June 3, 2020

Interview for SEEMO with Pavo Marinković

First, as it would be good for our readers who do not understand Croatian and who have not seen your movie “Ministry of love”, if you can please describe as director short the movie, what is the idea when you decided to take the role of the director?

I wrote the script inspired by many absurdities of the Croatian law system, so it was pretty natural for me to direct it myself. As you probably know, Croatia is the only EU-country with significant numbers of war widows. These women receive pensions for their dead husbands. But since our new family law equalizes marriage and domestic partnership, it means that all widows who are living in domestic partnership with new partners could lose their pensions if the state can prove they now live in “sin”. So, in my film, which is completely fictional, the government establishes a group of inspectors who are supposed to investigate the widows. The protagonist of the film is one of the inspectors, who is actually a nice guy who is doing some bad things and in the end falls in love with one widow. Of course, there is a huge ethical problem. It is not a film about politics, it’s a film about people, about human urge to be loved, and not to be lonely.

In the movie-presentation on the official webpage is written: The wrong man. The wrong job. The wrong time. Was this a wrong time for the movie?

I do not think so. According to reactions, it was the exactly right time for the film. The film did not want to provoke, we wanted to make a smart comedy drama, not an activist movie, but it seems that it contains just the right dose of subversion to provoke people who feel that they have been attacked or mocked.

One of the actors is a veteran and participated in the war in the 90´. What was his view about the movie?

More actors from the film are war veterans. All of them liked the script and accepted their roles. One of the war veteran actors comes from the district where the film was mostly shot and he connected us with local people. We employed lots of local people, and some of them were participants of the war. During the filming, there were no complaints. Our collaboration was excellent.

Did you spoke with some veterans about the movie?

Well, apart from some actors, some of my friends were participants of the war. They embraced the film. We also had some festival screenings before our film distribution started. During Zadar Film Festival, we had one dislocated screening in a small town near Zadar. The screening was organized by a group of veterans, who also embraced the film. I was very much relieved after these screenings because I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The characters of the widows are presented as human and likeable, and the real bad guys are from the state bureaucracy.

Can you please tell us, what happened with your movie?

The world premiere of the film was in July 2016 at the Pula Film Festival. On this screening in Arena most of the audience (5.000 viewers) were overjoyed, we had 4,55 audience rating, the highest of all Croatian films in the Competition. But after that screening there was an open complaint from the Society of War Widows on the content of the film, although it was obvious that the people who wrote the letter did not see the film. This open letter was published on some obscure web portals, that usually represent nationalistic ideas. No one cared about this, I did not even know about it, till one journalist asked me in October 2016, just before our wide cinema release. Actually, no one cared much about it, we thought it was pretty marginal. In 2016 and 2017 we had a pretty good run on festivals, got some good reviews, sold the film to 3 territories, had cinema distribution in some foreign countries. It is also important to say that the film is a Croatian Czech coproduction, made also with European money from Eurimages. The TV broadcast was set for beginning of January in 2018 and HRT started to broadcast the film trailer, and after this the problems started.

Why it was not broadcasted as announced in Croatian public RTV HRT and the “story behind”.

On the morning of the day when the screening was announced, at the gate of HRT, the delegation of War Widows appeared, asking the Board of HRT to cancel the screening, scheduled for 21:00. And never again to screen the film which HRT itself co-produced. The executives decided to cancel the screening. One important Croatian film maker died at that time and they immediately changed the program, with the good “In Memoriam” excuse. I got the phone call from HRT and they told me, the actual reason for cancelling the film was the morning visit of the delegation of war widows. At the same time, the journalists started to call.
The next day, several news reports appeared, and War Veterans Societies did not try to hide the fact that they successfully interfered in HRT program, and that HRT executives obeyed. They were sort of proud. HRT gave a panicked statement which said that they had to check if the film has some content which is against the “broadcasting law”. They could not find anything wrong and, with some critical journalists reporting about the censorship, they decided to give the film a new shot, to postpone the screening for one week, and announced: next week, same time, 21:00…

Who attacked you directly in Croatia connected to this movie? Have you been attacked by some today or former politicians / ministers in the government?

During the week, in between those announced broadcasts, some right wing portals started a serious campaign against the film and myself, one TV show on a local station, moderated by a well known right extremist had a distasteful attack on the film, accusing me of Anti Croatian Propaganda, for being a ball-less war deserter, employing actors of Serbian origin. Well, I’ve got nothing against employing excellent Croatian actors of Serbian origin, I think doing the opposite would be an attack on human rights. Honestly, I think it is unbelievable that this can happen, in a EU country, right now.
During the whole campaign, I have been protected only by journalists and film making colleagues. Not a single word of any politicians. On the evening of the screening, some 100 protesters appeared, in front of the HTV building, war invalids, widows, trying to ban the film, insulting me, the Croatian Film Centre and HRT, because they opted to screen the film. In their threatening speeches, they announced that their Minister (the Minister for War Veterans) had promised them, that the film will never be screened on HRT. HRT decided to postpone the screening again, putting the film in the “adult slot”, at, 23:20.

Have you been informed about the changes or you learned about the changes like the rest of viewers of Croatian public RTV HRT? Who, according to your knowledge, decided about the changes in broadcasting?

The HRT executive board with the help of politicians. Several days after the scandal, media published the letter of the Minister for Veterans addressed to HRT executives, in which he was demanding to ban the film. The whole situation was absurd, because the program commissioners approved the film script and praised the film. They were the co-producers.

Do you think this was a political decision?

Of course it was a political decision. Our Minister of Culture is a lady not very popular in the circles of right extremists. But the protesters are represented in the government with the Minister for War Veterans, who has no knowledge about arts but has lots of experience in organizing war veterans’ protests against our previous government. I assume, it was a dispute between 2 political options, one centre right, pro European, and the other which is very nationalist, populist and aggressive, furiously fighting for their own privileges. But, of course, the public opinion is that these Veteran societies represent the minority of people who fought in the war.

