interview by Boris PAVELIC
NOVI LIST: What are you up to now?
ZAFRANOVIC: A few days ago I returned from China, where I shot a movie about China, at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. They invited about ten directors from different parts of Europe to shoot films about new China, about its economic boom. I was also invited. I accepted. I contacted several TV stations. TV Belgrade gave me a cameraman, so that we obtained some 20 hours of material. I will edit the material into a documentary for the Czech and Belgrade TV. Of course, we expect a premiere in Beijing and to be invited to various film festivals all over the world.
I was extremely pleased to get a chance to work in China. If I were any younger, I would definitively move to Shanghai. China is now, in a way, America from the 1920s. There's progress, new construction, everywhere. At this very moment, only in Shanghai some 40 movies are being filmed. I visited five or six cities. Chinese are an intriguingly calm nation, they know how to listen and learn from others.
Rade was in several combinations. We are good friends, and Rade is one of our, and not only our, best actors. Thus, I wanted to shoot the movie "Power of Love" together with him. The movie is about two brothers from Bosnia who come to Prague during the war and fall in love with the same woman. Rade was supposed to be the elder brother. I wanted to create a movie that would say that brotherly love is stronger, greater, and more fundamental than love for a woman. Rade had agreed to participate in the project, but we are still seeking funding. The financial construction is almost complete, because the Czech fund for film has given us some money, we have a German partner, and we may convince one of the Belgrade production companies to join - we shall see when I travel to Belgrade, soon.
I've only had negative reactions from Zagreb. I tried, also with Serbedzija in main role, to film the movie "Sisters". The plot takes place around 1900 on the island of Hvar. Two sisters fall in love with the same man, who returns from Chile as a rich émigré. I sent the script to the competition run by the Ministry of Culture in Zagreb, sort of testing the waters, but I've been told that the script was immediately rejected, that no one read the script. Therefore, their message was that I am not wanted in Croatia. Fine.
I don't find that surprising. Croatia has changed a lot. I cannot recognize Croatia. But that is not as important as our attempt to do a joint production with Croatia, because Croatia is my country, my roots, topics that interest me are there. "Sisters" will most likely be a Croatian movie financed by Germans and Czechs, through Euroimage. I would like to work in Croatia.
Have you spoken with anyone from Zagreb?
I tried to approach two producers, most recently "Jadranfilm". However, without funding from the Ministry of Culture producers are not prepared to invest in a film. Thus, the rejection from the Ministry of Culture was a signal to private producers to avoid cooperation with me.
Most likely, as there are no other reasons.
Have you spoken with Minister [of Culture] Vujic?
He was arrogant. To the question of the Czech Minister of Culture, who spoke at few retrospectives of my works abroad, two years ago in Dubrovnik, what would happen with Zafranovic, Vujic responded that he did not want to talk about that. I am sure that film "experts" around him welcomed such attitude. I chatted with Racan this year in Brijuni, and he said he would talk to Vujic and get back to me. I haven't heard from him since, nor do I know what is going on. I only know that I do not work in Croatia and that I've been sort of banned.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes I do. I was born there, my roots and my topics are there; I created everything that is important in my art in Croatia. I would like to continue working in Croatia. Here, I am a foreigner, just like I was a foreigner in Austria and France. Here they tolerate me only because I produce valuable work. Otherwise, they would gladly forget that I exist, because competition is strong everywhere and there is very little money.
Do you regret what happened in the 1990s? Do you feel like a victim, or do you feel partly responsible to an extent?
It's very simple. At the time I was working on "Testament", whose working title was "Fiat justitia", "Let there be justice". It was a very ambitious, big documentary film about Ustashe. I worked on it for five years. I placed myself in the center of the movie. I wanted to investigate where we had come from, who we were and why that evil, which had been done in our name, had taken place. The film was a historic study of that evil in our society. It had nothing to do with the new authorities, nor was I interested in that.
That movie was attacked "preventively", as it hadn't been completed at the time. Simply, it was dangerous to complete it, and I had to leave the country. I wanted to finish the movie elsewhere. I was a producer and the then TV Zagreb a co-producer. They gave me the footage, as was specified in the contract. I left Croatia at a critical time. I moved the footage to Ljubljana, then to Austria, then France, and finished the movie in Prague, where it was shown for the first time. The movie has been shown all over the world, but it has unofficially been banned in Croatia until this day.
Why don't you go back and fight for your work?
What do you think I've been doing all these years? That simply isn't possible. That destructive propaganda and attacks on my name and my work have made my return so difficult that it simply isn't possible. Many persons want to work with me but they say that they would be boycotted by state funds in that case. And nothing can be done at the moment in Croatia without state support. Every film, just like every person, must have a citizenship. Without a passport, a movie cannot compete for financial support in Europe. I managed to obtain Czech "citizenship" for two of my movies, through their ministry of culture, "Balkan Island" and now "Power of Love".
Does such funding exist in Croatia? There are a few producers who depend on state support and private sponsors do not invest in Croatian movies because they are not profitable. That is why I fight here, where I've been living for eight years already. I am preparing an ambitious movie, "Balkan island" about the war in Bosnia. That movie is interlaced with opera, music, things outside war, in order to demonstrate that art can fight war. However, we had to start and stop three times, because the movie was expensive for Czech conditions. Most recently, we were in Bitola, in Macedonia. All the sets were complete, but one partner pulled out of the project, so we had to wait for a few months, and it still did not work.
When I prepared "Balkan Island" I rejected many offers coming from Czech authors, but in the end I went back to one of the scripts for "Miss Sarajevo". That is the well known topic about the beauty contest in wartime Sarajevo. It was supposed to be an interesting tragicomedy. We are trying to get funding through "Bosnafilm" and "Jadranfilm". If "Jadranfilm" jumps in that would be my bridge towards Croatia.
"Balkan Island" is based on a script written by Vidosav Stevanovic?
He wrote the book, but we wrote ten versions of the script that are at this point pretty far from the book. The script is actually only a reflection of a part of the novel.
Last year Zagreb Kinoteka showed a retrospective of your works. Is that not a sort of rehabilitation?
What rehabilitation? That has nothing to do with rehabilitation. In Croatia everything is turned upside down.
Would you have stayed in Croatia, if it weren't for the attitude of Tudman's regime?
That is a speculative question. The situation was the way it was. I had to finish a film that was important for me, and I could not do that in Croatia. I did the only thing I could, as an author, pulled my film out of there and finished it where I found suitable conditions.
Some critics claim that your problem is that your films are expensive, so you cannot find enough money for them. Is that true?
Every film in Europe faces financial problems. Outside big studios and big industry, the situation is similar even in America. Films with artistic ambitions have a hard time finding producers and financial support. Because, every producer would like to know that he would get his investment back in one, two, three years. That is not only my personal problem. Even directors who are in the limelight at the moment face similar problems. Profitability has become the most important determinant of which films get produced. Cultural and political factors have become secondary. Therefore, it is very difficult to find a producer who would rather invest in a film than in a hotel, for example.
I produced "Balkan Island", because I wanted to avoid any outside meddling with the concept of the film, because the topic was very important for us. We were successful, up to the very last moment. Had we started shooting a few months earlier everything would have been fine. Simply, our main financial supporter from Monte Carlo went bankrupt during the Russian financial crisis. But, I shall complete that movie sooner or later. That movie can say something more about the war in our region, something that will be understood by the whole world.