The People’s Story: Testimonies of Genocide in Ivan Jović’s Legacy by Mina Radović

Legacy (Zaveštanje), Ivan Jović, Serbia, 2016, digital, 91 minutes, Serbian with English subtitles

Ivan Jović’s documentary Legacy is a cinematic memorial to the Serbian victims of the genocide in the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945). Told through black-and-white tableaux of faces, providing an intimate contrast of expression with exposition, the film provides a voice to the people who never had the opportunity to tell their story and connects contemporary audiences to the survivors’ experience of living through such unimaginable horrors. Monja Jović led the archival and oral history project Legacy, gathering over 450 hours of recorded testimonies of 94 witnesses and it is from this project that the film emerged. A documentary of meticulous precision and poetry, Legacy is the first systematic presentation on the subject told through, and with an aim to preserve, the testimony of survivors and represents a unique account of the Serbian experience of genocide.

The sound of the river can be heard in the darkness before the film opens on the Sava River. In close-up we move down the stream and hear the song of a lady who sings of the river in endearing diminutive, ‘Little Sava’. The film moves to an elderly lady who sits in silence as her hands move over the old family pictures on her table. As the interviewer asks the people to ‘tell us about it’ we see five shots in sequence: the face of an old man, with horn rimmed glasses, who gazes quietly beyond the camera; another lady with glasses responds ‘just a moment’; a third lady begins to share with us what it was like to be a child; a man with a cane acknowledges the ‘reluctancy’ of speaking about the subject; and a lady of a certain age tells us that ‘nothing was easy, children’ and quietly adds ‘really painful’. The name of the film fades in on a dark screen. The opening introduces us to the film’s subject matter and dramaturgy in a most beautiful way: the focus on the faces of the people establishes the visual grammar of the film, creating intimacy through proximity and conveying emotion through unspoken connection. The reflection on being unable to speak reminds of the existentially unspeakable nature of genocide and more implicitly it conveys the film’s preference for conveying exposition through expression. In other words, the film from its inception frames our experience through the personality of each witness.

The film’s connection of different visages, men and women of varying appearance, age background, and health, gives us a microcosmic glimpse into the dramaturgy which will develop throughout the film with stories contrasting, working off, and developing from one another, maintaining the precision of the historical course of the described events while heightening the poetic way in which people are linked through a meeting of natural language and film language. The image of the river is the best visual motif that connects these forms of language, exemplifying the film’s poetic continuity, but in a delicately simple and crucial way pointing to the magnitude of the historical events to which the Sava River was itself ‘a witness’: the bodies of the murdered people would be thrown into the Sava and flow from Croatia to Serbia and the scale of this operation could be seen in the fact that the river was so full that no other object could move through the water because of the number of bodies (which as one witness tells us ‘flowed the whole year round’).

The film then re-opens on a man who tells us the story of the family’s last Slava, the Serbian Orthodox custom of celebrating the family patron Saint, before they were taken. The story is moving and enables us to take a breath of fresh air before we move forward. Then the film proceeds through a range of people to tell us of their experiences during the genocide. The journey started – and often ended – on the doorstep of the home and carried on all the way through to the concentration camps, and a range of places such as fields, forests and, uniquely for this genocide, Churches. The film also reflects on the survivors’ experiences after the war. What is striking about the film is that it takes us through the whole process of genocide and, though it does not show any atrocities, it is more difficult to watch than most feature films which reenact violence. However, what is most impressive and decidedly singular about Legacy is that it gives us hope: it shows the love and faith of people who survived such horrors, including the murder of their whole families, relatives, friends, and entire communities, and who, despite all, had the courage to rebuild their life and to forgive others. Aleksandar Nećak is a fascinating person who brings his testimony as someone who lost his father and paternal family (Serbian) in Jasenovac and his maternal family (Jewish) in Auschwitz, with him and his mother being the survivors. Milanka Solesa is another remarkable witness who tells us what it was like at the age of nine to become the guardian of her five-year-old brother, when told to do so by their mother from whom they were separated. One of the most powerful of all testimonies is to be found with the elderly lady we saw from the beginning of the film. Cvijeta Babić, one hundred years old, was already married in 1941 with three children and as she tells us, she lost over fifty members of her family including her children. A woman of great faith and humility, the film shows us how man resurrects through love.  

