Zajednica Tehničke Kulture (Zagreb Association of Technical Culture), the umbrella institution of the different clubs involved with various forms of technical culture. The clubs are listed on the board as well: Autorski Studio, Radio Klub Zagreb, Savez inovatora Zagreb, Zagrebački fotokino savez, Kino Klub Zagreb and Kino Dvorana. Further arrows refer to the location of each club and guide the way through the building.
I wonder if this board has always been the same since the clubs were first organised under one establishment—except that the logo was once not the one of Zagrebačka Zajednica Tehničke Kulture but the one of Narodna Tehnika (People’s Technique), when the country was still named Yugoslavia. I keep telling myself to remember this question and remind myself why I am here and what I was planning on doing. Nervously, I stumble through the big doors. I immediately find myself within a setting arranged for shooting a film: two people in front of the camera, some other two behind it. In the back of the hall, behind the production scene, I get a glimpse of the big violet doors with big letters: Kino Klub Zagreb (KKZ). The cinema is located in the basement, so I step down the wooden stairs, immediately arriving in the past, but, at the same time, in the still vivid history of the club. To my left hand-side, a golden panel is hanging on the wall, describing the beginning of the club’s activities; to my right hand-side, I see posters of movie screenings and workshops organised by Kino Klub Zagreb.
→ Kino Klub Zagreb is one of the oldest (and still active) institutions for amateur filmmakers in the region of the former Yugoslavia—with the amount of members and produced movies growing exponentially since the 1992 Yugoslav break-up, as I was told in interviews. It is, therefore, one of the rare examples of an institutionalised amateur filmmaking community which went through different radical socio-political and economic transformations, and ‘survived’ the violent breakdown of the political system which, nonetheless, supported and fostered its very existence.
For everyone who enters the cinema, the golden board bears witness to the history and legacy of the club. KKZ was founded as a section of film amateurs under the auspices of Fotoklub Zagreb in 1928, only later turning into the independent Klub Kinoamatera Zagreb in 1935. Its formation was, on the one hand, a result of an emerging film culture during the 1920s, which had led to the establishment of other cinéclubs in many adjacent regions; on the other hand, it represented the beginning of a community of people with an affinity for the medium of film. At their very core, cinéclubs were meeting points for amateurs who were interested in the practice and theory of filmmaking. They were, what we would call today, pioneering spaces that prompted the development of an amateur film movement. With a wide range of activities, such as “bi-monthly meetings, amateur film projections, lectures on production techniques and further educational endeavours on the subject of filmmaking,” the very first “formalised educational institution in the era of film was found.”
Despite the plethora of endeavours, the ciné-section of Fotoklub Zagreb was actually made up of only two members in its first years: Maksimilijan Paspa and Oktavijan Miletić—founders, members and presidents of the club at the same time. Nevertheless, accounting their personal success, but also the thriving international network of amateur cinéclubs, the number of members quickly started to grow. Another explanation concerning the increased interest and high levels of participation in film amateurism was the fact that “film was one of the most attractive symbols of the modern age.” On the grounds that camera equipment, production, and membership proved rather costly, the community of amateur filmmakers remained quite small and it was archetypically frequented by white, privileged, bourgeois males. It was only after the 1945 liberation of Yugoslavia that this socio-economic exclusivity actually changed.
→ Post-war Yugoslavia represented an ideal platform where elitist amateur communities managed to evolve into a mass movement and, consequently, to become an important element of the national cinematic development. After the liberation from fascism and the establishment of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia, a politically engaged film industry rapidly developed, since “cinema was an effective means through which the League of Yugoslav Communists perpetuated their collective myths and ideology.” Both the professional and the amateur film industries were fostered from a political standpoint, along with other fields that required technical skills. The underlying purpose behind it was to spread technological knowledge in order to turn Yugoslavia into a modern and progressive country.
The already existing cinéclubs were re-established (Kino Klub Zagreb in 1953), alongside a range of new clubs being inaugurated all over the republic of Yugoslavia. First and foremost, these clubs served a specific ‘process of enlightenment’, where the population received access to culture through education and technology. Next to the educational aspect, they fit the socialist goal of transforming the elitist and bourgeois circles into a reachable phenomenon. By doing so, the mere existence and further development of a vernacular avant-garde scene was aptly avoided by the state. These cinéclubs, ultimately, functioned as meeting points that were sourcing the local cultural life through workshops about moviemaking, festivals and screenings.
While the professional film production was strongly influenced and was bound to the official historiography because it worked as a means for political legitimisation, the amateur clubs were relatively independent, as they “remained free from dogmatic ideological intervention and continued to function as an open space for filmic expression and experimentation.” Therefore, the amateurs were not taken seriously, they were not perceived as a real danger to the ideological emancipation Yugoslavia was undertaking; they were tolerated, yet remained underestimated in their activities and pushed back to the periphery.
