Cinematheque 20!

20 years of the Slovenian Cinematheque & the Restoration of Karpo Godina’s Short Films

In 2016 the Slovenian Cinematheque celebrates its 20th meaningful year of existence. And how to celebrate better than with the restoration of a handful of significant short films by one of the most prominent Slovenian film auteurs, Karpo Godina.

Four newly restored films, an extravagant experiment The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk (1970), a marvellously elusive Litany for Happy People (1971), an anti-war propaganda About Art of Love or a Film with 14441 Frames (1972), and a conceptual masterpiece of absurdist black humour I Miss Sonia Henie (1972), will be shown at the 30th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy. The restoration project would not have been possible without the kind help of our partners and supporters to whom we owe many thanks.

An Infectious Sense of Happiness: Karpo Godina’s Restored Short Films

Godina was born in Skopje (Macedonia) in 1943; his family and his childhood were the first important influences on his later creative development. At the age of six, Godina moved from the southernmost republic of Yugoslavia to the northernmost one, Slovenia, where he later became a member of Ljubljana’s Kino Club Odsev (Reflection). In 1962, he enrolled in the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana, while at the same time making amateur short films within the very well developed structures of amateur film clubs all over Yugoslavia.

These early 8mm films won him many awards at numerous short film festivals all across the Federation; that is also where Godina met many of his future collaborators, kindred spirits who wanted to break away from all the existing aesthetic and political conventions of the time, to point their cameras into the previously uncharted territories and do so in a theretofore unimaginable way.

It is precisely this all-pervading, infectious sense of happiness that makes Godina’s short films stand out from everything his peers produced at the time; happiness regardless of the gravity of certain topics that were explored in Godina’s films. In a seemingly carefree, light-hearted manner, always being mildly ironic but never cynical, Godina tackled such delicate issues as the holy dogma of Yugoslav brotherhood or the absurdity of conscripted soldiers’ everyday life.

Strange as it might seem, it is actually easy to overlook this specific and quite unique attitude as one of the key elements of Godina’s directorial signature due to the fact that at least three other important elements play a very prominent role in his cinematic universe. The first simply has to do with the fact that Godina is a masterful cinematographer, versed in framing and lighting a shot as only the greatest talents can. Secondly: every single short film that Godina directed is, especially in a structural sense, a highly conceptual work of art where the rigorous (and always different) concept-at-work shows itself immediately. Last but not least, Godina’s films not only disregard but seem happily oblivious of the established notions of documentary or fiction filmmaking.

The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk (1970), Godina's second professional film, is a short experiment as weird and extravagant as its incomprehensible title. Brains, made in collaboration with an avant-garde theatre troupe by the name of Pupilija Ferkeverk, can be viewed as a recording of a carefully constructed performance, a spontaneous ritual or simply a bunch of long-haired, sea-hugging naturists tripping, as a passionate plea in favour of individuality and freedom and an angry cry against any kind of authority.
Brains was followed by what is perhaps both the most famous and the most notorious of Godina’s short films. Litany of Happy People (1971) won Godina two awards at the acclaimed Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany, while censorship at home, desperately trying to decipher Litany’s cryptic subtext, in the end decided to ban the film merely on suspicion that it contained “certain” inappropriate hidden messages. Litany is literally a poem, one long song about the marvellous variety of people populating rural Vojvodina, the northwest region of Serbia, including Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians, Macedonians, Russians, Germans, Roma and many, many more (over twenty different ethnic groups peacefully share 8,000 square miles of Vojvodina). While precious as an ethnographic document, an experimental musical or simply an amazing, rapid display of faces and colours, Litany perhaps stands out mostly because of its elusiveness.

A similar misfortune befell About the Art of Love or a Film with 14441 Frames (1972), a film that Godina shot while serving the army, and was even fully produced by the Yugoslav Army, which wanted to employ Godina’s talents as a cinematographer to its own benefit. Godina took what they offered him but instead of delivering a militaristic propaganda short, he interwove the military footage with shots of a nearby village where no less than 7,000 single women lived at the time, completely isolated from the boys serving the army. The alternation of mass scenes depicting only men and then only women is accompanied by a romantic chanson, endlessly going on about “one thousand soldiers, one thousand women, but no children.” Godina barely escaped imprisonment and had to steal his film from the Army to keep it.

The 1972 Belgrade Film Festival was the place to be. Godina assembled a motley crew of international and domestic festival guests: Tinto Brass, Puriša Đorđević, Miloš Forman, Buck Henry, Dušan Makavejev, Paul Morrisey, Bogdan Tirnanić, and Frederick Wiseman. Every night after the official festival screenings and talks, they went to a tiny apartment with a 35mm camera fixed in a corner. Godina challenged each of his celebrated guests to create a short film, following a set of simple rules: one room, one camera position, no zooms, tilts or pans, a couple of minutes each. And in every short the words “I Miss Sonia Henie”, a famous quote from the Snoopy cartoons, had to be voiced. The rest was left entirely to individual imaginations. The result: I Miss Sonia Henie (1972), a conceptual masterpiece of absurdist black humour, seven distinctively different variations on a ludicrous theme, a cinephile’s wet dreams.

The restoration of these significant short films has been completed in the same year in which the Slovenian Cinematheque celebrates its 20th meaningful year of existence.

The project would not have been possible without the kind help of our partners and supporters: the right holders (the Provincial Secretariat for Culture and Public Information of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, the Republic of Serbia, and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia / Military Film Centre “Zastava Film”); the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka, Zastava Film, the Slovene Film Archives at the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia and the archives of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen for making the film elements available; the Austrian Film Museum and L’Immagine Ritrovata for carrying out the restoration work. A special dept of gratitude is owed to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia for their financial support as well as to the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Belgrade. Last but not least we would like to extend our special thanks to Karpo Godina and Želimir Žilnik.

Jurij Meden