The dramaturgy of the film is unique in that it works primarily by the representation of faces and visual association. No archival footage is used, nor is there much camera movement: we do not see witnesses travel, revisit the camps or family homes, but we are left with each one of them in the confines of the living space. In this way the film excludes all outer elements and aims to direct our intention inward: to the content and significance of each person’s story. The composition is subtle and comprises elements which are important for the people, including Orthodox icons, heirlooms, and picture frames (such as the one of Belgrade), which in a way become symbolic as anthropological signifiers for Serbs. In our conversation with Ivan and Monja Jović for the Essay Film Festival, the director tells us he was inspired by iconography and the architectural spaces of the Orthodox Church in which the lives of the Saints are painted as eternally alive in God (the victims of the genocide were canonized as Saints by the Serbian Orthodox Church). Such composition enabled him to view the personal stories and experiences of both victims and survivors in a specific way, transforming trauma into strength.

The film represents a milestone in the preservation of the historical memory and culture of remembrance of the genocide of more than 700,000 Serbs, Jews, and Roma murdered in the Independent State of Croatia (see Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center). Legacy is an excellent companion to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) and essential viewing for those wishing to gain a better understanding of genocide and the Holocaust during the Second World War and to build an inclusive and living culture of remembrance through to the present day.

Mina Radović

EFF 2022: Video Interview with Giovanni Cioni, conducted by Mina Radović

The Essay Film Festival 2022: Interview with Italian film director Giovanni Cioni conducted by Mina Radović.

We present Giovanni Cioni’s From the Planet of the Humans (Dal pianeta degli umani, Italy/Belgium/France, 2021), an essay film about man’s attempt to cope with death told as a fantastic tale from a fragile planet, in the programme of The Essay Film Festival 2022 at the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image.

Watch the film: the film will be screening on 23 March at 8.45pm at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Cinema 1) in London. BOOK at: https://www.ica.art/films/from-the-planet-of-the-humans-qanda#

The screening will be followed by a conversation between the filmmaker Giovanni Cioni and EFF/BIMI director Michael Temple.

Find out more about the film: http://www.essayfilmfestival.com/from-the-planet-of-the-humans-qa/

Hidden Figures: The rich, complex work of German filmmaker Claudia von Alemann offers fascinating insights into feminist histories by Teresa Castro, Sight and Sound

Unerhört – Die Geschichte der deutschen Frauenbewegung von 1830 bis heute

“In recent years, bringing greater attention to the work of women in film has become a laudable trend. Some of the directors being re-evaluated had not necessarily been ‘forgotten’ (forgotten by whom?), but the specificities of their work, whether in their tendency to invest in short, experimental and/or documentary formats or their reputation for purposefully ‘difficult’ films, have made it hard for them to break through dominant histories. German filmmaker Claudia von Alemann (b. 1943), whose remarkable debut feature Blind Spot (Die Reise nach Lyon, 1981) was recently restored by the Deutsche Kinemathek in cooperation with the Institut Lumière, is a case in point. With a career spanning five decades, von Alemann is a key figure in the German feminist film movement.”

To read the full article by Teresa Castro, please see a digital copy (click to enlarge), courtesy of Sight and Sound:

Hidden Figures by Teresa Castro, Sight and Sound

We present the work of Claudia von Alemann in the programme of The Essay Film Festival 2022 at the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image

BLIND SPOT (DIE REISE NACH LYON / LE VOYAGE À LYON) + Q&A, Institute of Contemporary Art (8 April 6.15pm): http://www.essayfilmfestival.com/blind-spot-qa/

THE NEXT CENTURY WILL BE OURS & BRIGHT NIGHTS + Q&A, Goethe Institute, London (9 April 2.00 pm): http://www.essayfilmfestival.com/the-next-century-will-be-ours-bright-nights-qa/

The screenings will be followed by conversations with Claudia von Alemann.

EFF 2022: Video Interview with Tea Lukač, conducted by Mina Radović

The Essay Film Festival 2022: Interview with Serbian documentary filmmaker Tea Lukač conducted by Mina Radović.

We present Tea Lukač’s lyrical documentary Roots (Koreni, Serbia, 2021), an emotionally rich portrait of the people of her hometown, Dvor in Banija, central Croatia, in the programme of The Essay Film Festival 2022 at the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image.

Watch the film: the film in this programme can be viewed anytime between 21 March and 28 March via the Essay Film Festival online screening room https://essayfilmfestival-screeningroom.com/.

Live event: Monday 28 March 2022, 19:00-20:30, please join us for a conversation between film director Tea Lukač and producer Andrijana Sofranić Šućur in conversation with Mina Radović (Essay Film Festival) BOOK

Find out more about the film: essayfilmfestival.com/roots-qa/

Interview with María Rojas Arias and Andrés Jurado: Raquel Morais for The Essay Film Festival, March 2022

Fu, María Rojas Arias, Andrés Jurado, Colombia, 2018, 16mm transfer to digital, 9 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles

As part of its 2022 edition, the EFF brings together a programme of three works directed by the Colombian filmmakers and artists María Rojas Arias and Andrés Jurado, founder members of creative laboratory La Vulcanizadora: Fu (2018), The Rebirth of Carare (El renacer del Carare, 2020), and Open Mountain (Abrir monte, 2021).