→ At the periphery, those amateurs built a strong and tremendously influential community, bringing forward theoretical and aesthetic discourses, as well as innovative practices into mainstream cinema. Despite their declared apoliticism, (“kinoamateurs did not get involved with politics” as Mihovil Pansini—one of the well-known members of the KKZ—states), they still encountered the politics of the everyday. Pansini continues his description of the amateurs, saying that they made “small holograms of reality”  when they were unconsciously talking about their times, thinking that they are only talking about themselves. By adopting this marginal stance, the community developed its own ideas: a Yugoslav network, as well as a new cultural space with its own praxis, located somewhere between subculture and mainstream.
Amateur cinéclubs enjoyed a lot of ideological freedom and, due to the favourable process of cultural and economic liberalisation that transpired in Yugoslavia during the late 1950s and 1960s, they proved to be successful in grasping international cinematic trends, like the French Nouvelle Vague or the Italian Neorealismo. By importing and digesting new techniques of film production, they introduced a socially critical stance into their practices, but also into the mainstream Yugoslav socialist realist aesthetics. This creative transition preeminently occurred when some amateurs left their cinéclub studios of origin to produce feature films, thus, inciting a radical change in Yugoslav cinema, known today as the Black Wave. In addition to these new modes of production, the appearance of film festivals such as the GEFF (Genre Experimental Film Festival in Zagreb) is notable. By tackling taboo topics like sexuality, such initiatives opened the space for alternative discourses and shifted perceptions on such matters beyond and within the community.
→ The idea of mainstream is important in the self-perception of film amateurs, and, concomitantly, in building a sense of identity. After taking part in Kino Klub Zagreb events, I quickly understood how crucial the recent past’s references, such as its history, the GEFF festival or its more-famous members (Mihovil Pansini), are to the club. However, it was not only a glimpse at its ‘own’ history that gave me the feeling of embracing the identity of a community. What I experienced during the screenings and discussions, as well as in the interviews, was the persistent distinction between amateurs and professionals, or between mainstream and alternative practices.
I find myself in an intimate surrounding where everyone knows everyone. The only four people who are present are also wondering where ‘everyone’ is. I do not know who everyone is, but most certainly they are talking about other Club members. Someone is saying that one person is not coming because he is sick. Another one replies: ‘Ah yes. He won’t come, he is sick. But everyone else? At one point, a man is mentioning the Zagreb Film Festival, which takes place at that time as their gathering. As I am trying to follow the conversation, the organiser of the screening adds: No way they are so fucked that they are going to Zagreb Film Festival. Another person replies: [But today is the Kockice Program. That is the moment when a reasonable murmur erupts. Kockice is a program of the Zagreb Film festival where short movies and debut films of young Croatian directors are screened. Yes, Yes, they are probably there! Ok, then let’s just wait a bit longer and start.” (Excerpt from the author’s field notes).
In the short segment described above, an obvious distinction is marked between the mainstream and the amateur. Our small group has gathered inside KKZ’s cinema, waiting for the others to come—most of them probably to be found at the Zagreb Film Festival. On hearing that members of the amateur film club are going to a Festival where professional films are shown, a sudden negative attitude spreads among the spectators. Later on, when it turned out that they might watch the films of the Kockice program, the people attending the screening are toning down their disapproval. The common practice of and interest in amateurism and experimental short film is highlighted by distinction from professional film (festivals). At the same time, it seemed to be all right to go to the professional film festival to watch movies from Croatian newcomers and some short movies.
This kind of distinction from consumerist and professional institutions is repeated once more, when the beginning of another screening, a few weeks later, was delayed:
So, well, we are not Cineplex where the first fifteen minutes are used to show advertisement. We use the time to wait, says the organiser of the screening. The person who is responsible for the technique is starting the DVD with movies, which we will watch. First thing that appears on the screen is a FBI warning ©. Everyone is laughing and one of them starts to tell a story from an alternative film festival in Belgrade a few years ago...” (Excerpt from the author’s field notes.)
As a matter of fact, this self-identified divergence between amateur/professional cinematic visions seems to function as an ongoing self-assurance of the community’s own specificities, practices, and perceptions. With these exchanges leaving a solid impression of a shared identity, the recurring discrepancy draws a sense of belonging, despite the community’s self-parodic overtones. Regardless of the frivolity of the jokes, humour is used as a mechanism that triggers unique memories which are exclusively bound to amateur films, the KKZ and its unique history.
