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The trailer for a Slovene docudrama that suggests America bought its space programme from Tito’s Yugoslavia has had almost a million net views. Balkan Insight spoke to authors Bostjan and Ziga Virc.
Two young Slovenian film makers, Bostjan and Ziga Virc, have not only given a new dimension to conspiracy theories about President Tito's role in the Cold War era space race. They have also created one of the most significant Internet phenomena in years.
Judging by the immense popularity on the Internet of the trailer for their forthcoming film, hundreds of thousands of ex-Yugoslavs appear fascinated by the idea that their country played a key role in the space race – and that Americans only landed on the Moon thanks to a programme secretly purchased from what was then a Communist country.
The Virc brothers freely admit that they are combining fiction with facts in Houston, We Have a Problem, which intends to claim that a Yugoslav space programme was sold to Washington just years before Apollo landed on the Moon.
Key “facts” behind the project are documents that testify that Yugoslavia was buying rockets from the US, the existence of an underground military base near Bihac, in northwest Bosnia, and Tito's visits to the US space agency NASA.
The authors pay particular attention to a claim that Tito received a rock from the Moon from the crew of Apollo 11.
Media in the region are having a field day guessing how much money the US might have paid for this hitherto unknown Yugoslav space programme, hosting shows where experts discuss Yugoslavia's internal issues and foreign politics at the time. The subject has also received coverage in several leading European and American publications.
The authors insist they care little about the fuss they have generated, saying they are focusing more on collecting money for the actual film and choosing locations.
Clearly aware that the trailer has had an impact, the brothers are somewhat secretive with their answers, saying only that they hope the complete project will hit the screens in 2014.
Asked about the incredible popularity of the clip, the brothers admit it has surpassed their expectations. “We had no idea the trailer would become this popular,” they say.
“We basically launched it to attract potential investors. We also had no intentions to be deliberately sensationalist. We have been developing the project carefully, step by step.”
Bostjan and Ziga say the project began as something quite different. “First Ziga wrote a screenplay for a feature that was supposed to be based on explorations of the Slovene space pioneer Herman Potocnik,” Bostjan said.
“We were interested in his book, The Problem of Space Travel, published before the Second World War, which was then taken, probably by Americans, from Potocnik's Vienna apartment in 1945. “What we wanted to do was a feature, but when we started exploring the topic, we came on so many checkable facts that we decided to do a docudrama, combining fiction with facts.”
It is what the authors call their “facts” that are mostly hotly disputed by various experts.
The lawyer of Tito’s heirs, Goran Petronijevic, for example, insists that no rock from the Moon is to be found in the list of President Tito’s belongings.
Bozidar Spasic, from the Yugoslav secret service, also disputes the claim that the Bihac underground air base was a space compound.
The US space historian Bill Barry, meanwhile, says connecting up the facts about presidential visits and the arms trade in such a way as to indicate that America’s space programme had its origins in Yugoslavia is to wander very far from reality.
The Virc brothers say they are not too hung up about facts, they just want to make a good film.
“At this stage of the project, it is less important if all information we believe to be facts is accurate,” they say.
“We are mainly focused on making a good film. We are sure, however, that many of the facts will turn out to be true. After the trailer was released we were approached by many people, bringing valuable information.”
Asked to elaborate more on that point, the brothers say that more will become known when the film is released.
Despite accepting that there might well be a heavily fictional element to their work, the Virc brothers do genuinely believe that Yugoslavia had its own space programme.
“Many facts speak in favour of our claim. We can’t say to what extent Tito succeeded in his space ambitions but we believe he was a mediator for joint space projects of the USSR and the US.”
The authors say no clear budget outline for the film is yet in sight, but believe they will obtain support from partners in Croatia, Austria and Germany. They are also counting on Slovenian and European film funds.
The fact that Ziga was nominated in 2010 for the Honorary Foreign film Award of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best Student Film might attract potential financiers.
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