Did someone contact you from HRT after all happened? Did someone in HRT supported you?

Some decent people did, but they do not have any power. I got information that the ratings were excellent, and later, we broke the record with “on demand” ratings. Thanks to the scandal – everybody saw the film. 2 weeks after, they called me from Drama Department and apologized for all the suffering. They reported that one of the Program Directors is sorry for what had been written and reported about the film. But a week later, another program director in the report he gave to the Program council gave the statement that the film should have never been screened because of its quality. I was shocked again, I thought after the reviews, ratings, awards and festivals you should not give such statements – above all, it was impolite. And makes my further professional life with the public broadcaster very difficult. But, the people in high positions should not mix with the “enemies of the state” like me, and this was the obvious path to save his job.

How was the reaction from your colleagues and media in Croatia?

Excellent, the Film Directors Society publicly supported me and the film and lots of colleagues supported me in separate interviews. And also intellectuals and columnists from different political positions, from centre right to the left protected the film and my dignity.

But again about the extremist in Croatia – they attacked your movie, and according to some of them, very clear independent from the fact, that they never have seen your movie. Is it not ridiculous?

It is ridiculous, but it is typical for a politically very much divided country with lots of uneducated people with many prejudices. It is also a game. This is a way to control art and culture, like in the old communist times. But this time from nationalistic positions. And in the country where most people do not have an opportunity to go to theatre or cinema – the TV screening presents danger. They thought if someone makes the story based on war privileges, even in fictional and comedic manner, it could be dangerous, too subversive. So, this kind of speech should be banned. Real disaster is that these have obvious support even in the government. Although, I have to say, the Minister of Culture, in her recent interview, was very much determined in defending my film and the freedom of speech in art. Without her determination, I do not think they would broadcast it.

What I am pretty certain, that “Ministry of Love” is abusive to no one. We were moving artistically on pretty slippery territory, but lots of screenings really gave me the right to be sure – we did not hurt anyone’s feelings. To make it more absurd – now we were screened on “Common Good Film Festival” in USA. This is completely opposite of what I have been accused of.

In Croatia some people coming from the conservative-right groups see the movie as “anti-Croatian propaganda”. Some of the extremist attacked you as “pro-Yugoslav”, a description that is for us outside former Yugoslavia not understandable, but that is used in Croatia by the right-extremist if someone should be a really enemy of the country. What would be your answer?

Well, it is the same accusation as before. In communist times, everyone who was anti-communist was the enemy of the state, and this is typical state of mind for a country with immature democratic values. Now, if they feel you mock any “sacred cows” of national revolution or pride – you will immediately be pronounced as “pro-Yugoslav”, as the prime “enemy of the state”. This is someone who has nostalgic thoughts about the dead country. For sure, I do not have any, with several victims of terror in my family. But this is the old Stalinist method, functioning very well in new democracies.
But what these proud nationalists do not understand is that this type of behaviour actually harms your own country.

But why this “pro-Yugoslav” description, when we all know that the former Yugoslavia, with the borders including all 6 republics, is not more existing since 1991. Why Yugoslavia plays still an important role for the right extremist in Croatia?

It is very simple. Someone who is not patriotic enough is usually accused as being pro-Yugoslav. Of course, this is crazy, but efficient in accusing the people who think opposite of proscribed ideology.

You movies were presented on international festivals in many countries. What is the situation with festivals in Croatia? As we know, one other your movie was co-produced by Croatian public RTV HRT, but broadcasted by TV in Czech Republic, never on Croatia public RTV HRT? Why?

5 years ago, I made a documentary about our famous film director Lordan Zafranović, who was very successful in the 70s and the 80s. But because of his political views, which were communistic and he was opposed to the idea of independent state, he never got the chance to work in Croatia again and started to be “persona non grata”. My personal motif was not rehabilitation of a failed soul, but the belief that real democracy should be inclusive, and no one should be banned from work because his political beliefs started to be “out of mainstream”. The 2 of us are very different, I come from liberal intellectual background, he comes from communist working class background, and this encounter was interesting. The film was screened on Karlovy Vary FF, was also in Sarajevo but although Czech TV screened it several times, HRT, who was the co-producer never broadcast it. They did not give me an explanation. Now, the whole situation is so poisoned and politically divided, that the film would be misinterpreted.

How you see the media situation in Croatia today?

Public broadcaster HRT is on a huge downfall. There is lots of negative selection there, lots of quality people have left. And if you are not confident and competent, you are afraid that someone else will come and take your job. So, there is no vision and courage there. People are afraid. There is more freedom in the other media, but also lots of bad taste, and lots of hate speech. But I was impressed with our newspaper journalists and columnists – without them, the “Ministry of Love” would perhaps be the first forbidden Croatian film.

How you see the role of civil society in Croatia?

The situation has changed a lot. Independent conservative initiatives are getting much more subsidiaries than before and are much more present in media. There has always been too much clientelism, and now, as a consequence, the cultural politics and civil society has to survive the difficult blows from extreme conservatives. Some books have been burned publicly, recently.

Some people have the feeling that we have again after years, a stronger right-extremism in Croatia today. How you see it?

Yes, but not only in Croatia. In our country, it only looks wilder and more dangerous because of the recent war experience. People are more passionate about it. But this should not be a comfort for anyone. The extreme conservative initiatives, mixed with right extremism, were started as a political protest weapon against social democratic government. And now, it is everywhere. Politicians need votes. And of course, there is the bad economic situation, people are frustrated, and this frustration, and also disappointment, is being channeled through extreme right-wing ideas.

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