Born in Niš, 1942. Žilnik is a Yugoslav-Serbian filmmaker who rose to prominence in the late 1960s during the era of the Yugoslav Black Wave in cinema.

He is noted for his radical, independent film practice and his pioneering use of hybrid nonfiction forms; he is also distinguished by his sociocritical views and solidarity with movements against the status quo. In the 21st century he has been celebrated with major career retrospectives all over the world and is now recognized as one of the most important politically-engaged European filmmakers working today.


An Online Conversation with Želimir Žilnik

On 19 September 2020, starting at 6 pm, Ivana Marjanović, a curator from Belgrade and director of Kunstraum Innsbruck in Austria, will interview Želimir Žilnik, the filmmaker from Novi Sad.

Želimir Žilnik (born 1942, based in Novi Sad) is the author of numerous feature and documentary films, one of the pioneers of the docudrama genre, and winner of multiple awards at various Yugoslav and international film festivals. Žilnik has been active since the 1960s, ever since the Black Wave movement in Yugoslav cinema, and remains active today.

Three films by Žilnik – one featuring textile workers (Vera and Eržika, 1981) who seek to retire but it turns out that their many years of employment are not duly recognised; the second film features a Roma man deported to Serbia from the EU, who desperately tries to return to Germany (The Kenedi Trilogy , 2003–2007); the third film concerns Dragica Srzentić, a centenarian veteran from the People’s Liberation Struggle, i.e. WWII in Yugoslavia (A Woman – A Century, 2011) – these three films by Žilnik will form the starting point for a discussion about heroism and its contradictions.

Why is someone a “criminal” and someone else a “hero”? How is it possible that one and the same person is celebrated as a heroine at a certain historical juncture, but then soon ends up in prison, subjected to the most brutal kinds of torture? What do heroes reveal about the societies that produce them?

Many of Žilnik’s films are situated at the very boundary of film as fiction and concrete reality. What makes them perennial sources of interest for local and international audiences alike is the power of his characters. The main characters in all three films are real people, who testify to some of the problems and contradictions of their time. However badly the system seeks to grind them into submission, they manage to keep their dignity and power, and with that they inspire others.

Ivana Marjanović holds a degree in art history from the University of Belgrade and a doctoral degree from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. During the mid-2000s, along with Vida Knežević, she co-founded and managed Kontekst, a gallery in Belgrade. In 2016–2018 she worked with Nataša Mačkuljak as director of the Vienna Art Festival and Wienwoche Festival for Art and Activism. In mid 2019, she became director of Kunstraum Innsbruck, which is currently hosting an exhibition by Siniša Ilić, an artist from Belgrade. 


Vera and Eržika, 75 min, 16 mm, color, Yugoslavia, 1981.
The two heroines of the film, Vera and Eržika, have been working for “Trudbenik” textile factory in Pančevo since they were thirteen. Now that they are almost retired they face numerous problems and misunderstandings. According to the decisions of the newly adopted Law on pension, only work from the age of fifteen is recognized. In order for the two of them to go to retirement they formally need two more years to work. Starting from this problem as the source of the dramatic conflict, the film represents emotional states of the heroines, their families, relationships with their colleagues, a spectrum of moods and thoughts of people who have come to the end of their working age.

One Woman – One Century, Serbia, 2011
This is a documentary film based on statements, interviews and reconstruction. The life story of Dragica Srzentić casts the light on a number of events and persons relevant for Yugoslav history before and after World War II. The look at a century-long life of a woman-hero gives us an insight into the rarely mentioned segments of ex-Yugoslav intellectual and ideological maze of the eight states in which this Istrian-born woman has lived (Austria-Hungary, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, NDH, FNRJ, SFRJ, Croatia, Serbia).
In view of Dragica Srzentić’s experiences as a member of the Yugoslav resistance during the Nazi occupation, her frequent uttered remark is more than a comment on her own longevity. One woman – one century: a personal account inseparable from the turbulent history of Eastern Europe during World War Two and the aftermath. The interviewee went underground, fled, got arrested and tortured, cheated death more than once. Yet her words resonate with humor and dignity rather than anger or sadness. Želimir Žilnik gives Srzentić’s stories time, supplementing them with footage of his subject’s journey to a parade in Moscow or inserting animated sequences that underscore her achievements.

Kenedi Goes Back Home, 75 min, Serbia and Montenegro, 2003.
This film is about people who emigrated to European countries during the war years of the nineties. They have lived there for years, had children and took them to schools. In 2002 they were in the “process of readmission” – in a severe and inhumane police actions they were collected from work, from schools and their homes and returned to Serbia. This is the story of two friends (Kenedi and Denis) and Ibinci family from Kostolac during the first couple of days after they were returned at the Belgrade airport. We see them trying to find accommodation, searching for friends and other family members. Kenedi goes to Kosovska Mitrovica where his family used to have a house, to which he now does not have access. The focus of the film is on the position of the Roma people as the most endangered part of the returned population.

Kenedi, Lost and Found, 26 min, Serbia and Montenegro, 2005.
After his participation in filming of “Kenedi Goes Back Home”, Kenedi Hasani decided to illegally go to EU countries where his father, mother, brothers and sisters still are. During one of his illegal crossings of the Hungarian-Austrian border in 2003, he is captured by the border police and spends a couple of months in a refugee camp. Then he manages to escape to Austria and then to Germany and Holland. The film crew meets him in Vienna in January 2005 at the showing of “Kenedi Returns Home” at the University. The documentary recounts Kenedi’s experience of his two-year refugee status. The team witnesses his return to Serbia. The protagonist decides to build a house in Novi Sad, because the other members of the family are in the “process of readmission” and are arriving soon.

Kenedi is Getting Married, 80 min, Serbia, 2007.
Kenedi is in a huge debt after building a house for his family. He finds himself searching for any kind of work to support himself, for as little as 10 EUR per day, a scarce amount to help him relief his debt. Ultimately, Kenedi decides to look for money in sex business. Initially offering his services to older ladies and widows, he expands his ‘business’ to offer sex to wealthy men. When he finds out about new liberal European laws on gay marriages, Kenedi sees prospects in looking for a “marriage material”, to renew his search for a legal status in EU. The opportunity arises during EXIT Music Festival, when he meets Max, a guy from Munich. But will their promising relationship bring the solution to Kenedi’s problems?

More information about Želimir Žilnik: