Life, Novels

ŽARKO DRAGOJEVIĆ, FILM DIRECTOR, SCRIPTWRITER AND ESSAYIST, ABOUT EPOCHAL CHALLENGES AND RETURN OF THE WILL TO MEANING
Our Mistakes due to Goodness
The homeland is a permanent inscription in our spirit and soul. As we become older, we understand its depth and universality more clearly. We overlooked the values of what we’ve got and thus lost so much so easily. We live in the world of showbiz, media ”sound and fury”, realities, advertisements and submission, in order not to live in the world of spirit and resistance. The role of those surrogates is repressive and destructive. A modern human has reached a dark dead-end and his only hope is returning to the original meaning. Re-foundation and re-integration. The basis of the Serbian biological decline is spiritual, not material. If we don’t find a cure in the spiritual, we won’t find it anywhere

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Guest’s Archive


A man from Toplica in his entire depth. Grew up in Kuršumlija, with an eternal view of Kosovo. He has been carrying the face of his homeland and that ethics through his life, wherever he was and whatever he did. He knows: when we once set off to Kosovo again, which we will, we’ll take our communion in Toplica.
He doesn’t deal with plosive words. He is pervaded with thundering quietness and superior humbleness. As a man of taste and good upbringing, he restrains from speaking about himself. He’s not afraid of watching into the abyss we’re hanging above. He thinks thoroughly both in images and concepts. The complexity and noble-mindedness of his character are reflected in his films and books.
Žarko Dragojević (Prokuplje, 1954) in National Review.

Threads of Ancestors. A part of the Mitrović family, my ancestors from my mother’s side, came to Kuršumlija from Peć, and another part from Vučitrn, Kosovo and Metohija. The bravest and most glorious Serbian army unit in World War I, the famous ”Iron Squad”, was made of descendants of these comers to Toplica. As for my father’s side, the Dragojevićs are from Kordun, Veljun. They came to Serbia, Belgrade to be more exact, in two waves of migrations, first in 1941 and second in 1991. My mother met her future husband in Kuršumlija, where he worked as a young army officer. Their marriage was very short. My twin brother and I stayed with our mother, who never remarried after the divorce and dedicated herself to raising her sons. Thus my later identification with Toplica as my only homeland, regardless of the fact that I also have biological roots in Kordun.

Salutary Home of the Being. The homeland is not only hills and mountains, waters and winds of the place of birth. The homeland is an inscription in our spirit and soul, about our first contact with the world and things given to us. A place where we first opened our eyes and saw the world. An experience we don’t exist without. The place where the first contact was made is a source which supplies us throughout our lives. Geographically speaking, our homelands can be, and they are, local, but the feeling of homeland is universal and characteristic for every human, wherever he is. Being physically detached from the homeland doesn’t necessarily mean not being in it, because, as long as the homeland is in us, we are in it. Perhaps young people cannot understand it so clearly, but as we grow older, we become more aware of it. Homeland is, thus, the salutary home of our being (allow me to use Heidegger’s term), in spirit and in soul, a human’s first and last sanctuary in the arena of uncertainty of life we’re unwillingly thrown into. ”I wish I could go to my homeland and die there forgetting everything”, sang the great Serbian poet between the wars, Belgrade bohemian, traveler and adventurer from Toplica, Rade Drainac. ”One has a debt to their homeland”, stated Ivo Andrić a bit later, in the same Belgrade, while writing about the endowment of a grand vizier. On the wings of his cosmopolitanism, Danilo Kiš wrote: ”I began longing for Belgrade (…), it’s time to go home.” And he did. Just as exile Crnjanski returned. That’s why the concept of motherland has to be observed in the context of the homeland concept. They are made of the same spirit and soul contents. One of the bigger rooms in this ”salutary home of the being”, whether we call it homeland or motherland, is the language we speak, think and write in, and the second, equally important, is our faith. That’s where the circle of the human’s individual and collective closes. Everything else that passes through our lives later are ideologies.

