Janko’s Super Space interview answers were translated/adopted from his recent interview to 42 Magazine, written by Milena Matovic.
Janko Baljak is an award-winning director, professor, artist and a tireless activist in efforts to promote and save Serbian culture, art and film heritage. Imagine Janko Baljak as a knight on a white horse, riding tirelessly on a mission to save our imagination, while he gallops courageously over piles and piles of harsh reality. This imaginary knight possesses a clear mind instead of the spear and his shield is pure art, through which he channels all images from life. In this conversation, Janko Baljak reflects on his early work in film, most specifically, events and experiences that shaped him as an artist and a human.
What fuels your desire to create?
Making a movie in Serbia today involves so much more than simply having/believing in your story or idea; making a movie in Serbia today is not for the faint of heart because it involves a true, devoted, courageous and fierce fight for what you believe in. Making a movie for any director requires courage and determination, but to do it in Serbia today, it feels like going into a long battle. This battle requires all you have to give - one’s patience and a long time focus/perseverance. This battle has an outcome that is uncertain, and much more uncertain than ever before.
You are an artist, director, and professor at the Belgrade Academy of Dramatic Arts. Your work in film has been awarded nationally and internationally. You direct documentaries as well as feature films and every movie you have made so far has won an award. How did you become interested in documentary movies?
To answer this question, I must first say that the first decision I made was to stay in this country, in turbulent times when all of us were faced with a question: Should I stay or should I go? This decision shaped my life both privately and artistically. In the 90's, very much like today, so many talented people left Yugoslavia. There is such a staggering number of people who left; many of my classmates, my good friends, my colleagues, art directors, producers, etc. Many of them are successful today, and live and work mostly in L.A. or Vancouver, as well as other cities. A whole generation of artists has left the country.
My decision to stay was influenced by my feeling at the time - that I have already started a career of some sort. I felt this way at this early age of my artistic development because some of my work was already shot, produced and broadcasted on television. I felt I was lucky to be given opportunities to create; I felt that what I started at that young stage of my work already resonated with my inner sense of truth, with the community and the audience. Once I made this decision and stayed in Yugoslavia, this country became for me, the most interesting country in the world. It seems that for me in this lifetime, the decision to stay was a natural and the only one.
I started to make documentaries after I finished my studies at Academy of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. Since I was a student, things have shifted a bit more there towards teaching documentary filmmaking, so today, directing students can get in-depth training in making documentaries, as well as directing feature films. It is inspiring to me that in recent years my students have been very passionate about documentary film (this form was not as popular in the past when a film maker could relatively speaking, with ease, win a budget to shoot a feature film, sometimes even soon after graduating Academy). I love to teach documentary form, so this shift makes me happy. The shift towards excitement about documentary work was wonderful to observe, and of course it is much easier for students to find funds to make this particular form, and so expressing themselves as artists/directors. My students today understand that is it vital to start making your work as soon as possible, with what you can and however you can, in any shape or form, rather than waiting endlessly for imaginary millions in their feature film budget.
Where were you finding inspiration during your early work in 90's? What are you inspired now?
I live in the center of Belgrade today as I did during the 90's. In those days, living this close to all the happenings in city center gave a person a unique opportunity to feel always in the midst of action. I almost did not need to go out, I could open my window, take my camera and start shooting a documentary. All demonstrations and events that were happening were so exciting and interesting that were all almost cursed to live in “interesting times." There is a saying: “Lucky nations have a boring history."
We all have a choice to decide to some extent about our life and my decision was to say here. I was one of the founders of film production B-92. In our first production, there were some of my early documentaries. B-92 and Studio B, that I was also fortunate to work for, produced my films and I felt such a feeling of ease while working there. I experienced a freedom bubble - a safe space to create. I never felt any political censorship and my work was thriving. I was able to make what I wanted, and how I wanted it with the utmost creative authority and this gave me wings to create. I felt inspired and I continued to make documentaries; sadly my films were dealing with unpleasant, harsh, truthful, and painful social/political subjects.
Documentary film is often inspired by harsh painful and difficult political and social subjects. How much space does this leave you to express any personal truths?
During the 90's, I started teaching at the Academy. Due to many events, demonstrations, upheavals, and economic crises, we did not have even one academic year that was peaceful, steady and flowing uninterrupted from start to finish. We as faculty were scrambling to complete each school year due to many ongoing student protests, demonstrations, the Nato bombing in 1999, economic crisis, etc. In those days, I noticed that our directing students were making movies that were escapist in nature - movies that were far removed from any reality and that provided a creative escape for many of them from the chaos that was happening in the country. I understand this creative and human response to upheaval. My own choice and inner response as an artist, however, was always opposite. I feel passionately that for any artist, it is vital to be an activist, too.
I am interested only in documentary film that is engaged and speaks to present moments in society and the world today. I am interested in film that breaks walls, taboos, and speaks the deepest truth of the director making it. I am passionate about film that is courageous enough to speak the unpleasant truth, truth that no one wants to see or hear. I make films that take my deepest need, from the core of my being, from my gut, and hopefully transform this inner passion and bring it to the surface. By bringing it to the surface, I attempt to do good, to shed light on painful topics, to speak the truth, to transform or transcend the present moment. I am passionate about this.
To read a full interview with Director Janko Baljak, in Serbo-Croatian, please visit: http://42magazin.rs/janko-baljak-stvarnost-pravi-najbolje-filmove/
In 2017, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2017.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2017
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.