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IFFR 2021 Tiger Competition

Marta Popivoda • Director of Landscapes of Resistance

"In my work, I always deal with the tension between memory and history"


- The Serbian director tells us about the genesis of her film playing at Rotterdam, the choice not to use archive footage, and more

Marta Popivoda • Director of Landscapes of Resistance
(© Maja Medic)

We talked to Serbian director Marta Popivoda, whose second feature-length documentary, Landscapes of Resistance [+see also:
film review
interview: Marta Popivoda
film profile
, has just had its world premiere in the Tiger Competition of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Cineuropa: What is it that connects you to and inspires you in the history of Yugoslavia, and what is it in Sonja's story that pulled you to make the film?
Marta Popivoda:
For me, Socialist Yugoslavia is an exciting political project, and for its time, it was a very progressive supranational state. Also, Yugoslavia had its own authentic socialist revolution! It gave us ideas of anti-fascism, the non-aligned movement, workers' self-management, and a general idea of social justice. But we also had the bitter experience of the partial practical failure of some of these ideas.

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That's why for me Yugoslavia is an inspiration and a warning, if we understand it as a political and ideological proposal and not as a territory. It becomes especially relevant today when we live in so-called neoliberal capitalism and see a radicalization of class society – in the region of former Yugoslavia, that can be dubbed "wild capitalism" – which deletes the public sector and the very idea of social justice.

What pulled me to make this film is how powerful and suggestive Sonja’s storytelling is, how her stories embody and reflect many ideas that my co-writer Ana Vujanović and I find important for our life and activism: solidarity, collectivism, self-organisation, comradeship, and the political agency of ordinary people. Also, Sonja’s story and experience features the ‘womanly face of the war’ as described by Svetlana Alexievich, where we get to know things that did not enter dominant patriarchal macro-historical narratives. We get to know the everyday of war and how it is to be a woman in a war, to get menstruation, lose your lover, fight side by side with your friends, and even how it feels to kill a person. 

Why did you decide to stay away from archive footage, and how did you form the whole concept for the film?
I wanted to stay away from the images that we already know. Sonja's storytelling is so suggestive that while speaking, she creates images in our heads. We called them "verbal-images". I wanted to give space to these images/scenes and confront them with landscapes that bear witness to these stories. This was the main directorial concept.

I was also interested in different ways of producing a landscape — like a body as a landscape. Sonja's story is unique and special. Even if it is set in a known context, we discover details that were never considered important by the big, heroic, dominantly male narratives of war. 

For me, this is not a historical film, and it was like this from the beginning. In my work, I almost always deal with the tension between memory and history. It means that my films are more about the actual moment, as well as the history that we, scriptwriters, want to invest in our future.

The crossfade scenes are incredibly subtle and beautiful. How did you come up with that, and how did you execute it?
I was interested in the principles of cubist and constructivist landscapes in visual arts and how they can be translated into time-based media, such as cinema and moving images. I wanted to contribute to the landscape cinema paradigm and add a new dimension to it. I was also interested in cinematically solving the problem of how you can inhabit a landscape with different perspectives or gazes at the same time. I consider this an essential political question.

This came from Ana’s and my exchanges about her concept of ‘landscape dramaturgy’. Then, I did some visual experiments and when I devised a few cinematic principles I found interesting, I brought them to the editor Jelena Maksimović and the DoP Ivan Marković. They were both excited about the challenge, and we developed it further together. Their contribution to the visual style of the film is immense.

How do you feel about your online premiere?
This is definitely a film that was meant to be seen in cinemas. This way, it becomes more powerful and the haptic images we made start to touch you from the big screen. It is quite disappointing not to see and discuss your film with the audience in a cinema, but on the other hand I am quite practical about it — what can we do? People’s safety is definitely more important than film premieres!

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