→ History seems to be an essential element for the amateur community, which has maintained an active position within Kino Klub Zagreb nowadays. The community can and does look back at its own prolonged history, one with different socio-political connotations, and one that still plays a substantial role for contemporaneous activities, practices and ideals. Throughout the interviews with the KKZ’s actors, references to the club’s tradition and its recent past are widespread. I am overtaking the term tradition, which was mentioned considerably during the interviews, because it assumes a relationship to an existent past, a sign of antecedent practices extended within the present, and, nonetheless, a continuity of ‘what has been’, and, as I will show, a recollection of ‘how it has been’ or ‘how it used to be’.
→ Apparently, the socialist history of Kino Klub bears a crucial function for the prosperity of the community, as socialism is equated with an age when the KKZ represented an open platform for everyone interested in filmmaking. Before the Second World War, the cinéclub embodied a rather small circle of well-heeled amateurs. The very precarious conditions of the interwar age worked as a guide for the emergence of a contemporary praxis and identity: what mattered most was that these amateurs were making films out of enthusiasm and passion. In this regard, the importance of 'both' histories—before and after Second World War—is disclosed in the statement of one interviewee:
"Film is a specific form of art. And the study of amateurism is good because it has always existed. At the beginning [in the 1920s] some people were doing something without knowing if they would get money for it. It was again the innovation and the technical revolution. [...] We are a product of something which would have never existed without capitalism, amateur film would not exist."
On the one hand, amateurism functions as a byproduct of capitalism, on the other, amateur practices work as a performative act, place and concept that surpass capitalist consumerism.
→ Consumerism, as a basic principle and condition of capitalist economies, produces inequality and exclusion. Understood as a common practice, the rise of amateurism seems to create an alternative, as it becomes an indirect form of resistance, despite the community being apolitical. Being committed to filmmaking, the members of KKZ are enabling a praxis that resists and counters the emergent capitalist conditions.
"The contemporary capitalist system implies that you don't have any free time. In that respect, resistance (as an attitude about which we talked before) is important. Exactly because of that. [...] The framework of consumerism is very important. You can make a movie with your phone or personal camera, but beyond that you have to buy the equipment. And Kino Klub makes, that you don't have to buy it. That means: You need to have money in order to engage with film. Here it is not like this. In this respect, we are fighting for an option beyond consumerist principles."
During my visits at the KKZ, the members’ memories and identifications seemed to be based on this contrast created between professional or capitalist modes of productions and their own amateur praxis. This idea is specifically connected to the Kino Klub as a place, because it enables the practice of amateurism; subsequently, the KKZ becomes a platform where a distinctive kind of counterculture can freely emerge within a capitalist context. Due to the recall of basic principles and ideals that the KKZ holds, a self-assured perception of a common identity emerges. The possibility of filmmaking without the limitations imposed by economic status, age or social background enhances one of those practiced strategies and principles, which the KKZ has tried to maintain until (and especially) today, within a harsher neoliberal system. As one of the interviewees mentions, the club is established on an overall vision that represents a socialist tradition and ideal:
"The Kino Klub was founded in 1928 [...] and they were film enthusiasts. And they had money for the film tapes and they opened the club so that there was a place in the city where people could get engaged with film. And that is exactly, what Kino Klub is today... everything is for free. After the Second World War, the socialist government wanted to establish clubs of technical culture [radio, photography, etc.]. That is why actually the whole building in which we are now is an association of technical culture. The idea was that the citizens could get free education. And after the war in the 1990s, Kino Klub Zagreb has somehow succeeded to preserve those socialist ideals, as it allows everyone who is interested, regardless of how much money they have or how old they are, to learn the basic film language."
"We are members of Nisi mase (an international network of film associations). That is how we know that nowhere in those member countries it is possible, as it is here, to work on films for free. When we are telling them that we give the equipment for free—and we do not even call it 'renting', because it really is borrowing—they think we are idiots. But this is our ideal."
In a similar way, two other interviewees emphasise this very same aspect, pleading for an idealistic tradition that the club should keep looking up to:
Interviewee 1: And we are all equal.
Interviewee 2: But it is a different context. That is highly idealistic. What he... [Interviewee 1] ...is talking about, comes from a socialist tradition.
Interviewee 1: Exactly, that's the basis...
This recurrent idea of ‘filmmaking without charge’ requires an absolute level of idealism that, invariably, turns into a form of living tradition. Despite that this differentiation upon social criteria is in fact an ethic overtaken from socialist times, we should not read it as mere nostalgia. Instead, I believe that this equality is based upon the community’s shared conviction in a socialist praxis, which has the potential to create more equality and to enable anyone to get involved with cultural and technical practices. After all, this is what amateurism is all about. I understand this principle rather as a protective mechanism that preserves certain positive facets obstinately lost during the political and economic transition, which, in the present case, can be identified at the foundation of the shared praxis of amateurism. There is an important sense created between past ideals and current conditions. And the hybrid hotspot is found—by emphasising the apolitical stance—somewhere halfway.
