Dušan Milić sees falling cinema receipts, audience apathy and the surplus of comic book rehashes as symptoms of the demise of cinema.
Changing appetites, new viewing habits and over-cautious investors all contribute to the downfall.
“Cinema is not in a good condition,’ said Dušan. “It has lost a lot of its glamour in recent times.
“Film as an art form is dying. Cinemas will soon be like museums. I don’t think culture is important to people anymore. As for the arts: nobody loves art anymore. Art is passé.
“I always wanted to become a film director, but it is a bit of an obsolete occupation these days. The context of the world is different and films today are completely different to the ones I grew up with. Surely, there must be something else to interest people beside superhero movies.”
Scriptwriters and directors will need to adapt and, ideally, take the lead to have a chance of reshaping and redefining film, Dušan said. Even then, the future is uncertain.
“Some other narrative forms will crystalize, I am sure. But these are going to be completely different narrative forms from the ones we are used to now. It might be that some of these visual narratives, or whatever they will be called, can do something for our collective future.
“The internet will prevail in distributing the work, and maybe internet films will influence the future. It is hard to tell what will happen as a consequence of this situation, but I am not optimistic that they will change the world.”
Like many other directors and actors from Serbia, Dušan is outspoken about the government’s support for cinema and the arts. “The State is not interested in investing in culture,’ said the director who is currently working on a story set in Kosovo.
“Film is no longer seen as an interesting tool for political promotion, not like it was in communist Yugoslavia. It is harder than ever to shoot films, but that is the case everywhere. It’s the offspring of globalisation.”
Grasping the nettle of a changing climate, Dušan has written and directed Travelator, an inventive film fronted by foremost Serbian actor Nikola Rakočević that has been wowing critics & picking up international awards for its innovative style.
Nikola plays Slav, an 18-year-old refugee who has clocked up an impressive shooting record as an online gamer.
Slav is hired as a hitman by the Serbian mob to take out a criminal snitch in witness protection in Las Vegas, and his life soon blurs between gameplay and reality.
“Internationally the reaction has been good and I’m happy that we won at such an important film festival,’ said Dušan. “I think that award is the best overall viewpoint on the film.
“Travelator is not a festival darling, I know. But it gathered a number of excellent reviews and that’s what I’m happy about. That means that my job wasn’t a total waste of time. We still have lot of festivals to come so I’m really waiting to see the reactions.”
Awards do not always translate into sales and, despite praise from local critics, cinema audiences in Serbia have given Travelator a luke warm reception since its release in November.
“In Serbia the film got excellent reviews, but it was a flop at the box office,’ said Dušan. “You can’t have both, it seems. Times are hard and there are a big number of films coming out every year. Plus, people have just lost interest in watching films, especially at cinemas.”
“I recall being 22 and very enthusiastic about my film career,’ said Dušan. “Tito and Me was a great film, one of the last great films in Yugoslavia. That was my first time working for six months without a break, from the casting stage until the end of shooting. It was a great experience and I’m thankful to Goran Marković who chose me as his assistant over a lot of his other students.”
Director’s love of trumpets led to Guća film
He has written several screenplays for revered Serbian director Emir Kusturica (Underground) and Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev (‘The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner’).
After making his directing debut In 2003 with the well-received comedy Strawberries in the Supermarket/Jagoda u supermarketu (2003), Dušan followed up with Guca! (2006), a tribute to the annual wild and raucous Serbian trumpet festival.
“I love Guća,’ said Dušan, of the small Serbian town where thousands of trumpet players, gypsy bands and brass music lovers descend on the otherwise peaceful streets for endless days and nights of music, impromptu parties and, of course, drinking. “The landscape and the people are, in my opinion among the nicest in Serbia.
“I love to listen to a trumpet. It’s my favourite instrument. I hope one day I’ll make another movie about the trumpet. Sadly, though, I haven’t been back to Guća since four years. Maybe I’ll go back this year.”
Emir Kusturica leaves his mark on Travelator
Dušan, who lists his favourite directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Kurosawa, Passolini and Kislowski, is establishing a prolific record of his own.
Emir Kusturica produced Dušan’s first two films as director, so it was probably inevitable that the Serbian filmmaker, who is esteemed and controversial in almost equal measure, would leave his mark on Dušan’s work.
“Kusturica articulated for me some of the most important aspects of filmmaking and I keep his thoughts in mind always,’ he said. “He implanted in me the belief that in filmmaking the picture is everything, that the film space and proper framing of the scene is the hardest thing to achieve.
“Dialogue is just sound between other sounds. It is no more important than that. Coming from a small country, where English is not the first language, we have to express ourselves through images.
“That is the way I worked on Travelator, believing I was making a silent movie, which is the very essence of filmmaking.”
“He still helps me a lot, when I call for advice. Our relationship is good, as it always was, but he is shooting his new movie, so we haven’t seen each other for quite some time.”
A life in film for Balkan directors
Honing his craft alongside some of the Balkans’ greatest directors, Dušan has achieved his dream of a life in film.
“I got into screenwriting early on,’ he said. “I was just too impatient to wait for somebody else to write for me and then have endless discussions about what works and what doesn’t. Later on, I found out that there are some stories I wanted to tell. I think that every director must know how to write for the screen.
“I love when I write and direct and have total control over a film. It’s just the pleasure of doing it, not even the result. I like the journey. But I do still feel proud when the result is good. I haven’t ever directed anything based on somebody’s else’s script, so I don’t know how that would feel.”
No matter how powerful the visuals, it is still actors who carry a film, tell a story, Dušan believes. “Actors are, in my opinion, the single most important element of a good film,’ he said. “If the casting is wrong, or they don’t deliver the performances, all the hard work of making film is worthless.
“I like to be friends with the actors I work with. I love to know them thoroughly as best as I can, as people. Because I write, too, that’s crucial for me. I think that actors can’t produce something that’s not within them already. They are their own instrument, like a guitar or piano, so they play on the emotions they own.”
It is clear that Dušan chose well in Nikola Rakocević, who is an overwhelming screen presence who can carry a film such as Travelator.
“Nikola is a perfect actor for my taste,’ said Dušan. “He is a perfect young man. To work with him was a pure pleasure. He is extremely talented and full of emotions.”
Watch Travelator trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nACfO1sjA9c
See Travelator gameplay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bBfN0B0VMk