Interview 16 Sep 13

BITEF Strikes a Political Note

Despite cuts in funds, Serbia’s most important theatre festival boasts a formidable selection of plays, mostly dealing with political issues, festival art director Jovan Cirilov says.

Nemanja Cabric
Jovan Cirilov, the veteran theatre critic who selected the plays with Anja Suša. | Photo by Beta

Audiences attending the 47th Belgrade International Theatre Festival, BITEF, have chance to see 12 international, regional and domestic plays whose topics range from the assassination of a Serbian Prime Minister to global policy and decision making.

From September 22nd to October 1st, BITEF will present four European, four regional and four Serbian plays at several venues in Belgrade and the country’s second city, Novi Sad.

Jovan Cirilov, the veteran theatre critic who selected the plays with Anja Suša, explains that the festival’s slogan, “It is hard to be,” reflects the tough times that the organisers experienced in organising the festival with reduced financial help from the state.

“BITEF could not avoid being political when there are so many good political plays,” he observed.

“One of the artistic peaks of that political tendency is the Hungarian play ‘It is Hard to Be a God’, which sharply deals with transition and the challenges it can bring about. Thus we decided to use a part of the name of that play for this year's festival,” he explained.

“It’s hard to be in a time of crisis. It is hard to make a festival in such a time also,” he added.

Cirilov admits that this year’s programme has fewer plays than in the past, but says most of them demonstrate remarkable artistic quality in dealing with current issues such as the financial and social crisis.

Programme of the 47th BITEF

“Before Your Very Eyes”

Campo (Gent, Belgium), Gob Squad (Berlin, Germany)

Venue: Terazije Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 22nd and 23rd at 8 pm


Reduta Theatre (Brno, Czech Republic)

Venues: Atelje 212 (Belgrade), Serbian National Theatre (Novi Sad)

Date and time: September 23rd and 24th at 8pm


Compagnie Espace Commun (Paris, France)

Date and time: September 25th at 8 pm

“Post Scriptum”

Montenegrin National Theatre (Podgorica, Montenegro)

Venue: National Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 26th at 6 pm


Montažstroj (Zagreb, Croatia)

Venue: National Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time:  September 26th at 8 pm


Via Negativa (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Venue: Bitef Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 27th at 6pm

“The Storm”

Mesno Gledališče Ljubljansko (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Venue: Yugoslavian Drama Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 27th at 8 pm

“Woman in the Parliament”

National Theatre (Subotica, Serbia)

Venue: Cultural Institution Vuk Kadadžić (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 28th at 6 pm

“Zoran Đinđić”

Atelje 212 (Belgrade, Serbia)

Venue: Atelje 212 (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 28th at 8pm

“To Kill Zoran Đinđić”

Student Cultural Centre (Novi Sad, Serbia)

Venue: Metalex hall (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 28th at 10pm

“The Seagull”

Serbian National Theatre (Novi Sad, Serbia)

Venue: Yugoslavian Drama Theatre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 29th at 5pm

“It is Hard to Be a God”

Proton Cinema + Theatre (Budapest, Hungary)

Venue: Cargo Logistic Centre (Belgrade)

Date and time: September 30th and October 1st at 8 pm

“As one of my friends, an economist, once said, the fact that there is never enough money draws people forwards,” he said.

“In the same way, we could always use a 10 or 20-per-cent increase in funding, so everything would be perfect. However we have to work in the given circumstances,” he added.

Cirilov maintains that selectors opted for a reduced number of plays because, “It is not all about quantity or receiving more or less funds.”

He believes that there are many good plays addressing political issues because there are “so many social problems that need attending to.

“It is impossible for theatre to be apolitical,” he added.

“For example, when one of the most abstract dramas, such as ‘Waiting for Godot’, premiered first in Poland (in 1957) and then later on in Serbia, audiences received it as a political drama because pessimism was forbidden by the official optimism of Socialist Realism.

“That is why all of the plays (in the repertoire) carry some kind of political message, whether an intentional one, or referring to some of the issues that trouble certain societies,” he said.

“For example, the Czech drama Europeana deals with the futility of world forums, the clichés of behaviour, the endless meetings that seem more like beating a dead horse.

“It is an extraordinary play, dealing with the pointlessness of such world forums, which is a topical issue, because they spend millions and billions.”

Cirilov singled out the play “Before Your Very Eyes”, a German/Belgian coproduction that will open this year's BITEF, as an example of a different kind of political message.

“It is a highly unusual play because it deals with political issues from the angle of children that are precocious and interested in the problems that trouble adults,” he explained. “It’s a fresh approach to the topic of families and generations.”

Domestic political plays include “Women in the Parliament,” as well as two shows dealing with the assassination of the late prime minister and founder of the Democratic Party, Zoran Đinđic.

“It is amazing that Sterijino Pozorje (the well-known theatre festival held in Novi Sad in May) did not select these plays,” he observed. “It’s probably because the Democratic Party is not in government. However, we decided to correct that injustice in some way.”

Cirilov added: “I also think that those two plays deserve to be at BITEF because they represent a political play made at a high artistic level at the same time as dealing with an event that happened in the recent past, which is even rarer.”

Zoran Đinđic,” by Oliver Frljic, is a portrait of the late Prime Minister, while Zlatko Pakovic’s play leaves Đinđic off the stage in order to present the atmosphere around the assassination, and explain how the murderers obtained their motive.

“Pakovic's play, “To Kill Zoran Đinđic,” reveals their psychology, how they became what they are, on which poles their opinions stand,” he explained.

One of the curiosities of this year’s BITEF is also the French play “Belgrade”, because it is the work of artists who have never been to Belgrade and who have tried to produce a show about a place they never visited.

“Belgrade is mentioned a lot in French history books, and they made the play based on their researches. They will visit the city for the first time during the festival,” Cirilov noted.

Besides the main programme, the festival offers two framework programmes. BITEF Polyphony will be held at Dom Kulture, and will include seminars and workshops where young people read out theatre plays and discuss them.

The other framework programme, BITEF On Film, will present movies by Man Ray, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Luchino Visconti and Gerd Oswald.

Cirilov concludes that the festival has always been proud of the fact that it is “somewhat more independent of those in power than the other festivals and cultural institutions“, but says its future greatly depends on political circumstances and on which political option is in power in the coming years.

 “It is hard. Not only to be a God, but to exist at all,“ he concluded.


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