- INTERVIEW WITH ŽELIMIR ŽILNIK, april 2018.
INTERVIEW WITH ŽELIMIR ŽILNIK, april 2018.
WHW: Since we are trying to touch upon the entirety of your work and engagement through the exhibition Shadow Citizens, let’s start from the beginning. How did you become interested in movies?
ŽŽ: At the time when my generation was growing up in the mid-1950s, watching films was an obsession, like gadgets for today’s digital generation. At that time, the cinema was the only window open into the world. There were ten times more cinemas than there are today, and the repertoire was very rich. In one cinema they showed cowboy sagas by Howard Hawks, John Ford, Fred Zinnemann; in another cinema they showed dramas, Italian beauties, palaces, and the Mediterranean—Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni. By the end of the ’50s, more realistic films emerged with which we identifed: François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, and others.
- For an Idea - Against the Status Quo
"... The phenomenon of Žilnik, his cinema, his cultural importance and his moral and political activism has not just come about of its own accord in just any society but is in itself an expression of a new social trend that has been articulated on the ruins of an idea of a society realised in an era of industrial modernism, on the other side of the border dividing socialism and democratic capitalism. And thus, Žilnik is approached not from the perspective of post-socialism but from the perspective of a post "social status" as such..."
- Behind Scepticism Lies the Fire of a Revolutionary! (1)
"My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. According to Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea'. In my opinion, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought."
Karl Marx (2)
- Ex-Yugoslav Avant-garde Film Production and Its Early Works Seen Through Biopolitics and Necropolitics
My aim in this essay is to find connections between the avant-garde film tradition from the ex-Yugoslav context and the more recent transformations in the political field known as biopolitics. I am particularly interested in Early Works (Rani radovi, 1969) a film by Želimir Žilnik. Director Žilnik was born in what used to be known for decades as the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. His career is closely connected not only with the leading film trends and generations from the 1960s, but also the key situations such as historic and existential collapse of life and ideals in socialism. No other film director in Serbia has remained committed to the idea of socially provocative and politically engaged filmmaking as persistently and as permanently as Žilnik.
- Socially Engaged Cinema According to Želimir Žilnik
"The hidden camera is a scam. It is all right to use in films on timid animals, but it has no place in films with people. I do not hide my camera. I do not hide the fact from people I am shooting that I am making a film. On the contrary. I help them to recognise their own situation and to express their position to it as efficiently as they can, and they help me to create a film about them in the best possible way. When I make a film I am aware that I am betraying the given reality to a certain extent. The way I deal with personalities in a film is, actually, to provide space for original acting. Those people play themselves. They understand that they are interesting as persons and that they have features that are expressive in a cinematic sense." (1)
- Želimir Žilnik's Kenedi Trilogy: Solidarity Outside the Walls of Fortress Europe
While Europe is proudly and brashly expanding in line with its sterile, politically correct guidelines on the grounds of an artificial (indeed phoney) and paradoxical concept of "European identity", invisible and impenetrable walls are shooting up along its borders, spreading like a cancer throughout regions beyond the fortress. Just as invisible as those walls are the numerous stories of the peoples left "outside". Thanks to Želimir Žilnik, a rare breed of a filmmaker who (still) believes that cinema can (also) act as a weapon of social intervention, certain dark corners of Europe’s backyard are being exposed, certain otherwise invisible stories are being made visible, and, in the case of Želimir Žilnik, rendered palpable... and even piercing.
- The Paradigm of Fragility of the Workers’ Issue in (post-) Socialist Yugoslavia
Želimir Žilnik’s long-term preoccupation with marginal social groups has culminated in his latest film about the protests of the workers-shareholders in the Zrenjanin factories, "Šinvoz" and BEK. Furthermore, the director’s continuing discourse on the issue of meaning and being, giving a "voice" to various marginal groups through a documentary approach, have met with yet another obstacle: the absolute "silence" of the workers as political protagonists in contemporary Serbian society, where there is moreover the consensus that the attempts to defend the basic workers’ rights and the attempts to (self-)organise are something alien, an unheard-of notion. Not even the most remote echoes of the idea of workers’ self-management from the Yugoslav socialist era are something to be discussed today, and this potential political and emancipative heritage is being relativized together with the overall (totalitarian) history of this area, which has resulted in the institutionalising (and not so much an invasion) of neoliberal capitalism and a complete economisation of the society as an ultimate value.
- People from the Fringes of Society are the Spiritus Movens of Life in the Balkans
1. When people speak of your work they often associate you with the New York School, Godard, Warhol, cinema verité, but I think that Branislav Miltojević is right when he says that you only use their methods in an ironic manner, just as you convey irony in your own approach to film. Is this use of irony at the foundation of your work?
Želimir Žilnik: The authors you just mentioned exemplified the period of the 1960s. The fact that I shared an affinity with their loose structures reflected a choice in stepping outside narratives of individual destinies and "cases" – because we were all living in a society which condoned the "I"-to-"we" transformation. But it goes without saying that a "collective" as a subject with feelings and dreams compels you to wonder, to doubt, to satirise, to be distrustful.
2. You studied law, and you began working in cinema as an amateur. How important is it that you worked your way through alone? What has meant to your work?