"This is not a lively communist spirit. Moreover, we hope, it is the good side of communism: free healthcare, education and culture... And I know that things are different now, but there is no need for everyone to buy a camera for him/herself if there is the possibility to share. We don't want to demonise socialism because not everything was bad. It wasn't. But still, we are apolitical."
The apolitical standpoint enables a distance from socialist nostalgia or from the very perception of the Klub as a relic of the bygone socialist times. Simultaneously, it’s a continuity of the amateur principles, which are still practiced at KKZ. In the quote above, we can see again the apolitical stance which, paradoxically, is in itself political (similar to Pansini’s opinion of the 1960s amateurs). But films that were meant to be apolitical turned out to have a political standpoint or a political meaning. To understand this dichotomy, the interpretation and self-perception of amateurs needs to be approached with more caution. When I was referring to the interpretation of amateurism, the distinction from professional filmmaking emerged, as well as the reference of how it used to be:
"Amateurism is often identified as dilettantism, which would mean that we are all dilettantes and idiots—that professional film is always better and that amateur films are always crap. Actually, that is not the case and we are trying to get back the notion of amateurism that it once had."
"We are trying to make people take us seriously. Every time we introduce ourselves somewhere as amateurs, people say we shouldn't talk like that about ourselves, because we are very professional. But we still experience amateurism and we won't give up the term because it is important for us."
Following this understanding, politics does not play an essential role, as it did forty or sixty years ago. However, amateurism itself becomes indeed a political act, and, subsequently, the simple act of being an amateur film-maker is a political act.
And, like Mihovil Pansini, who developed the concept of Anti-Film during the 1960s, the current members of Kino Klub Zagreb cultivated a ‘manifesto of amateur film’
"koji je više neki antimanifest"
"which is more like an anti-manifesto."
→ Outro. This collage essay does not draw upon a holistic picture of the amateur community—neither of the one in Zagreb in its entirety, nor a regional, or an international one. My intention was to reveal a community, a movement, a club, an instrument of resistance that manifested itself through cinematic amateurism which has its beginning in the 1920s and still continues to go on. I wanted to show the entanglement of history and contemporaneous practices, of memory and identity that a specific cultural community displays. At the same time, the development of the community shows that aspects of South Eastern European (or rather Yugoslav) historiography should move away from the division of developments before and after conflicts. Small histories viewed from below, histories of vernacular communities, (self-)representations of marginalised communities—like the one of film amateurs—can show that there are ongoing and substantial developments withstanding political and economic changes that take place across borders, and, ultimately, that are symbolically drawn and redrawn.
- DeCuir G. (2011) Yugoslav Ciné-Enthusiasm. Ciné-Club Culture and the Institutionalisation of Amateur Filmmaking in the Territory of Yugoslavia from 1924-68, Romanian Review of Political Sciences and International Relations 8(2), pp.36-49.
- Turković H. (2003) Kinoklub Zagreb: Filmsko Sadište i rasadište. In: Hrvatski Filmski Savez und Kino Klub Zagreb (Hg.): Kinoklub Zagreb. Filmovi Snimljeni od 1928. do 2003. sedamdeset i pet godina Kinokluba Zagreb. Zagreb: Hrvatski Filmski Savez, pp.11-18.
- DeCuir G. (2011) Yugoslav Ciné-Enthusiasm, pp.36-49.
- For example, the International Union of Non-Professional Film (UNICA) which was founded in 1931.
- Volk P. (1986) Istorija Jugoslovenskog filma [The History of the Yugoslav Film], Belgrade: Institut za film.
- DeCuir G. (2011) Yugoslav Ciné-Enthusiasm, p.42.
- Josip Broz Tito on the first congress of Narodna Tehnika: “To build up socialism means to create technology and to dominate it. The technology of today has no limits. It is universal and it belongs to all mankind. Technical and scientific inventions are not scarce and limited, they belong to mankind, and the people which give mankind more of it will accordingly be recognized.” Quote taken from Duda I. (2005) Trajna dobra i slobodno vrijeme u socijalistickoj Hrvatskoj, Časopis za suvremenu povijest, 37(2), p.373.
- DeCuir G. (2011) Yugoslav Ciné-Enthusiasm, p.42.
- Pansini M. (2003) Pet Razdoblja Kinokluba Zagreb [Five periods of the Zagreb Film Club]. In KinoKlub Zagreb. Filmovi snimljeni od 1928. do 2003. Sedamdesetpet godina Kinokluba Zagreb. eds. Hrvatski Filmski Savez/ Kinoklub Zagreb, p.4-8.
- My interview partners were Daria Blažević, Vedran Šuvar and Vladislav Knežević. I would like to thank them for the interesting conversations we had and for their approval to include the interviews in this essay.