The Sweetness of Small Towns. People usually think that living in a small city or town carries inevitable pain, sad deprivation of a multitude of opportunities and challenging experiences. Watching from the outside it may be so, but things are much different from the inside. Only those who never lived in a small city don’t know how much life can be sweet (another paraphrase, this time Montesquieu). Not only sweet, but also thick, rich inside, playful and meaningful. Such was life in Kuršumlija in the 1960s and 70s, during my childhood and youth. That’s how I felt and remember it. Schools full of students, factories of workers, stations of trains, parks of children, garrisons of soldiers, cinemas of viewers, sports grounds of fans, pools and river beaches of swimmers, promenades of young people, city of people. People full of spirit and life with a meaning.
Ancient Greeks believed that living in city-states with a population bigger than ten thousand is meaningless. New civilizational circumstances and derived ideologies produced the need of humans to gather in big cities, in conglomerates of masses of mutually alienated people, bewildered and nervous in their boiling hurry to, at any cost, become part of the ideological illusion and colossal social self-deception called progress. However, this will come to an end as well, it has to, again as a consequence of the civilizational movement forward and cultural sobering. Simply, the human nature will not endure, it will rebel against that disgusting psychopathy of metropolitan masses and their growingly pervert, empty and unhuman forms of living in the grindstone of the deceiving ideology of progress.

Blooming Easiness of Sinking. In mid-1970s, when I came to Belgrade to study film directing, it was a blooming city. It was the time of the ”festival of new theatrical tendencies” (Bitef), ”festival of festivals” (Fest), ”Belgrade music ceremonies” (Bemus) and other international encounters, alternative and expanded media, Students’ Cultural Center and Home of Youth, numerous cinemas and theaters, kafanas with a soul (not coffee shops) and disco clubs with vinyl records, football ”Marakana” and basketball ”Pionir” and many more. Everything tailor-made for life, the most dangerous one: careless and easy, and all marked by ”comrade Tito, we swear to you…”, as well as Skerlić’s social imperative addressed to Serbs at the beginning of the twentieth century: ”The West is life”.
We lived under the dictatorship of the one and the ones, as well as the dictatorship of western consumer values, ignoring the approaching evil: breakdown of the country. In the decade of ”the most wonderful years of our life”, we were already ruined without even being aware of it. Paradox of history and life itself or hypocrisy and moral defeat of the then Serbian elite, not only political, which was asleep or corrupted?
Still, despite the tragic historical balance, we mustn’t be angry with our people. We know that it aspired towards good and hoped for freedom. Its political naivety, expressed in the critical moments of Serbian history in the twentieth century, is actually the consequence of its goodness and spacious Orthodox soul. ” ”One must find hope after everything and in everything”, sang Branko Miljković.

Looking for the Morning Star in Serbia. Throughout its history, Serbia has always been what we, its nation, were. When we were growing as a nation, it was growing too. When we suffered, it suffered too. When we were upright and big, she was too. When we were bent and small, she was such too.
The face and telos of a nation grows together with the face and telos of that nation’s country. They become one. That’s why it’s always dangerous to give up on one’s country and nation. The best example is the tragic experience of the Serbian nation in the state of Yugoslavia. In a dark moment of their history, Serbs gave up on themselves, their name and the name of their state. Instead of being Serbs they became Yugoslavs, instead of Serbia they chose Yugoslavia, instead of continuing being themselves they tried to become everyone’s. They weakened their awareness of themselves and their state, thinking that they were reborn, while they were actually disappearing. Fortunately, that came to an end. It was a very high price for a colossal political illusion. We barely survived it as a nation and state and we’ll feel the consequences for a long time: in politics, culture, life of the state.
”I’m looking for the morning star in Serbia”, sang Miloš Crnjanski in Corfu in 1925.

On the Wings of Genuine Culture. The face and telos of a nation also grow together with the face and telos of its culture. Culture is the constitutive pillar of a nation’s existence and determines the historical meaning of that existence. It separates a nation in the myriad of other nations. Culture means building, always and continuously, while lack of culture destroys what’s built. All this is, however, valid only for genuine culture, one we can trust. The culture that gives strength to live and survive in the world surrounding us, one that recuperates and heals, preserves us in time. The culture which is ”a sign in the sky and light in the night” whenever we are discouraged, whenever we stop and doubt the possibility and meaning of resistance to everything destroying and canceling us as humans.