EFF: Within your practice, how do you conceive of the crossing between moving image, writing, the visual arts, and expanded theatre? And how do they relate to the research dimension of your work?

We were born in a country engulfed in war, which is still at war and if there is no turning point will probably continue to be so. What we believe in as filmmakers is the product of a series of encounters and ways of doing that we learned from theatre, film and artistic practices which have always been with us. We both went to art school in Colombia, and there we came across many of the European avant-garde movements which also dealt with the experience of war. Moreover, our narrative is set in a territory which is currently undergoing convulsions that go through a complex visual regime. Our work is concerned with unravelling it.

We grew up with the idea of ​​belonging to Latin America, and thus being part of the United States’ “backyard”, while also knowing we were “children of the colony” and being aware of several other forms of historical oppressions. Assuredly, the cinema we make has to deal with this. We live in a kind of Military Theatre (Warfare), or at least that is what we have been trying to bring to light with the projects of La Vulcanizadora.

That theatricality is a very strong premise for our research because it allows us to approach different living objects as archival materials: even our own Latin American bodies and subjects can be seen as repositories containing data and physiognomic information. One can read from the territories as if they were registers of specific operations, and rediscover orality as a powerful remembrance device, which starts from a place of intense poetic resistance.

From our point of view, doing research is, above all, understanding what one does as a researcher and developing a way of doing it. The goal is to enable the possibility of repetition and expansion without needing to deal with seemingly easy yet difficult things, such as those that researchers need to contextualise at each step, accounting for the way they are working. That requires getting oneself into trouble: being willing to learn what is happening, what has happened and what will happen, not as fixed objects but as movable ones.

EFF: Can you think of specific examples, in relation to your work, where that unfixed reality is made visible and ways in which that continuing learning process takes place?

Sometimes, La Vulcanizadora reactivates dead projects, which do not seem to be of interest or that are about to disappear. In this way, we have been able to get to know other territories and other forms of understanding them, as well as new people and colleagues, different ways of feeling and grasping what is happening. We are interested in dealing with what other meanings art has had in those places. In each project, knowledge is linked to a specific place. Something we are interested in exploring and questioning is the notion that knowledge has something to do with ownership, as if knowledge was a form of ownership without property. We do not think that should be the case.

During the makingof Fu, a film we created a few years ago in Fúquene, the image of the indigenous emerged as a grotesque figure who returns and haunts dreams and narratives. For us, making films is a process that traverses art, a structure that amplifies the way in which we understand territories, landscapes as archives, and images as something that is not easy to disconnect from oral expression or memory. For example, in Fúquene, we became aware of things that had happened in the past and the way in which they impact the present time and the arts.  Figures like Simón Bolívar and José Ignacio París Ricaurte promoted and participated in an ecocide similar to that of the Ituango Dam project in the Antioquia region in actual Colombia. Many people have been responsible for that calamity since the time Simón Bolivar’s alleged independence and still responsible to this day. These same people contributed to the creation of a model in the art and cinema context, a model for how to construct the landscape and conceive it trough the exploitation of the land and of human seeing everything as resources. This is our contemporary model of knowledge: hyper-racialized, classist and patriarchal, contrary to the representation of the landscape in terms of possession, we insist in the territoriality beyond property.

EFF: In what way do you conceive of La Vulcanizadora as a collective project and what is the importance of working together and contributing to each other’s creations?

La Vulcanizadora can be seen as a collective endeavour, but it is also a project that transfers the shape of collectivity to forms of commonality, be it between us and the people we collaborate with, but also between ourselves. We may have distinct objectives and work differently, but we inhabit a common territory, a common space and time.

We are not exactly a collective. We start from something in common, from a shared experience of differences. In this way we can respect the processes of the communities and the people who collaborate with us. For example, the projects that we are carrying out now in the Colombian Amazon, in La Chorrera, and those that we are starting in Guinea-Bissau and the Caribbean are strongly connected by difference, perspective and diversity. In some cases, we have to confront collective ideas to allow us to work together and create a present aware of something that haunts it: that ghost is that the territories have been converted in a mass grave.

EFF: Do you see a connection between your practice and movements like that of Third Cinema or the tradition of militant film?

