'This could be a Serbian new wave brewing' - Hindustan Times
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'This could be a Serbian new wave brewing'

Nov 08, 2023 06:34 PM IST

A world cinema gem by a young Serbian filmmaker, Nina Ognjanović, was recently shown in Mumbai. An interview with the director

A film festival anywhere in the world is as good as its world cinema list and how representative it is. The recently-concluded Mumbai International Film Festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) and Jio gave Mumbaikars a taste of excellent, lesser-known films from around the world. The world cinema section included a Serbian global film festival favourite, Where the Road Leads, by Nina Ognjanović.

Jana Bjelica in a still from Where the Road Leads(Courtesy: The author) PREMIUM
Jana Bjelica in a still from Where the Road Leads(Courtesy: The author)

It won an honourable mention in the narrative feature grand jury prize category and the audience award for best narrative feature at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year. The film was the filmmaker’s graduation project and is now being widely seen as a world cinema gem — a welcome thing for Serbia. Private funding for filmmaking in the country has seen a slow decline after the Republic of Yugoslavia was reconstituted as the state union of Serbia and Montenegro (from which the latter seceded in 2006). Serbia’s history of ethnic and civil conflicts affected the arts, including film production.

The 27-year-old’s debut feature film is set in rural Serbia, and is about a quaint village cut off from civilisation, trapped in a time warp. When an outsider comes to the village bringing with him the news of a new road, one of its residents Jana (Jana Bjelica), sees it as an opportunity to escape her suffocating life. With some stylistic elements of the classic Western, Ognjanović writes and directs a film that at once concerns itself with existential dread and absurd humour.

Edited excerpts from an interview with the director:

Tell us about the origins of this idea. Does your personal life tie into elements of the story?

Yes, it does fundamentally. I started thinking about this film when I was a teenager in Belgrade and I had this feeling that I was always going around in circles, with nothing new happening. That feeling of being stuck in an in-between place without escape continued even as I pursued a film education in Belgrade. Through Jana [whom we see running up and down the red-soiled roads of her village through the film as if in great urgency] I wanted to capture that feeling. And having grown up in a city, I wanted to set it in a different milieu, a place set in what is known as “the old mountain” in Serbia to bring out the clash of being stagnant and the desire to break out.

Director Nina Ognjanović(Courtesy: The author)
Director Nina Ognjanović(Courtesy: The author)

There are elements of the classic Hollywood western. Did you go about filming in a guerilla style?

 

Yes, that is deliberate, and I wanted it to have a comedic effect. All the crew except a few actors are students. We got government funding for it. And it required us to be completely cut off from all signals to shoot in this village in southeast Serbia, which itself has been ravaged by the country’s historical conflicts. It had the deserted, neglected, quaint setting I wanted.

Does Serbia have new blood in filmmaking? After the end of Yugoslavia, there wasn’t much cinema coming out to the world from there.

 

Four other fellow students from our film institute have made films—each, with their own stamp. There are new talents emerging, and even without private funding and producers or studios, there is a generation of filmmakers waiting to show their work out in the world. Like we saw a Romanian new wave in the early 2000s, there could be a Serbian new wave brewing.

How do you find responses to the film in India?

 

I love the audience here. They love films and try to have a conversation, not interrogate, which I have found in some other festivals, say in Europe. The size of everything here is disorienting but being appreciated in one of the world’s most film-crazy nations is a great thing for me.

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