Role of Destructive Surrogates. We are today, however, living in a world of a differently understood role of culture and its meaning, a world of so-called ”popular culture” or ”mass culture”, which calls itself ”cultural industry”. The term ”cultural industry” was created already in 1947 by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, philosophers of the famous Frankfurt School. They believed that, in developed capitalism, all forms of popular culture have the character of goods, whose main value is quantity, not quality, and that the only task of such culture is to respond to the needs of the market, not the spirit, to provide continuous obedience of people to growing consumption, so they wouldn’t stay alone too long in their free time, confronting the gloomy reality of their economic and social life. Today we’d say even more: so they wouldn’t confront the processes of continuous ”brainwashing” and ”soul tailoring” with ”cultural industry” products and pathological forms of their everyday life derived from them. We live in the world of show-biz, video games, media ”sound and fury”, reality spectacles, advertisements and submission, so we wouldn’t live in the world of spirit and resistance. It’s a surrogate of genuine culture, pressuring the mind and soul of a contemporary human. The role of the surrogate is repressive and anti-enlightening, unhuman and destructive. The result of such culture is a growing impoverishment of the human’s spirit and soul, his separation from the traditional roots of his being and his inevitable fall into emptiness and barbarism. However, ”salvation is born where danger grows” (to repeat Hölderlin’s thought so dear to Heidegger). Observing history, after each wandering and misguided trip to Neverland, a human succeeded in returning to himself, his God-Man nature and his divine inspiration.

End of Film. Filmmaking has been in a big crisis for a long time. As time passes and things develop, there is less hope that the crisis will be overcome. Good films are rare and a decreasing number of educated people visit cinemas. There is less serious critical thought about film, with the role to, as one of the first film theoreticians, Bella Balash, wrote already seventy years ago, ”educate and create the taste of the audience, which will influence art that educates our taste”.
What happened with film? As the baby of the scientific and technological progress, it has always basically been a delivering technology. Its social utilization as means of artistic expression was less important. Film has always been under dominant influence of film technology owners and their interests, which means profit and ideology. Art, as a field of freedom and creation, was always suffocating there, but it somehow managed to survive. However, it seems that it’s coming to an end. The rapid development of new film technologies in the last twenty years and consequential changes in the field of social utilization, creating and reception of ”motion pictures”, are bringing film closer to its historical collapse. To the end of the existence of film as an artistic means of communication. The wonders of new technologies are there to brag in their pervert exhibitionist splendor. As such, they don’t correspond with classic realism of film images and their affective features; on the contrary, they contribute to their disappearance. The nature of new technologies jeopardize the basic value of a movie scene, its sensual credibility. The reality of a movie scene is replaced with the reality of film technology. Spirit doesn’t have its place there. ”The beautiful” of new digital film technology cannot replace ”the beautiful” of the film revelation of reality. (…) The common symbolism of ”motion pictures”, their rhetoric and naked mechanics of drama don’t make the art of film.

Reestablishing the Whole. We are today living in a time of, as one of our psychiatrists said, ”postmodern strait”, featured by the lack of faith and hope. It’s more than certain that this state of emptiness, feeling of lack and absence of meaning was brought by the ruling ideology of scientific and technological progress, or, in other words, the human uncritical blindness before his ratio, which was wildly set free, sometime at the beginning of the ”era of enlightenment”, to be the only creator of the reality of our life. The fact that a human being has a tetrahedron structure was neglected: besides the ratio, there are also the body, the soul and the spirit. Today it’s clearer than ever that a human life and survival are possible only with harmonious preservation of functions of the being’s all four elements. Exaggerating only one of them leads to the dysfunction of others and corresponding obstruction of life in its optimal form.
Science also realizes this today and radically asks: what is life? It admits that it’s not able to answer without the help of religion (world of spirit), philosophy (world of ideas) and art (world of soul). The time that’s coming should therefore announce the arrival (or return) of the reign of will to meaning, instead of the reign of will to progress, which is actually our turning to Tradition, which contains everything.

