There’s no shortage of film magic in Belgrade. Festivals, really well selected, follow each other in a close, monthly rotation: Festival of Author Film, Free zone, Merlinka, The Short Meter. There are treats for every palate. Still, the father of all these film exhibitions is Fest. The first one took place from 8 to 16 January 1971 in Dom Sindikata. It opened with “MASH” by Robert Altman. Within five programmes, 73 films were shown to 105,000 cinema-goers. This started an avalanche and four years later, a record was achieved when 252,332 people bought tickets.
The festival of world’s best films, the popular Fest, or Festival of Festivals, emerged spontaneously, riding a wave of success of Politika’s review of film reruns, held in 1970 in the hall of Cultural Centre in Belgrade. Although these were films that had already gone through theatres that year, people stormed this review in such numbers that on the first day, the glass on the box office broke under the pressure of curious viewers. Realizing the audiences were starved – fed with bread but lacking in games, the vice-chairman of Belgrade Milan Vukos offered the producer of the review, Politika’s journalist Milutin Čolić, a chance to produce a real festival – at any cost!
And so, on January 8, under the slogan “The brave new world”, a new chapter in history was opened.
At a time when practically all major film festivals in the world were being abandoned by their audiences and some, like the one in Venice, even shut down, a miracle of considerable magnitude occurred in Belgrade – the audiences were literally fighting for tickets. There is no doubt that one of the reasons for such interest was that new films, at that time, had to wait as long as a year to appear in our repertoires. At a time when there was absolutely no other way to see new films, Fest was the shortcut to what was hot and fresh in the world. We were suddenly able to watch all that was being shown in New York, Paris and London. And that is practically the entire marketing background of the enormous success of Fest in its early years. Of course, there were films but also renowned guests, who would never again visit these parts of the world, and who helped spur the idea that Belgrade was the world. And Belgrade was the world, and it would only become more of a world.
Robert de Niro came to Fest twice, in 1976 and 1978. While his first visit hardly raised any interest among the press, the second time he came he was one of the main stars. He then told the story of his first visit to Yugoslavia, when he was twenty years old in 1963, when he found himself in Niš without a penny. Fortunately for him, a local man from Niš welcomed him into his home, fed him and let him spend the night!
The shot in which Milena Dravić and Dragan Nikolić recite “Oh, the Fest, oh, the Fest, I feel a tightness in my chest!” in a TV commercial will forever remain engraved in the memory of all film fans.
Many a great world actor and director has had their name added to the history of the festival, as its guest: Marcello Mastroianni, Harvey Keitel, Liv Ullmann, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sophia Loren, Robert de Niro, Antonioni, Johnny Depp, Miloš Forman, Catherine Deneuve, Wim Wenders, Abbas Kiarostami, Hanna Schygulla.
This year, Fest is wearing some new clothes, once again waiting for the glass on the box offices to implode.
More on: https://www.fest.rs/Program
By: Aleksandar Đuričić
Photo: Fest photo team