A heartening documentary about the emotional meeting and shared memories of a US warplane pilot and the Yugoslav missile colonel who shot him down in 1999 is receiving extensive support even before filming has been finished. The touching reconciliation between the two protagonists forms the moving human story of The Second Meeting, from Serbian director Željko Mirković.
In March 1999, news spread around the world that an American F-117A stealth plane had been shot down over the Serb village of Budjanovci. Piloted by US air forceman Dale Zelko, the ‘invisible’ aircraft had been spotted on radar and then brought down at the command of Serbian colonel Zoltan Dani. Photographs of locals dancing on the wreckage of the destroyed airplane were shown worldwide, as the search for the pilot continued.
This episode stuck in the mind of Mirković, who believed it would make a fascinating documentary. Little did he realise when he started work on this project four years ago that the meeting he would engineer between these two former officers twelve years after the attack would result in such an emotional piece of film.
“This is a unique documentary that has touched everyone who has seen the footage so far,’ director Željko Mirković told W!LD RooSTeR. “The meeting of two former officers from this conflict is unprecedented and will carry a magnificent message of peace. It is a fascinating human interest story based on important historic events. The aim of the project is to promote the human aspect of the events and focus on shared values of both Serbs and Americans.”
Mirković is an established filmmaker with 27 international awards to his name. His documentaries have been shown at more than 200 film festivals in USA, Europe and Asia, and this latest project is already attracting attention from distributors.
“During production of my documentary about Zoltan Dani (The 21st Second), I established contact with Dale,’ said Mirković (pictured). “Over the next four years we built a close friendship and trust. Because of that trust, the idea was born to make a human story about a meeting between both guys and their families. Both of them are great and unique guys and very open-minded. They were very glad to realise this idea and we were able to succeed in this only because of their strong belief in the project.”
Filming has been split over two parts, with the two men meeting in Serbia, while their wives will meet for the first time in the US in March 2012. “We finished the first part, when Dale came back to Serbia and visited the place where he hid for eight hours before being rescued. Zoltan is now a baker. They met in his bakery and Dale it was wonderful to see them share great moments together like old friends. This is only their second meeting – the first time they met was on radar during the war.”
Former US pilot Dale Zelko speaks openly about the mixed emotions he felt before making his trip to meet Zoltan Dani in Serbia. “Leading up to my meeting with the man who shot me down, I was intensely excited with restless enthusiasm,’ said Dale. “But I was also filled with strong anxiety and reluctance as I was uncertain how I would ultimately be received in this country I had participated in warring against only 12 years before. After all, I had not been invited the first time and I was dropping bombs – and they were shooting missiles. Reassurance came before my recent travel to Serbia when the man who shot me down sent word that this time I was invited and there would be no missiles!
Dale was understandably moved by the whole experience. “The Second Meeting could not have been more extraordinarily wonderful in so many unexpected ways,’ he said. “Twelve years after that first meeting I had the remarkable opportunity for a second chance at experiencing Serbia and her people. I took the chance and will forever be deeply grateful, enriched, and blessed by it. It could not have been more natural and spontaneous. It was an experience that grabbed my heart to the core and will hold it warmly and comfortably for the rest of my days. It is an experience and story that we want to share.”
The final stage of production should be equally emotional, as filming moves to the US for the wives to meet for the first time. “These ladies were the positive energy in the lives of their husbands,’ said Mirković. “Their support kept Dale and Zoltan going during the hard times of war and the challenging moments it ended. Dale’s wife obviously feared for the worst when her husband was shot down, and this will be the first time she has been able to confront that emotion face to face.”
Former Yugoslav Colonel Zoltan Dani, who lives with his family in the village of Skorenovac, is clear in his emotional reasoning for agreeing to this meeting with the man he shot down. “Happy is the man who has a possibility to choose,’ he said. “Essentially, freedom is about having a choice, having several options, or even about having a new beginning if that is possible.
“The Second Meeting is that new beginning, a new possibility. We want to send a message to humanity that it is better to cherish those values of life that contain messages of hope and tolerance between people, with mutual regard.”