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The premiere of the Macedonian movie “The Third Half”, which has already sparked controversy in neighbouring Bulgaria, has received a standing ovation at the Bitola film festival.
The movie, set against the background of the WW2 deportation and destruction of Macedonia’s Jewish community, had its premiere at the opening of the 33rd Manaki Brothers film festival on Saturday.
Some members of the audience were moved to tears by the film.
“The Third Half’, directed by Darko Mitrevski, which depicts a love story between Kosta and Rebeka, is based on the true story of a young girl from a rich Jewish family who fell in love with a poor Macedonian football player. She managed to evade deportation to Treblinka after eloping with her lover.
The film also tells the true story of a Macedonian football team, coached by a Jew, Iljesh Spic, which competed in Bulgaria’s national football league during the occupation.
The team from an unrecognized nation, led by a Jew whose kinsmen were being murdered by the Nazis, became champions.
At the premiere, Mitrevski dedicated the movie to Neta Cohen, the woman whose life story had inspired his work.
“I saw a lot of black and white photos of her deceased family. Among them, there was only one colour photo, with her living sons, daughters, grandchildren. She said that they were the fruits of her forbidden love. Once I heard her story… I knew that I had the last scene of my next feature film,” said Mitrevski.
The premiere saw unprecedented interest from Bulgarian journalists who flocked to Bitola after the movie provoked controversy there, even before its release.
In November, three Bulgarian MEPs, Evgeni Kirilov, Andrey Kovatchev and Stanimir Ilchev, accused the movie of disinformation and of defaming their country by indicating that Bulgarians had assisted with the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Nazi death camps.
“We are again witnessing one of many cases of Macedonia promoting its identity through false history,” the MEPs then wrote to the European Commissioner, Stefan Fuele.
Bulgaria refused to deport its own Jews to its then Axis ally, Nazi Germany. But it did deport the Jews from Macedonia, which it occupied after the fall of Yugoslavia in 1941.
On the night of March 10, 1943, police loyal to the royal government in Sofia apprehended almost the entire Jewish population of Macedonia. The victims were put onto cattle wagons and transported by train to the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland where almost all of them were exterminated.
Only 2 per cent of Macedonia’s 7,200 Jews escaped slaughter by going into hiding or joining the Partisan resistance.
Some historians suggest that the Macedonian Jews might have been sacrificed as compensation for Bulgaria’s failure to hand over its own Jews to Nazi Germany.
The Manaki Brothers festival continues until September 21, when another Macedonian movie premiere, “The Balkan is Not Dead” by Aleksandar Popovski, will close the festival.
Until then, audiences can see up to 70 movies in nine different competitions, including 28 Macedonian films. The festival also features more than 200 guest appearances, and a series of workshops and conferences.
Catherine Deneuve will be the star guest of the 33rd Edition of the International Cinematographers festival, Manaki Brothers, which takes place in Bitola from September 15-21.
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