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FEST interview: Luka Bursać, director and screenwriter of the film "Afterparty"

Your second feature film “Afterparty” will have its premiere at FEST, in the National Competition Programme, for which your debut feature “Blackness” was also selected two years ago. How much does the participation at FEST mean to you?

L.B - I am a child of FEST, conceived unplanned and by chance. Actually, I am more of a bastard of FEST. It just sort of happened, without any special intention, that I am a guest at FEST for the second time, and every time I try to get out of it everything I can and what I do not have. It is as though your rich father invites you to a family lunch with his new family and you steal his perfume or candlestick.

“Afterparty” opens with a documentary footage of construction of New Belgrade, where the main character Mare lives today, a young bartender at a popular club and an aspiring actor. What are you trying to indicate when comparing the past and the present?

L.B. - There are different analogies, the most dominant is the one concerning heritage, what is "built" and what is now. As well as maintaining a kind of a utopian illusion that metastasized from enthusiasm into nihilism. I find that very fascinating considering the strong youthful energy of both mentioned periods, which has not disappeared but simply became perverted.  I did not want the main character to live only "his time", I wanted the historical context to be felt through him, I wanted to confront him with the past. There are a lot of things there, but I would like the audience to experience it in their own way without suggesting anything. Interpretations during test screenings of the film were completely different. I am convinced, for example, that the editor still does not know what certain sequences mean.

Although in many clubbing scenes it is insisted on having a good time, you actually show an essentially bleak reality. How would you describe your film in terms of genre?

L.B. - Yes, it is exactly in this insisting where the tragedy lies. To me this film is a social satire, and by genre it is a pure dark comedy. It is comical as much as our social environment is comical, hence comical until it hurts.

Do you consider “Afterparty” a socially engaged film, in the way that “Black Wave” films once were?

L.B. - I am trying to wrap my films into a form that best suits me without any particular desire to be engaged or critical. Poetics, if there's room for it, is more important to me than political pamphlets. I am in a conflict with myself on this matter, and that is the impact of the faculty I am trying to get rid of. Today there are no "dissidents" anymore because if you have enough money you can do what you want, there is no government that would ban a film, these are different times. Today a dissident is the one who gets to distribution, anybody that makes a film, because it conflicts with common sense, it is the dissidence in relation to oneself and in the absence of institutional obstacles that would provide fake social significance.

I think the "Black Wave" films were primarily high-quality films, and only after that engaged, something that people tend to forget. Instead of that the focus is on the political context and authorship, what creates the need in the young director for clearly defined opinion about themselves and their political nature, even before they learn to make a good shot.  That is all the game of ego, it has been present in the domestic film for a very long time, and the reason why everyone is referring to the "Black Wave". As in high school, when you miss on the topic of “Autumn in my street” in your written assignment, but eventually write a sentence somewhere "Autumn in my street" and the teacher forgives you for that. Accordingly, I would like to say that the film “When I Am Dead and Gone” is a very important film for me and a direct inspiration for the “Afterparty”, in some parts even visually.

Who do you consider guilty for darkness and emptiness you show in “Afterparty”?

L.B. - More and more I try to accept this situation as a necessity of life. We are all probably equally guilty, or there is no one to blame if you look at this situation as a period that will be converted into something worse or better. As a member of the generation that the film deals with, I did not put myself in the role of the critic, but rather a chronicler and observer. I think the scenes in the film rely on a very clear reference to reality, so regardless of its structure, it is very close to the documentary, and that is what is the most dangerous. The reality in Serbia is so absurd that it becomes a genre or at least a film. It is exactly this distorted form of the film that represents our deformed society on the micro level. A society that incorporated primitivism and adopted it as the national mentality, whose biggest victims are the young, and me as an individual in that group. Vulgarity, stupidity and hatred become generally accepted state of things - from which everyone benefits, the media, with the idea to sell their goods to consumers or politicians with an idea to sell themselves to voters. Primitivism is everywhere, it is in our profession, at FEST, it has crept into every pore of life, just waiting to erupt. In such a space, in which the smarter and more critical individuals retreat into the safe zone of false elitism communicating only with their own kind while the stupid ones grab everything that does not belong to them and spread like the plague, there is no room for love, and in such an environment, the possibility of war is still very present. So, it is not about a pretentious and long-known criticism of cultural policy, but about something much more important - the cry of a young man to be saved.

