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THE ENTHUSIASTS ARCHIVE

Banner stills L to R: Litany of Happy People, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque
Death of Metalosaurus
, courtesy Igor Toholj; and Game, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

Game (Divjad)
Karpo Godina, Slovenia, 1965, 8 mm transfer to 35 mm then Blu-ray, 6 minutes

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Still from Game, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

The name of this short film shot by two Slovene filmmakers means “game” in the sense of “wild animals to be hunted,” and one festival programmer has described this film as the story of “a lovesick camera and its object of desire.” The object of desire is a young woman who moves to a jazzy sound track through the streets of Ljubljana, reveling, it would seem, in the jumpy speed of city life and the attention she draws from both the camera and passersby. In one quick sequence, the director, Karpo Godina (b. 1943), also appears, shot by his friend Jure Pervanje. Discovered only recently, this film had spent over 50 years, along with a group of other 8 mm shorts, under Godina’s bed “after they first (and last) saw the light—projected at a national gathering of amateur film-makers."[1]

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Still from Game, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

Like a number of other Yugoslav directors, especially those associated with the Black Wave, Godina started out his career in film as an amateur—a second-generation amateur filmmaker, in fact, since his father, Viktor Aćimović, also participated in this activity. By the late 1960s, Godina became a professional filmmaker whose work is “usually thought of as a (subversive) succession of predominantly still, carefully framed shots, unmasking ideology and bursting with a certain joie-de-vivre precisely because . . . of the stillness."[2] A fine example of his best-known work can be seen in Litany of Happy People (1971), also screened in this program. By contrast, the early 8 mm films such as Game contain roaming, even erratic camerawork in “constant motion” and reveal that Godina arrived at his signature style only gradually.[3] Along with two other 8 mm shorts by Godina, Game was preserved and digitally restored in 2011 in a joint initiative of the Slovenska Kinoteka, La Camera Ottica Laboratory at the University of Udine in Italy, and the Österreichisches Filmmuseum, which also jointly produced a report (cited above) on their preservation and restoration efforts so as to benefit others doing similar work to preserve the legacy of amateur experimental films. —  Ksenya Gurshtein

With thanks to Karpo Godina and Darja Hlavka, as well as Jurij Meden at the Slovene Cinematheque (Slovenska Kinoteka), for their assistance with research and help in making the screening of this film possible in Washington.

 

Litany of Happy People (Zdravi ljudi za razonodu)
Karpo Godina, Slovenia, 1971, 35 mm, 14 minutes, 26 seconds

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Still from Litany of Happy People, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

As the program of the 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival states, “Litany of Happy People, beautifully scored by the brothers Vranjesević, is a song-film about brotherhood in rural Vojvodina and, with its multiethnic makeup, could have easily passed as a Yugoslav unity propaganda film. It was banned out of suspicion of hidden messages that the censors could not determine.”

On its face, Litany of Happy People, whose title is more literally translated “healthy people for leisure,” is inoffensive to the point of naïveté. It was shot by Karpo Godina (b. 1943), a Slovene, in the historically multiethnic Serbian region of Vojvodina, where Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Roma, Ruthenians, and others live side by side. In the film, families belonging to each ethnic group stand in front of their colorful rural houses, which might appear similar to an outside observer but are painted in such a way that the color of each house indicates the ethnicity of its residents. The sound track consists of a soloist and chorus singing such lyrics as “We love the Hungarians; the Hungarians love us,” with the same line repeated for each group represented. Given the insistence in Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia on the country’s multiethnic identity, which was supposed to supersede any sense of communal belonging based on ethnicity, Godina’s film should have pleased the censors. Certainly, the opening shots of a Ruthenian priest describing his group’s claims to uniqueness seem to gently mock such beliefs, as does the film’s framing of all its subjects in the same way. Yet the censors were so uneasy about the film that they banned it even after it won two awards at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival.[4]In part, this could be because the film exposes the reality of continued divisions along ethnic lines even as it ostensibly tried to dismiss them. Even more likely, the censors were probably responding to a suspicion that the film’s emphatically simple message of peace, love, and coexistence seemed to “overidentify” ironically with state propaganda, in the same way that the Slovene musical group Laibach would notoriously overidentify with totalitarian ideology in the 1980s.[5]

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Still from Litany of Happy People, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

This film represents Godina’s mature experimental style, characterized by carefully composed, colorful, and almost totally still shots, heavy focus on sound track music, and countercultural or obliquely provocative content that in a deadpan way defied official representations of Yugoslav life. In the wake of a reactionary backlash in Yugoslav political life of the early 1970s, Godina’s career as an experimental director was stymied—his last experimental short from that era, On the Art of Loving or Film with 14441 Frames (1972), was chopped up with an ax by representatives of the Yugoslav army, which had commissioned the film. According to Godina, he was able to save only one print. Despite this, Godina continued to work as a prolific cinematographer and directed several more films after 1980.[6] — Ksenya Gurshtein

With thanks to Karpo Godina and Darja Hlavka, as well as Jurij Meden at the Slovene Cinematheque (Slovenska Kinoteka), for their assistance with research and help in making the screening of this film at the National Gallery possible.

 

1. Lorenzo Della Rovere et al., “Behind an Experimental Film Heritage: Preservation and Restoration Protocols and Issues,” Journal of Film Preservation 89 (November 2013): 116. (back to top)

2. Lorenzo Della Rovere et al., “Behind an Experimental Film Heritage: Preservation and Restoration Protocols and Issues,” Journal of Film Preservation 89 (November 2013): 116. (back to top)

3. For a review of a 2013 retrospective of Godina’s films, see Marija Katalinić and Vedrana Madžar, “Karpo Godina Retrospective,” Studies in Eastern European Cinema 5, no. 2 (2014): 188–92. (back to top)

4. Jurij Meden, “Cinema, Happiness: The Short Films of Karpo Godina,” Believer 8 (March–April 2010): 2. This article is an excellent source of more general information on Godina and his role in the Yugoslav Black Wave, and the issue of the Believer in which it appeared was accompanied by a DVD with a compilation of Godina’s early short films. (back to top)

5. For more on Laibach, see Slavoj Žižek, “Why Are Laibach and NSK not Fascists?” in Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s, ed. Laura J. Hoptman and Tomáš Pospiszyl (New York, 2002), 285–88. (back to top)

6. Jurij Meden, “Cinema, Happiness: The Short Films of Karpo Godina,” Believer 8 (March–April 2010): 3. (back to top)