Dear filmmakers and friends of cinema, it gives me great pleasure and honour, as a “friend of Slovenian cinema”, to be the guest of honour at the 24th Festival of Slovenian Film Portorož.

Serbian cinema is connected with Slovenia in many wonderful ways. And vice-versa. In Serbia, we say “Niko nije prorok u svom selu”, or “Nobody is a prophet in their own land”. So when the great director, my friend Živojin Pavlović was repeatedly prevented from making films in Serbia for political reasons, he sought and found work in Slovenia. On the other hand, my dear Slovenian friend Karpo Godina started his professional career as a camera operator and director in Serbia, where he became part of the ‘Black Wave’. For reasons still incomprehensible to me, this resulted in a ban on screening his film Nedostaje mi Sonja Henie, or I Miss Sonja Henie, made during FEST 1971 in Belgrade, which went on for decades. Such were the times…

I’ve received my first lifetime achievement award in Slovenia rather than in Serbia. It was in 2007 at the exciting festival of film and wine in Ljutomer, the birthplace of Slovenian cinema that was home to Dr Karol Grossmann, the pioneer of Slovenian cinema the festival is named after. This is how I discovered the beautiful region of Prlekija, which I’ve since visited almost every year. The good spirt of the Belgrade Black Wave, Branko Vučićević, wrote the script titled ‘Umetni raj’, or ‘Artificial Paradise’, about Karol Grossmann spending time with Fritz Lang in Ljutomer, where Lang was on his military service back in Austria-Hungary, and Karpo turned the script into a beautiful film. We all drank the same—white wine from Sipon grapes from Prlekija.

In the 70s, the doyen of Slovenian film criticism, Jože Dolmark, did his military service in Belgrade. We would hang out in the cinematheque, sharing our views on all the U.S. and French films we had seen. It was a time of struggles for fair treatment of genre films, which at the time were frowned upon by the established local film critics with a background in East European socially engaged cinema and its values. After Dolmark returned to Slovenia, he collaborated with Zdenko Vrdlovec, a fellow traveller of ours, in turning our excitement for the humorous films by František Čap, an underrated filmmaker in Yugoslavia at the time, into one of the first books dedicated to a Yugoslavian filmmaker. This unity in the struggle for universal values of all, not just “art” films, could also be seen from our writing in Ekran, a Slovenian film magazine that still exists today.

Finally, many Serbian actors have played the leading roles in some of the key Slovenian films, and worked with the best Slovenian directors – Ljubiša Samardžić with Boštjan Hladnik, Sonja Savić with Jan Cvitkovič, etc. Appearing in the leading roles in Sedmina (Funeral Feast) by Matjaž Klopčič are Milena Dravić, Snežana Nikšić, and formerly Zagreb-based, now American Serb, Rade Šerbedžija. Needless to say, it was also the other way around. Miha Baloh and Špela Rozin, two of the most beautiful Yugoslav film stars, made frequent appearances in Serbian films.

It seems as if we’ve liked each other.

Slobodan Šijan