If in the “Blackness” you referred to the style of Nicolas Winding Refn, what author did you consider when making "Afterparty"?

L.B. - Early works of directors of the "New Hollywood". “The Graduate”, “Midnight Cowboy”, “Fingers”.  “Film Reality” by the Italian director Mateo Garone helped in understanding the milieu, and “Saturday Night Fever” in treating the club scene. “When I Am Dead and Gone” at the level of absurdity and thematically, and some of the Soderberg films. Various photographers, local TV content, all of that contributed to the film. In the absence of technical means, we used mechanical zooms, mostly natural light, statics. We wanted Block 63, where we shot most of the exteriors, to treat filmically, less through the naturalism but still real enough. You can feel that dirty grain aesthetics of the seventies to which the dedicated work of cinematographer Dušan Grubin has contributed.

How do you feel when you hear people say you are a controversial director?

L.B. -It is painful to hear that.

For her role in "The Blackness", Sonja Kovačević won the award for Best Actress at the 43rd FEST. Now you gave roles to young actors Rade Ćosić, Jan Milosavljević and Nikola Šurbanović. How do you choose your actors?

L.B. - Actors choose me. In this case, Rade Ćosić approached me with the idea of collaboration. It was very interesting to work with someone who has a completely different personality. I like to experiment and play. I love actors who surrender to the character, methodologists who do not approach the film role as the side job between two plays. I love it when they trust me and when they are braver than me. It is very important for me to discover new people. A large number of actors from Serbia do part-time jobs, work as waiters, work in watch shops as Jana Milosavljević or do physical work as Nikola Šurbanović, there are real gems among them that deserve their chance. The actors are produced not only at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, there are actors in parks, factories, at the windows they wash, on the buildings above us, we should just take a look.

Music is omnipresent in "Afterparty" - techno, pop, folk ...On what criteria did you assemble such a diverse record?

L.B. - Ahmed Hajdarović aka Aki Species did the soundtrack, a techno producer from Belgrade with whom I collaborated on "The Blackness". Archival music has also become a very important dramatic element and it colours the lives of our protagonists both through lyrics and rhythmically. The club on the other hand has become a kind of a musical melting pot. I wanted to make an archetype of the Balkan disco club where techno is played on Wednesdays, and on Fridays Gagi Band performs live, which is basically just a copied repertoire of the great majority of local mainstream clubs. Thus, the absence of any notion of musical style and musical mishmash that here I hope gets some concept. With this sort of thing was very complicated to work with because certain musical authors were not clear on how such things are compatible. In the same way Bobi Beštić initially was not clear on the choice of Lidija Vukicević as his partner in the film.

What were your production conditions like? Were you able to realize everything you imagined?

L.B. - In comparison to my student projects more, but for this kind of film though, there was not enough money. We worked with one third of the budget of the average Serbian film. In terms of organization, we have achieved the impossible, but we naively allowed ourselves to fantasize about the fees that many of us still have not received. I am glad that we managed to shoot the film without government assistance, mainly from private funds, mostly contributed by Rade Ćosić. When we got the money from the Film Center Serbia to stimulate the post-production, we felt relief.

What is the plan for "Afterparty" after FEST, will you be sending it to foreign festivals, when will it be released in cinemas?

L.B. - The film was accepted at the Raindance Film Festival, but since this sounded like a poor version of the Sundance Festival, we gave up on it hoping that there would be larger and more important festivals, which of course did not happen. After the premiere at FEST, the film gets the regular cinema distribution throughout the country.



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