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At 73, Belgrade’s oldest cinema operator is celebrating 50 years of work - and is as devoted to his job now as he was on day one.
|Dragan Velickovic at work. | Photo by Jelena Cosic|
There was no reason to worry about whether Dragan Velickovic would be late for his interview.
This man is never late. Not by a minute. His job leaves no room for such excuses as traffic jams or bad weather.
As the cinema operator in the Cultural Centre of the Belgrade Movie Theatre, for 50 years he has never been late. Reminders of that fact bring a smile and a trace of pride to his face.
“I’ve never been late for work. Oh, no. I’d have a heart attack if I was. It would kill me,” he says.
“Imagine the whole cinema hall booing! And, if the first movie was not on time, I’d be late for the rest of the day,” says Velickovic, turning crimson at the thought.
He rolled his first movie in 1963 and this year marks a half-century behind the projector.
However, his appearance seems to beat the math. His straight back and easy steps as he goes up the stairs into his cabin might confuse those who try to work out how old he is.
His moves are quick, his reflexes fast, and his eye seems to spot every detail. His build remains athletic and not even his hair is completely grey.
Yet, in fact, he is 73, and the oldest cinema operator in the country.
“I have no time to grow old, I think about work all the time,” he says. “When there is an important screening, there’s a rush of adrenalin and it seems that this adrenaline doesn’t let my body grow old.”
During his career he has watched more than 30,000 movies, but although he loves all films his favourites are war movies and westerns.
“I have to watch the first projection of every film to check if everything is alright,” he explains.
“That means I see at least one film per day, but we often had three, four or five,” says Velickovic, whose favourite movie is The Violet Seller from 1958.
About a year ago, the movie theatre obtained a new digital projector, but Velickovic still prefers the old cinema projectors for 35mm tape.
On the wall hangs a calendar on which the dates of projections for 35mm tape are clearly marked. These are the days Velickovic is waiting for.
“I always loved 35mm projections and I love these machines,” he says. “When something is wrong with the digital projector, the screening has to be cancelled - but on my machines I can make it to the end of the movie, no matter what.”
For him, the theatre is like a child. And, indeed, he treats it just as lovingly. The grey paint on the 50-year-old projectors is spotless and shiny, and the old equipment looks as good and well preserved as the new digital items.
The movie theatre in which he has worked from day one is also where he met his wife, who worked at the ticket office. He considers it his second home.
The walls of the three small rooms where he works are covered with his family photographs, icons of St Petka and the Virgin Mary, and dozens of posters and pictures of Josip Broz Tito, former president of Yugoslavia.
Many Serbs may have turned against the memory of the old Communist leader, who was also a Croat, but he is not one.
“Tito was a hero. He fought for the rights of the workers,” he says with pride.
“I’m here in the city centre for 50 years now. I remember when people on the streets smiled and were merry. Today they are worried and grumpy, so tell me what is better – Tito or the multiparty system we have now?” he asks.
He explains that even the cinema audiences illustrate the great changes that have taken placed in society.
“I remember when people could just take some change from their pockets and go see a movie. Now that is not possible. People just cannot afford it,” he says.
“There are computers and DVD players now and the cinema is a thing for the wealthy,” Velickovic sighs.
However, he is pleased to be working at the Cultural Centre Movie Theatre and not for a private company.
“This cinema is preserved to promote art, that’s our role,” he says.
“That is why our tickets are among the cheapest and we don’t just screen blockbusters. Private companies can’t do that, their role is to earn money.”
After spending his life playing movies, Velickovic says he has no intention of stopping now. He does not dwell on the idea of being a pensioner.
“Never. I don’t acknowledge it. Some people love to play chess, some go to the kafana. But I love to come here and work,” he says.
“I left my youth here and I will leave my old days as well,” Velickovic concludes, without a trace of regret.
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Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin…