Let the Tragedy Speak for Itself

Boris Pavelic,
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 prison sentences.

Unseen Footage

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.

Devastating Details

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 town.

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 Zagreb.

"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.


Final Cut contending for the Heart of Sarajevo
On Monday, August 21, the 12th Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF) Documentary selection will screen a B92 production documentary directed by Janko Baljak: “Vukovar – Final Cut”. SFF Documentary selection will present the films that are mostly dealing with the subject of the quest for the truth. More...


Trailer - video clip [RealPlayer]

Serbian paramilitary forces - video clip [RealPlayer]

Đuro Hodak - video clip [RealPlayer]

Krmača - video clip [RealPlayer]