To Finish a Film
Tomislav Šoban is a filmmaker and President of Kinoklub Zagreb — the oldest amateur film club in Southeast Europe. Joined by Petra Belc, Head of Heritage, he tells us more about the past, present and future of the club, and what they consider the greatest success in amateur filmmaking.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and Kinoklub Zagreb — your history and mission?
My name is Tomislav Šoban, President of Kinoklub Zagreb (KKZ) and a filmmaker. The former is more interesting. I am not an all-around expert though, so my colleague, Petra Belc, Head of Heritage, is joining me here as well.
Here at KKZ we are a group of individuals, filmmakers, and film enthusiasts. Kinoklub Zagreb is a community of amateur filmmakers that creates an open-minded space for creative filmmaking and experimenting by providing free tools and sharing knowledge, while nourishing full creative freedom.
Kinoklub Zagreb goes back almost a century. Do you think movie-making generations are moved by different topics?
Kinoklub Zagreb was established in 1928 as a cinema (kino) section of Photo Club Zagreb (Fotoklub Zagreb), turning it into the oldest amateur film club in Southeast Europe. In Kinoklub Zagreb’s earliest years, amateur filmmaking enabled wealthy individuals to make their own films, even if it was just home filmmaking. However, in the 1960’s Kinoklub developed into a hub for some of the most important avant-garde filmmakers along with GEFF and Antifilm as a form of resistance and response to mainstream cinema. For a long time, Kinoklub Zagreb was the only place that provided film education to future professionals. That started changing with the launching of the film departments at the Zagreb Academy of Dramatic Arts. Today, the club brings together filmmakers whose work transcends traditional film genres. Those are artists seeking their own way of expression, unburdened by the expectations of the academia, festivals and trends.
Cinema-wise, what has changed in your community since the founding of your club?
The answer to this question could fill the volume of several books. Since our club was established back in 1928, for almost 100 years a lot has changed. Zagreb’s cine-club was launched in the time of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and continued to exist during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Independent State of Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia, and finally in today’s Croatia. The medium of film itself has tremendously changed as well. Our members were making their films on 9mm films, 16mm, 8mm, S8mm, miniDv’s, VHS tapes, various digital formats, and today they occasionally work even with their mobile phones. When KKZ was founded, Zagreb had no film schools, and it lacked a proper cinematic infrastructure. During the socialist period, Croatian/Yugoslavian cinema was built almost completely from scratch. There was a vast network of movie theatres and a huge audience (21 million people), while today there are just two art cinemas in Zagreb and a potential audience of only 3.6 million people. Still, Kinoklub Zagreb manages to keep up the avant-garde tradition of its 1960’s predecessors, who in their time organized the festival for experimental cinema which lasted for almost a decade. Every year we produce around 70-100 titles, and our members are at the vanguard of experimenting with cinematic language. (Petra Belc)
Can you tell us more about the club’s workshops, screenings, and discussions? How have they evolved since the beginning?
At the beginning of this millennium, Vedran Šuvar reorganised the club in several aspects. Šuvar had a clear vision of how the club should be structured, and how to attract more filmmakers of different creative inclinations. A system of workshops, film screenings and film critique was created. The structure has been consistently upgraded ever since, with new and young experts who bring in new ideas and visions. There are different levels of workshops. The beginner stage is the Film School, designed to educate students on the basics of filmmaking. It’s the only workshop that requires an entry fee, which also comprises the Kinoklub initial joining fee. All other workshops are free. We have divided them into intermediate and advanced workshops. The objective is that participants make their own films while gaining other specific expertise like screenwriting, film review and using cinema equipment. There is a wide range of workshops, and we constantly upgrade and update them depending on the needs and interests of the current generation of filmmakers.
Still, the main focus remains unchanged. And that is to innovate and stay true to one’s own creative expression, while offering a unique perspective on film media and creation.
Our goal isn’t for KKZ to be seen as a crash course to get into the Academy of Dramatic Arts. Some people mature as authors at Kinoklub Zagreb, and eventually become lecturers and offer new ways of conveying knowledge. People who actively teach at KKZ also develop close cooperation with other associations, institutions and cinemas that also recognise the importance of amateur and alternative filmmaking.
Why do you think amateur filmmaking is important, and how does it contribute to the world of cinema? Tell us a bit more about the idea of amateurism.
Amateur filmmaking is a way of making films outside of financial restraints. The love for film, the idea, and the will to see the project through are the main driving forces.
Amateurism’s goal is not to mock professional filmmaking, but rather to offer some new possibilities.
It’s not a competition but rather expanding the horizon of what film could be. Amateur and professional filmmaking build cinematography together. Professional filmmaking is expensive and requires a large film crew. Amateur filmmaking is unable to secure those working conditions. So it needs to seek new ways of expression, use smaller film crews and apply more personalised approaches. Through innovation and building new aesthetics, it aims to find new answers to the challenge of telling a story. New methods pose new questions and require new answers.
Do you think that since amateurism has no specific expectations, it manages to push more boundaries and be more innovative?
Maybe other people don’t have great expectations of amateur authors, but the authors expect a lot from themselves. It is only human to have expectations, and it is okay to be aware of that. In professional filmmaking, the entire crew has some expectations of the director, and it’s a difficult task to uphold those. It is also a great driving force to finish what you have started though. In amateur filmmaking, you work alone or in a small crew, and the finished film stays only with the author. So many quit prematurely, because there is no obligation to finish the film. No one would ask you why you haven’t finished the film, and it’s not uncommon for people to give up on their films in the making.
