Šišanje / Skinning : Director Had ‘Moral Responsibility’ To Make Movie

11. February, 2011 Culture, News No comments

Stevan Filipovic Marcus AgarFor his second outing as a director, Stevan Filipović has produced an astonishing film addressing Serbia’s issues of ultra-nationalism, alleged church corruption, and society’s lack of accountability – a state he claims he had ‘a moral responsibility to explore and explain‘.

On release in Serbia, the public voted with their feet.  In less than a month,Šišanje (English title:Skinningattracted an audience of 44,000, making it one of the country’s most popular recent films. 

Filipović says it is a film that would have been impossible to make even a decade ago, and unimaginable under the Milosovic regime. Even now, it has struck a raw nerve in Serbia where the crew received threats of violence from ultra nationalist groups, the premiere was heavily policed, and right-wingers called it criminal and anti-patriotic.

What cannot be faulted is that this provocative and uncompromising film has achieved something rare:  it has held up a mirror and generated healthy and sometimes heated debate.  After a private screening at the British Parliament, as part of Serbian Week in Great Britain and attended by the Serbian Ambassador, the film and its context again raised a spirited debate among the Serbian diaspora

Violent Skinhead Gangs in Serbia

Skinning is a story of quiet student Novica (Nikola Rakocević) under the tutorage of an encouraging maths Professor (Dragan Mićanović).  Novica is in awe of his charismatic friend Relja (Viktor Savić), the leader of a violent skinhead gang.  After a minor bit of exam cheating to aid Relja at the start of the film, Novica is suspended from school, kicking off a rapidly spiralling series of horrific events.

Neo-Nazism and the racism of the extreme right have inspired many filmmakers (eg: Romper Stomper starringRussell Crowe, Shane Meadows’ This Is England, and Tony Kay’s American History X).  It was only time before Serbia scratched its own fleas in a film dealing with the virulent neo-Nazism and extreme nationalism on its streets.

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Although not entirely a mainstream problem, Serbia’s political and economic situation has proved to be fertile ground for organised gangs of turnstile hooligans who sport ultra nationalist symbols instead of football colours.  A proposal currently before the Constitutional Courts in Serbia could outlaw far-right groups with a record of violence – although one group, the Serbian National Movement 1389, has already seen a loophole to survive by declaring themselves a political party in proposals to be set out on 15 February.

In a speech at the film’s London premiere, director Stevan Filipovićexplained his reasoning:
“More than four years ago, we had the premiere of our previous film, Shaitan’s Warrior, in Belgrade’s cinemas. It was the first Serbian film of the fantasy genre, and it marked the beginning of our professional careers.  While making and promoting Shaitan, a whimsical slasher comedy about Serbian high school kids, I would never have dreamt that our next film would be Skinning, a drama with heavy political undertones.

Voice of a Serbian Generation

“But, as the voices of our generation, we felt a moral responsibility to explore and explain what is it so awfully wrong with our country, what is it that made it such a bad place to live in.  Those are all the same reasons that made so many members of the UK’s Serbian population, who are here with us tonight, leave their home country.  And I’m afraid that could not have been done within a realm of fantasy film, or by using metaphors.

“We wanted to, directly and clearly, pinpoint all the connections between the hooligan and extreme nationalist groups, criminal organisations, corrupt politicians and system of government. We wanted to warn that fascism is not ’just’ a German phenomenon – it is a malignant system of reasoning and values, that can manifest itself in any country or group, given the right climate. And in the end, we wanted to expose the people who hide their evil deeds behind masks of ideology.

“Unfortunately, much of the events depicted in a screenplay, written more than four years ago, really happened on the streets of Belgrade in the course of those years. The attacks on university teachers committed by neo-nazi skinheads, burning of Belgrade and foreign embassies by hooligans, riots and the awful violence at Gay Pride last October: it all became the grim reality of the country we live in. And yet, we have recieved threats, and been publicly called ’traitors’, and the film ’unpatriotic’.

“But it is the ability to realise and try to change what you know to be wrong about the country you live in that we, as a group, deem to be ’patriotic behaviour’.  We chose to try to archieve that through the art of film.”

Trailer:  Click here (Serbian) or here (English subtitles)Note:  

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