Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) and CineMart supported films often turn out to become festival favorites. The Load by Ognjen Glavonić is such an example, traveling the world from world premiering in Cannes to the Discovery section at TIFF in Toronto. Yoana Pavlova had a short catch up with Glavonić about the film and the role of HBF.
In 1999, at the peak of the Kosovo conflict, a middle-aged man is paid by the Serbian military to drive a mysterious cargo all the way to Belgrade. He senses there is something shady about the assignment, yet he needs to provide for his family, and then, eight years into the Yugoslav wars, is there still any room for moral sentiments?
We share the journey of this man twice and with two very different films – both directed by Ognjen Glavonić, dubbed by Cineuropa "the first Serbian filmmaker to tackle the war crimes of his nation head-on." In Depth Two / Dubina Dva (Berlinale Forum, 2016) the viewer is roaming like a ghost across a contemporary post-war landscape of decay and despair, guided by the audio recordings of actual testimonies at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague. In The Load / Teret (Directors' Fortnight, 2018) it is Leon Lučev's character Vlada who drives the story into a more intimate space, as he shares the road trip with a young hitchhiker, many stray dogs, and preoccupations with his wife and son who wait for him in Belgrade.
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Three months after Cannes, Glavonić is at Sarajevo Film Festival to present The Load in International Competition, as well as to take part in the Dealing with the Past sidebar. When he talks about the seven years it took him to find money for his narrative debut, he inevitably goes back to the full-length documentary, Depth Two, which he admits he also shot to keep himself occupied. As for The Load, he notes: "From 2011 to 2016/2017, we were denied six or seven times in Serbia, from the commissions of the Film Center. Every time we returned not with a new script but a new partner, or new money attached. And the first money that we got for the film actually, that kind of saved us – we applied in January in 2012, and I think we got the news in May or June 2012 – the first money came from Hubert Bals Fund, for script development. Then we were invited to Cinemart, in 2013 we were pitching the film. Actually, at Cinemart we met our French co-producer."
Hubert Bals Fund
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Recounting the long path of The Load as a project, Glavonić mentions IFFR's Boost! platform and the Binger Filmlab, as well as working with a script doctor in Amsterdam and what he learned when it comes to pitching – “not to focus that much on the story” but rather to interrogate his own motivation about telling this story. Next came CNC, Croatian Audiovisual Centre, Doha Film Institute, an Iranian co-producer “who invested his own money,” Euroimage, and eventually the support of Film Center Serbia. With the gruesome factuality (and the festival triumph) of Depth Two behind his back, Glavonić felt free to slim down the narrative and make it more “universal,” quoting Kiarostami, the Dardenne brothers, and the Yugoslav Black Wave as inspiration. Responding to a suggestion that there is a visual and thematic similarity between The Load and one of the most popular dark comedies in ex-Yugoslavia, Who's Singin' Over There? / Ko To Tamo Peva? (1980), Glavonić smilingly admits that Slobodan Šijan was his professor and his hit used to be distributed in The Netherlands by the very Hubert Bals.
Switching the conversation to the political reality on the Balkans and the atmosphere of hostility surrounding The Load’s upcoming premiere in Serbia, Glavonić underlines the importance of art as a free territory: "If you have seven countries that used to be one, used to be one culture, I think Yugoslavia survived in this cultural space. Artists don’t have any problems speaking about this, having a dialogue, exchanging ideas, and also speaking truths that are not popular." In this sense, Leon Lučev’ Heart of Sarajevo for Best Actor, for his role in The Load, feels more than a nod of acknowledgement.
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Photo in header: Filmmaker Ognjen Glavonić of The Load