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Serbia / Croatia / Czech Republic

Srđan Keča • Director of Museum of the Revolution

“I'm trying to be nimble and open about what a film can be”

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- The Serbian director breaks down how he made his feature, which references an unfinished project from Yugoslav times with its title but blossoms into a more intimate story

Srđan Keča  • Director of Museum of the Revolution

Serbian director Srđan Keča's Museum of the Revolution [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Srđan Keča
film profile
]
takes as its starting point the titular, unfinished project from Yugoslav times, but it develops into an intimate story that reflects the current state of the societies in this region. We talked to the director about how he made the film, which world-premiered at IDFA and screened last week at Zagreb's Human Rights Film Festival (5-12 December).

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Cineuropa: How did you discover the Museum of the Revolution and the protagonists of the film?
Srđan Keča:
Back in 2014, I started making a site-specific, multi-screen video installation for the Serbian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, and it centred on the ambitious and abandoned project of the Museum of the Revolution in Belgrade. When I started shooting in the basement, which is what remains of the project, I met the people who lived there – among them the old lady, Mara. Over the next couple of years, my assistant and I continued going there, and we became friends with Mara and her now late partner. I had a feeling there was something more that could be done in this space, but I wasn't sure what, or how to approach it.

Then, one day, I saw Mara playing with this little girl whom I'd never seen before. That was the moment when I thought, “There is a film here,” and we started shooting the next day. Then I met the girl’s mother – I already knew her father from before – and from that point on, it all felt like a natural extension of the relationship that I already had with the community there.

How did you establish the link between the unfinished museum and the lives of the people living in this place?
Inside this space, which is an abandoned utopian project, we tried to establish a protected world of childhood with the old lady and the little girl and the games they played, and then to see how it eroded over time in the film. What then came into play was this structure of starts and stops, of dreams that go nowhere, which is paralleled between the lives of the protagonists and the museum itself. The museum is an unfinished dream that, to me, stands for the unrealised projects and dreams that are specific to the Yugoslav space, but it also reflects the precarious lives of the film’s protagonists.

That's why I used this proverb at the beginning: “The wind got up in the night and took our plans away.” I first came across it in a John Berger essay about poverty. He writes about how the structure of a life of poverty is essentially one of incessant starts and stops, of constantly making plans that go nowhere. This was so true to my experience of all the time we spent with the people who are in the film: every day, the entire concept of life changes. You arrive with the camera the next day, and whatever you'd planned to do is just not happening. This has taught me a lot.

How did the development and production of the film go, and what were the crucial moments that helped you close the financing?
[Producer] Vanja Jambrović and I pitched the project in many places, but two stand out: East Doc Platform in 2019, where the project won the main award and where we first met with our Czech co-producers, Nutprodukce; and then the IDFA Forum that same year. The positive feedback we got there encouraged us to apply to the Sundance Documentary Fund, which we previously thought would be a big stretch for a film like this. But at that point, we were already able to share a lot of material, and we got the post-production grant from them.

Geo Television, Al Jazeera Documentary Channel and Croatian Radiotelevision got on board, too. Although they all saw a lot of our material, somehow I was convinced until recently that when they saw the final cut, some of them would drop it. I mean, there are two ten-minute segments with no dialogue. What TV channel gives that kind of space to the viewer nowadays? But it turns out they’re happy to.

Even though you've been an established presence in the industry for more than a decade with your short and mid-length films, and as the producer and editor of Flotel Europa [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, which was at the Berlinale in 2015, this is your first feature. How come?
You make films, and they end up being a certain length... If my goal was to make a feature, I would probably have made one sooner. But I just started with a wish to make films. Even for this one, I wasn't sure until well into the process whether it would be a feature or not. Now I'm probably not going to make any more short or medium-length films. I'm joking, but it does feel like that: there are other projects I've started that I thought would be shorts, but they are turning into features. I'm trying to be nimble and open about what a film can be.

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