Few filmmakers have remained committed to the idea of socially provocative and politically engaged filmmaking as persistently and as permanently as Serbian director Želimir Žilnik. A pioneering member of the radical Yugoslav “Black Wave,” Žilnik was born in a Nazi concentration camp in Niš, to politically active parents. After Žilnik’s mother was executed, Želimir was released and raised by his grandparents. His father, a Slovene communist activist, was eventually captured and executed by the Chetniks. Thus Žilnik’s fierce determination and political awareness springs from a deep-seated place, manifesting into a life dedicated to documenting complex social situations through both filmmaking and practicing law. Renowned for his use of nonactors and blending of documentary with fiction filmmaking in a kind of “docudrama,” Žilnik has remained steadfast in his dedication over the past fifty years to making films that represent people on the edge of nonexistence, those who the 1960s communist Yugoslavian government would not officially recognize.
Žilnik’s long and illustrious filmmaking career can be roughly divided into several distinct periods. In the 1960s, Žilnik focused on social-political documentaries, youth culture, communism, and the many resistance movements. Incensed by Žilnik’s anarchic EARLY WORKS, the government violently suppressed both his second feature film and the entire Black Wave. Žilnik fled Yugoslavia, thus beginning his second period in West Germany (represented here by 1976’s PARADISE). However, his exile was short lived, since his radical productions were also censored in that country. During Žilnik’s third period, he embraced television and the freedom to make projects that reached the masses. It was also during this time that Žilnik conceived of a new genre of film, the documentary drama. Žilnik empowered people from the fringes of society – street children, the unemployed, workers, homeless people, foreign workers, transvestites, illegal immigrants – in the creative process of filmmaking by constructing films around their individual stories.
Žilnik’s rich life and filmography is ultimately one not easily defined or summarized, but it is full of determination, energy, and appreciation of life. From the very beginning, Žilnik has focused on the relationship between ideology and society, and he came to fashion the clearest mirror of the social system by simply having his protagonists play themselves. –Jeremy Rossen, HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE
Želimir Žilnik & Sarita Matijevic (Producer, Playground produkcija) will be here in person during opening weekend!