So what we at Kinoklub Zagreb consider to be one’s greatest success in amateur filmmaking, is to finish a film.
Sometimes that is the most difficult job to do. Finishing a film can also encourage people to make another one, a more challenging one. Innovation is driven by the necessity to use a more personalised approach and a smaller film crew. Professional film is a lot more structured and produced, a rigid hierarchy needs to be in place for things to work. Amateur filmmaking is more flexible though, and free of restraints, but that could also make it a much more uncertain process. There are filmmakers who can only work in one way, but there are also authors who benefit from using both types of filmmaking.
What do you think are the main differences between mainstream and independent/amateur filmmaking? Do you think there is a need for more amateur cinema?
Certainly, there are more than the few differences I highlighted in my previous response, but I would like to emphasize what is equally important in professional and amateur, mainstream, and alternative filmmaking, and that is the responsibility one has towards their coworkers and their precious time. Responsibility towards the idea of your film. Some ideas require a film crew, but others need only you. The ideas you have are yours only, and sometimes you are the only one who could make a film out of them, nobody else. But there is also that specific moment when
somebody could watch your film and get inspired to make their own.
So, the answer is yes, there will always be a need for amateur filmmaking.
Can you recall a movie made at Kinoklub Zagreb that has had some positive impact on an important topic or has been particularly powerful during challenging times?
We are immensely proud that Kinoklub Zagreb, along with Kinoklub Split and Kino-klub Beograd, has given life to the most important film avant-garde in this region, and has enabled the rise of a whole generation of artists and filmmakers. Maybe they didn’t cover sensationalist topics, but they explored the man, what the man does, where the man goes and what the man wants.
Non-political films could also act as a response to the political environment of their time.
In the history of the club, there have been much fewer female authors because that was the political climate of the time, but some have managed to defy male chauvinism, like Tatjana Ivančić who even became the most prolific filmmaker in the history of Kinoklub Zagreb. Today we are proud to have a series of accomplished and successful female and male authors. They have been consistently developing their ideas for many years, some in experimental forms, and others in documentary or short feature films or even in fusion genres.
Your club has survived a war and the collapse of a historic political system. How did the club get by?
Kinoklub existed during different periods and states of our country but outlived all political systems that we had. There were times when it was larger and more influential, and there were times of domestic turmoil that ultimately caused members to leave, thus affecting the basic functioning of the club. What we found to be a challenging time, was the arrival of the digital era of cinematography. Methods of filmmaking were changing fast, and more traditional filmmakers couldn’t appreciate the benefits of the digital age. Still, the club has always managed to produce one or two members to keep the club’s working spaces, equipment and activity busy. Two of our distinguished members were Alan Bahorić and Vedran Šamanović who kept the club functioning during the war in the 90’s. Vedran Šuvar came in the early 2000’s and insisted that KKZ should be for adults, offering free equipment to members to facilitate their work, while nourishing full creative freedom for the author.
Cinema was highly controlled during communism. Was it the amateur essence of Kinoklub Zagreb that helped you remain independent? What was the club’s role during that era?
I am not sure I can agree with the idea of a highly controlled cinema. During Yugoslavia’s socialist era, cinema was indeed state-controlled, in the sense that each and every movie had to pass a censorship committee. But if we look at Yugoslav film production at the time, it is easy to recognize that some of the peaks of modern cinema were quite controversial, questioning the Yugoslav regime — from Puriša Đorđević, Dušan Makavejev, Branko Bauer, Želimir Žilnik, Živojin Pavlović… and so on. Regardless of the censorship committees, those films were still produced. On the other hand, in contemporary European, state-funded cinemas, we also have certain “censorship committees” — the advisors granting the production money. In that respect, kinoklub films are always free — you don’t depend on anyone in terms of money, although in the celluloid era, kinoklub members had to apply with their script to the internal kinoklub board to get film stock. Also, in the 1950s and early 1960s, all Yugoslav kinoklub films had to pass the censorship committees, and since amateurism had an important pedagogical role in Yugoslav society, the “ideological direction” of amateurs was very, very important… (Petra Belc)
Can you tell us more about the Black Wave in Yugoslav cinema — is it connected in any way to the community of Kinoklub Zagreb?
Black Wave is directly connected to the kinoklub milieu, but the forerunners of that genre were members of the Serbian kinoklubs (Kinoklub Beograd, Kinoklub Novi Sad, Akademski kinoklub Beograd etc). Still, the kinoklub community was quite tightly knit, thanks to the amateur film festival network. So, in a way the freedom of antifilm, promoted in the 1960s by Kinoklub Zagreb, reflected on the freedom of cinematic thought and filmic expression across Yugoslavia.
We live in the peak of capitalism. How does a non-profit amateur film club cope with market demands?
We have been lucky to have built a recognisable image and to be acknowledged by the institution that finances film associations and their programmes. In any case it hasn’t been easy, and every year has been a challenge to be granted funding. We used to have three employees, and now are down to two. The club subsists because the leading members are willing to volunteer and due to sheer enthusiasm, hoping that would be enough to find new funding for a better future.
What’s next, for you and for Kinoklub Zagreb?
The club is facing new presidential elections, and I believe the time has come for the club to have its first female president. We have developed a quality community of authors (both female and male). They work harder, with greater innovation, and I look forward to their further success. The future is perhaps unclear, but hopefully Kinoklub Zagreb will now be run by women and will keep driving new quality movies and content.