As a Dutch director telling an emotionally loaded story set during NATO’s bombing campaign of Belgrade, Marinus Groothof knew that deep research and first-hand accounts from people who lived through the bombings could make or break the film.
For his debut feature, Marinus has delivered The Sky Above Us, a subtle dramatisation of a key incident of NATO’s strategically targeted campaign that still rankles many Serbs: the bombing of national TV station RTS, which was seen as a key disseminator of Milošević propaganda.
“People think back on that time so differently but these stories are constructed from my viewpoint of how people were dealing with life under difficult circumstances,’ said Marinus.
“I think I have stayed very true to people and how they felt at that time.”
People under threat of death stay sane by living in the moment, according to Dutch director Marinus Groothof, whose debut feature shows a city struggling to retain a semblance of normality in abnormal times.
Set in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, The Sky Above Us portrays the daily lives of Ana (Nada Šargin), Sloba (Boris Isakovic) and Bojan (Nikola Rakocevic), who work in or near the offices of Serbian national broadcaster, RTS.
As bombs fall all around and the building that plays such a role in their lives also puts them at risk of death, each character constructs a defence to overcome the fear and retain their sanity.
Leading Serbian actor Nikola Rakočević plays Bojan, aged 23, who immerses himself in the undergound party scene. Conflicting with this nihilistic lifestyle, Bojan is messed up about a girl and any chance of a future together.
Refugee children of the Balkan wars living in camps on the outskirts of Belgrade are cursed by the burden of their parents’ troubled past blackening any hopes for a better life said prominent award-winning Serbian actor Nikola Rakocevic.
“It is a really strange experience in the camps,’ said Nikola,’ who spent time with people in these long-term encampments outside of Belgrade during filming for his latest film Travelator.
“These people have lost all hope, lost everything.
“Their kids were not born in Croatia or Bosnia, they were born in Serbia. But in these camps, these six-year-old children, born in Serbia, are still refugees. It is like they are cursed. There is no way out for them.
“They try to be happy, try to be children, but they can’t even manage that because everything is so hopeless.
With its chequered past and a cast of characters both loved and loathed, it can be especially troublesome in the Balkans.
Acclaimed Serbian actor Nikola Rakočević knows full well the burden of responsibility that such roles present.
His credits span recent history, with lead roles in stage and screen portrals of the trial of Gavrilo Princip, the murder of Srdjan Aleksić, the plight of Serbia’s Slovenian war refugees and the grip of Belgrade’s neo-nazi football hooligans.
“I feel great responsibility for the movies I make, especially when playing real people or real events,’ said Nikola. “It is then even more important not to mess up. It is one of the things that makes me think really seriously when choosing my movies or theatre roles.”