Our Children. Bringing up and raising children has never been just a spontaneous and instinctive activity of parents. It’s a consciously invested effort, even sacrifice. Potential egoism of parents inevitably brings bitter fruits. This is most obvious today, when more and more young people are dispirited and turning towards pathological forms of individual and social life. It’s certain that children are raised not only by parents, the family, but also the society as a whole. We could say: our children are the mirror of our society, but the family is still most important, because it’s the beginning of everything.
While my three children were growing up, it was always more important to me, as a parent, what they feel than what they know. It’s the same today, when they’re college students and already mature young people. I believe that emotional care is the most important thing to offer children in the family during the process of their growing up. Love. Everything else they will come upon during their life, interests and abilities they’ll discover in themselves, will be the result of their healthy emotional satisfaction.

Spiritual Foundation of the Biological Drama. The most important task and concern of Serbs as a nation today (although it seems that they have more than enough concerns) is to preserve their biological substance, to stop the negative population growth of, we can openly say, apocalyptic proportions. The thought that the Serbian nation has perhaps exhausted all its possibilities, constitutive, cultural and religious, and that it’s on the road of its inevitable natural decline terrifies me. Our nation is growing older, with less will to life, or will to give birth to children. In nations and societies where there is no will to giving birth there is no life with meaning, everything is echoing emptiness. The political story that reasons for the absence of the wish of young people to give birth today in Serbia are material is a demagogy. It’s a spiritual problem and spiritual disease. If we don’t find a cure for it in that realm, there will be no cure in others either. I’m convinced that only a thorough and deep, mainly religious reeducation, which means our spiritual recuperation and healing, can save the Serbian nation from departing from the history of actual life.

***

Speaking of Facts
Žarko Dragojević graduated from the Faculty of Drama in Belgrade, film and television directing, in 1978, in the class of professor Radoš Novaković. He was scriptwriter and director of feature films House by the Railway in 1988 (”Golden Arena” awards for script and directing at the Festival of Yugoslav Feature Film in Pula, SFRY, and other awards) and Night in My Mother’s House in 1991. He is author of eleven medium- and short-length films, which won significant awards in Belgrade, Krakow, Monte Carlo… He directed more than two hundred films and TV shows of different genres for Television Belgrade (1994–2005), mainly about art and culture (Witnesses of Centuries, However, People Speak, Heritage for the Future, Century of Serbian Film…). He is author of two books about film (The End of Film, 1998 and Old and New Motion Pictures, 2012).
He was guest professor of film directing in the ”Dunav Film” School in Belgrade (1997–2007), at the Faculty of Drama in Belgrade (2002–2004) and Academy of Arts (2006–2009). He is director of the New Filmographer magazine (since 2006) and editor of the Serbian Association of Film Artists publishing department. Member of the first assembly of the Serbian National Council for Culture (2011–2016). (...)

***

If We Forget Kosovo...
– The fact that Kosovo and Metohija aren’t ”around us” any more is bitter and painful, but they’re in us. As long as they are in us, they will be ”around us” again one day. Kosovo and Metohija will stop being Serbian only if we forget them. If that happens by any chance, who they belong to won’t be important and nothing else will be ours anymore. If we forget Kosovo, we’ll disappear as a nation.

***

Southern Soul
– Of all the written but unrealized scripts which I keep in my drawers for years, without much chance to be realized, because Serbian cinematography is as it is today (and I’m a bad film entrepreneur), one is special: a script based on Bora Stanković’s unfinished novel Landlord Mladen, complemented with the motifs of Grigorije Božović’s prose, entitled In Chains. Although unfinished, this Stanković’s novel is, according to my judgment, a real masterpiece. I read it several times and was excited many times. Perhaps because my soul is southern too. Nevertheless, it’s a literary work that sweeps you off your feet.

 


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