Creative Serbia: The Future is Creative

As a white South African, I know how negative perceptions of a place and its people are perpetuated through media stereotypes; how often do the hitmen and warlords and drug dealers and psychotics and gangsters in Hollywood movies and video games and tv shows speak with Serbian (or South African) accents? Often, that’s how often. I’m attuned to this vilification. There are reasons for it of course (admittedly some of which stem from what the country once was.) More than history, though, the fact is that Serbs have very little power or voice in the real world, and more importantly, they don’t have the financial clout to force or even influence a change. (when was the last time you saw a Chinese movie villain?)  The truth is that media messages and perceptions have almost zero relation to the country and its people in the real world of 2018.

But there’s a plan to change this. Six months ago, I was invited to join Prime Minister Brnabic‘s cabinet Continue reading “Creative Serbia: The Future is Creative”

Coriolanus

Coriolanus is the grim tale of a war-hardened hero who’s forced to play the charming “people’s politician” – a role for which he’s disastrously ill-equipped. Undermined in this uncomfortable, pandering role by two scheming tribunes, and, to be honest, by his own pride, he’s cast out of Rome, where he ultimately joins forces with Rome’s sworn enemy.

Through my relationship with beloved Film in Serbia, Coriolanus is the project I’ve probably had most proactive interest in as a Film Commissioner in recent years. It’s taken a long, long time for me to get to see it, but finally here it is, in all its war-torn glory……….

So is it any good? Well, true, it’s not the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays. It is instead rather densely political, and the characters are all rather manipulative and unredeemingly unlikeable (Vanessa Redgrave is vicious as his monstrous mother). But the cast is excellent, the cinematography is truly first class, and the decaying Serbian locations look suitably war torn. I even liked the real-life news footage of the storming of parliament during the overthrow of Milosevic, which paints an uneasy portrait of a nation in turmoil. So: good? yes. Great? maybe not quite, but not through lack of trying.

World Travel Market

And now for something completely different. Along with my fine colleagues from the USAID Serbia Competitiveness Project, I’m attending World Travel Market in London. According to the blurb, “World Travel Market is a must-attend four-day business-to-business event where the global travel trade meets, networks, negotiates and conducts business under one roof.” Last year, 187 countries & regions were represented, 5121 companies exhibited, and 14221 trade professionals participated.

We’re here to work on a City of Belgrade City Breaks program, that we’re producing in co-operation with the Tourism Organisation Belgrade, on the bright-and-white Serbia stand. Our goal here is to have direct face-to-face access to top European tourism professionals, be exposed to the latest developments in the travel industry (which will influence our activities in Serbia), build relationships with potential business partners to develop City Breaks Tourism in Serbia, and position Serbia for competitive advantage within the tourism sector. So there.

So far, we’ve met with Destination Management Companies, Group Travel Organisers, Tour Operators and Travel Agencies. Interesting though; there’s not a great deal of product differentiation in the European market. Whether that’s because they’re all basically selling the same product, or because that’s how the market likes to receive its information, is something I hope to discover over the next couple of days.

Braca Blum

Braca Blum – that’s Brothers Bloom in Serbian, if you really must know. A stylised con-com (confidence trick comedy), Bloom isn’t, to be honest, the kind of movie I’d normally rush out to see. But since it was made here in Serbia, and was premiering in Belgrade during the week – with the aimiable director Rian Johnson doing all sorts of hoop-jumping and glad-handing on behalf of our project – I thought I’d make the effort. And I really quite enjoyed it.

Orphans Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) have been con artists since their childhood. Stephen, the podgy elder, designs the cons like an accomplished novelist. But emo younger brother Bloom yearns instead for an “unscripted life”.  Of course, the brothers must have “one last con”, the mark of which is a charmingly nutty New Jersey heiress, Penelope (Weisz). As things move from Jersey to Prague to Mexico and finally Russia (Serbia, Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Prague, Serbia, Serbia), Bloom seems to discover real happiness in a romance with Penelope. But is it love, or is it a con?

I’ve gotten to the stage that every movie I watch, I’m checking out the locations and working out the backflips that would’ve been needed to shoot there. The film takes place in a sort of “everytime” but in fairly specific spaces. I therefore thought that Serbia did stand-in rather well. Interestingly though, Milica thought the Serbian locations distracting. I guess I’m reminded of my excoriating response to attempts to recreate England in Romania……

Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines has Owen Wilson as a corn-fed US airman shot down over Bosnia by those nasty, nasty Serbs (can we say “stereotype”?) and hunted down like a dog.

Setting politics aside, it’s an engaging enough film – the music is great, really drives along the narrative – and even the troubled Mr. Wilson is pretty good, entirely out of character without the slightest goofy wisecrack or pratfall. As you well know though, politics can’t actually ever be set aside when it comes to the Balkans, and I was interested to read that no Serb agreed to participate in the production, and the cast had to be taught Croatian instead. It didn’t film in Bosnia either, but in Slovakia. (iMDB has some great on-location pics.) The credits list the Slovakian National Parks. In the meantime, I’m back in Serbia on the weekend, and I can’t wait.