Let the Tragedy Speak for Itself
Novi list, http://www.novilist.hr
Anyone who wants to talk about the Vukovar tragedy won't be able
to do so in the future without watching the documentary Vukovar:
Final Cut by Osijek journalist Drago Hedl and Belgrade director
Janko Baljak. With a budget of around 150,000 euros within a project
titled Independents for the Truth, launched in 2001 by head of the
Belgrade production house B92 Veran Matic, it is most certainly
the most ambitious and professional film about one of the biggest
war tragedies in former Yugoslavia.
"We launched the 'Independents for the Truth' project in
an attempt to uncover as many crimes in recent wars as possible,
because we realised that no one will form a Truth Committee',"
explained Veran Matic for our paper. Some films from the project
had quite palpable judicial consequences: after the showing of The
Abduction documentary, about the murders of 16 Muslims from Sandzak
in 1993, the perpetrators were caught and convicted to long term
Vukovar: Final Cut, unfortunately or luckily, is shot too late
to have the criminals apprehended after its showing, but it still
revealed a lot of previously unknown details which could assist
in the process of uncovering the truth. It was filmed using an extremely
factualist method, without a single piece of authorial commentary.
On the contrary, the events are allowed to "speak for themselves"
through witnesses and archive footage, and the light is shed on
the events on both warring sides.
A special value to the film is added by previously unseen footage
because it deepens the existing, often one-dimensional and ideologized
image of events coming from both sides. During the moving two hours
of the film, the most dramatic are the sequences shot immediately
after the siege, when rampant occupiers are disarming the defenders
without control, and civilians are coming out of the basements.
Some of them – probably Serbs – are hugging the Yugoslav Army soldiers,
while others – probably Croats – are crying disconsolately.
Then comes the denunciation: women and men inform against their
neighbours with whom they went through an ordeal together in the
basements, accusing them of harassment. A viewer will be overwhelmed
by trepidation while he watches a captured civilian visibly shaking
with fear as he is forced to admit to the occupying soldier that
his son "slit throats and burnt houses".
And after that, the looting: former participants in the siege
confirm the robbing, in which "gold and cash" were first
to be taken, then kitchen appliances, and then everything else.
"That did it for me. Then and there I decided I will not take
part any more. It was not a victory for me, it was defeat,"
says one of the participants in the raid.
But testimonies do not end with perpetrators: you have a curiously
interesting tiny detail in which General Nebojsa Pavkovic winks
conspiratorially to Veselin Sljivancanin while in front of cameras,
only a few hours before the massacre in Ovcara, they lie how they
would provide buses for peaceful transport of the wounded out of
On the other hand, defenders are depicted without mythological
euphoria, based on their own statements, but also testimonies of
opponents who were stunned by the ferocity of the town's defence.
The last commander of the defence, Branko "Young Hawk"
Borkovic, telling the story about the defence of the Trpinska road,
reveals that the reward for one destroyed tank was – one cigarette,
and for one plane down – the whole pack. "I lost hope several
days before the fall itself. I was bitter, because I was this close
to victory," says Young Hawk.
Authors did not shy away even from the biggest controversies of
the Vukovar story: the massacre of twelve policemen in Borovo Selo
and the period of Mercep's rule, up to October 11, 1991. The massacre
in Borovo Selo is shown through testimonies of Croatian defenders
and Borovo civilians. Tomislav Mercep revealed that after the crime
he arranged a truce with Serbian commander of Borovo Selo Vukasin
Soskocanin, but that Soskocanin was killed the very next day under
mysterious circumstances. "No one wanted peace" said Mercep.
However, the viewer would also learn that under his rule as much
as 126 people had gone missing.
Huge Interest, Negotiations on Cinema Distribution
Vukovar: Final Cut premiered two nights ago in Zagreb. The screening
of the two-hour film was attended by the largest audience at this
year's Zagrebdox. The viewers, for which there were not enough seats
in the Tuskanac cinema theatre, watched the film in absolute silence.
Only an occasional loud sigh would accompany the most shocking scenes,
such as the one in which a striking young soldier, while looking
for his grandfather and grandmother in the sea of corpses, coldly
pushes away heads of the other dead with his boot.
Due to a huge interest of the public, yesterday's rerun of the
film was also sold out, which is why another screening was organized,
scheduled for today in Europa. Zagrebdox's press service says that
even that one was almost sold out by yesterday afternoon.
The organizers could not tell with any degree of certainty if
the citizens of other Croatian cities would be able to see Vukovar
as well or the privilege would be restricted only to the capital
"Negotiations on cinema distribution and a possible premiere
on national television are underway, but the outcome of those negotiations
remains to be seen," says ZGdox representative Oliver Sertic.
However, whether the best films from the festival, whose authors
were awarded last night, would be shown elsewhere, for example in
Rijeka and Split, is even less certain. Organizing of the screening
requires agreements between production houses of each film and distribution
houses all over Croatia, which is quite a demanding job.
Defenders: Causes of War Inaccurate
Marko Babic, Blago Zadra's deputy at the Trpinska road, told our
paper he was dissatisfied with the way the Borovo Selo massacre
was presented, because the film does not mention that the policemen
were sent there to release two of their colleagues captured by Chetniks.
Babic also thinks that the causes of the war in the town were
depicted in a way which equalizes responsibility, which is unacceptable
for him. "They were armed to their teeth, and we were unarmed.
You don't see that," assessed Babic, who thinks that the attack
on Vukovar could not have been avoided with any kind of peacefulness,"
because everything was planned out beforehand in Belgrade.
Zeljko Komsic, one of the commanders of the defence of Mitnica,
has objections to the choice of witnesses, and partially agrees
with Babic's assessment. But, Komsic thinks that, as the film goes
on, the whole picture gets increasingly better and the overall impression
is that it is an honest and professional film.