There is definitely a reconstitution of that notion of Third Cinema, and we never attempted to escape from it, on the contrary. It is like an additional muscle to be able to reflect about what we are doing, but we do not feel like heirs of the movement. We did not find our voice by thinking of ourselves as children of that movement, but it is true that we feel accompanied by the films of Marta Rodriguez, Santiago Álvarez, Glauber Rocha and other filmmakers. Still there are other more important influences that have to do with other experiences, relating to folk music, with urban lives that ask about the rural countryside, as if it were the unconscious of the State. For example, there were projects that began with us listening to music like that of Rita Indiana or Ruben Blades: songs, voices, and other calls to the spirit, perhaps less cerebral at times, but full of vigour. These are the manifestations of the avant-garde for us and of the possessed bodies we recall. So we are aware that the third cinema manifestos still have many things to tell us about the misery of Latin America and indeed the globe.

We accept militancy in the same way Third Cinema did, but ours has a different nature, perhaps as a disruptive Spiritual Militancy in a post-hunger awareness. More than being faithful to set goals, our militancy continually undermines the desire for power, the patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. We insist that our territory is cinema, that is, cinema as a territory allows us to live, make, think, eat, but, at the same time, it is clearly our place of danger. We have to defend it and invite its best allies and accomplices – art, theatre, science, magic – despite the fact that these practices have often been at the service of maintaining oppressive and petty-minded societies.

The archive, the archives that we deal with, sometimes are not actually archives. They only have the intention of being so through similar processes of creation-production or research such as those that we described above. Meaning is also debatable and that is exactly the matter, opening a dialogue between fields – art, cinema, theatre, science – in the current theatre of operations. In this context, education has had a crucial role, that of being, on the one hand, a device for the political propaganda machine and, on the other, the opportunity to liberate oneself.

EFF: There seems to be a connection between the material aspects of your films and the artisanal dimension of the practices developed by the communities you research. How is that dimension translated into your work with analogue formats, as well as into your exploration of sound and image?

There is a very fluid way of sharing out with those we work with. That fluidity also arises from the possibility of dissenting and rejecting certain conventional options that conceive of the collective or the communal as something fully consistent and without issues. Analogue film turned out to be the format of the future for us, since we were born surrounded by digital, and therefore a different technology seemed more interesting to work with. It is another way of deciphering ourselves. The figures in film are arranged in a different manner, on a surface of the physical world that interests us because of its relationship with the beginning of film propaganda.

It is not a formula to be inspired by what artisans do, we have no interest in extracting artisanal knowledge. We very much accept the opportunity to exchange and the things that can happen between those two positions, ours and the artisans’, while we partake of the same experience.  However, we do not romanticise that exchange, and that’s why we feel and think it is necessary to refrain from the impulse of appropriation, so circumstances can begin to change.

The transposition occurs under very simple forms of relation with work. Our work is to make films, and we do not really think whether that is more or less artisanal than producing fabrics. And yet the two practices tell stories and agree with each other: we are workers as well, in the end. Sound and image are consequences of those communities, that is, they are part of them. Yet, they are not necessarily in sync. This is meaningful in terms of resisting exploiting image and sound. It comes up as an experimentation, an awareness of montage. We often refuse lip-sync or let it naturally be disturbed by the way a story is told or by the images that the story is connected to.

EFF: Your films relate collective stories and memories with individual ones. How do you navigate this duality and how do you relate these narratives to the place where they are located?

The voice, speech and presence of the desire of others in the films have been constant in the works of La Vulcanizadora. Even when there are moments of tension, we let ourselves be carried away by an unconscious force, something coming from behind the words. That force has a lot to do with the thinking of the territory, of “landscape” as an archive, with ways of understanding our own relationship with the territories that we have worked thoroughly. We don’t entertain any fantasy about us helping people to become better or contributing to their “progress”. Instead, we are exactly trying to get rid of the rhetoric around progress, established by transnational, global and national policies.

Place is always a key element, but by this we also mean the place of cinema. In other words, to think of the here and now in a specific cinema space, where the films are shown. That territory, which is ours as well, is the meeting place for our imagination and our projections. That place is also a landscape, and that is why we insist on fighting for these cinema spaces. We are part of this imagined community that wishes to connect with different communities too. We are not interested in embodying only narratives pertaining to extermination, obliteration, destruction of diversity. Filmmakers are a fighting community, and that is also spiritual militancy and a will for freedom. Many believe that certain struggles have been overcome and that they belong to a discussion of History. Those are precisely the stories we believe have to be decolonized because they are pillars of an economy of images that do not give respite.

Interview by Raquel Morais for Essay Film Festival, March 2022