Filmed in a vérité style, Occupied Cinema chronicles the occupation of the Zvezda cinema in Belgrade, Serbia, one of the 14 cinemas that had once belonged to the state and was then sold to a dubious entrepreneur. The film smartly combines footage from the occupation with reflections on the meaning of the action from its diverse participants, while also conveying a real sense of urgency and suspense about its outcome. This action brings together different social groups who share the same ambition: to change the world they live in. However, their views on what that world should look like differ.
A word from Tënk
Either you die a hero of the occupied cinema or live long enough to see yourself in the movie about it.
I didn’t become a hero, but every time I watch Senka Domanović’s brilliant doc about the occupation of the Zvezda (The Star) cinema that I was an active participant in, I start thinking about why that occupation was such a huge event in Serbian cultural and political history in the 2010s. What triggered such a reaction from the public? For three months, a number of Serbian – and international – politicians, journalists, filmmakers, all had something to say about it. But a group of activists occupied a ruined cinema? So what?
Zvezda was so special because that Belgrade movie theatre had become a symbol of the devastating effects of the transition to capitalism in Serbia. It triggered people’s anger against the crimes of privatization, the brutal sellout of the socially owned enterprises that left thousands unemployed, poor and hopeless. It was a statement that the promises of a wonderful future on the free market were lies – and that we have to do something about it.
Occupied Cinema captures that anger, but also the desire of students, filmmakers, workers and leftist activists to organize and create a better alternative, at least in the movie theatre, while at the same time reflecting upon why they failed to succeed. The movie plays out like a curious combination of Godard’s La Chinoise and Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA. Observational segments, shot in real-time with a moving and dynamic camera, are juxtaposed with interviews with the activists. In that way, the movie shows and tells: we see the dreams and realities of the activists, their misunderstandings and conflicts, we follow closely the breakup of the group, and see different characters reflecting on their roles in the plot. The film can be read as an allegory for every futile collective effort, or for every revolution that eats its own children.
And that’s actually my logline for Occupied Cinema: Film is politics; cinema is society.
Film archivist, curator and critic