Slow demise of a once powerful and famous cine industry


A friend of mine recently told me about the time he paid a visit to the old, semi-abandoned Avala film studios in Belgrade.

It apparently took a long time, what with obtaining permissions etc etc. And the funny thing about the whole thing was that the organisation has been declared bankrupt, so we couldn’t understand why so many people had to be consulted for permission to visit the place!

Anyway, what greeted my colleague was a very unusual sight….all around him were huge film sets, some complete, some incomplete, some falling apart. And in odd corners he saw equipment, lighting, camera dollies…the usual filming props. But no actual filming work was going on obviously.

Instead, the place had been taken over by small-time entrepreneurs trying to make a living by selling odds and ends.

It was hard to believe that this was the very studio that buzzed with activity not so many years ago, with highly publicised visits from many top Hollywood actors, such as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida.

Although it was established in around 1946, Avala film studios really gained prominence in the 60s, under the powerful personality of Ratko Drazevic, a former officer of the feared OZNA secret police at the time.

After the Second World War, Yugoslavia brought in a communist government, their leader being chosen as Josip Tito. Tito proclaimed himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1980. During his time in power, Yugoslavia developed an ambitious film industry that was to become something of a brand internationally.

OZNA stood for the “Department for the Protection of the People” and was created in 1944, it’s mission being defined by Tito as ‘to strike terror in the bones of those who do not like this kind of Yugoslavia’!

Tito declared himself head of the cinematographic movement in Yugoslavia, and planned to make at least 100 films a year, but sadly in reality, only around a dozen were made.

But it was under Drazevic that Avala studios really came to the fore, with the most expensive films ever made in Europe being done there. Even today, some of the battle scenes shot at that time are difficult to emulate.

By 1989, communism was collapsing, and in 1991, tanks were on the streets of Yugoslavia and Avala became sealed off for the next ten years whilst the various warring factions sorted themselves out.

The problems ended in 2000, and with it came the very last film to be made there, called Shadows of Memories.

So what is the future of the once world-famous studios? Well, since Tito’s death in 1980, the place was abandoned, with countless reels of film in cardboard boxes lying on floors, rainwater leaking in through the roofs. Local people soon moved in, setting up their businesses within. Oddly enough, a film set of ancient Rome still stands, looking somewhat incongruous side by side with that of a car mechanic.

This is what can happen if national treasures such as the cinematographical records of a country are put in the hands of an unstable political regime sadly.

A massive sell-off took place early this spring, with the local government ministers hoping to pay off some of the $11 million debt which the studios were saddled with. Once that debt has been paid, Avala studios may well be open to revitalisation by the Serbian film industry.

Maybe there is something here that other countries who have burgeoning film industries can learn…..

 

Tito meets Richard Burton and Elizabeth taylor

 

 

 

all photos courtesy flickr.com

 

 

 

 

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About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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