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Newspaper Adds — A Documentary Story

Most of the critics of the 1960s (Peterlić, Tadić, Ivanda, Kurelec) aspired to direct motion pictures. The author of this text, on the author hand, favoured criticism and essays about films. The sixties were enthusiastic years. Cinema repertoire was bursting with American and European films supported the critical zeal. The film scene was revived by the internationally famous Zagreb School of Animation, experimentalists and the GEFF festival, a presentation of socially conscious documentary and motion pictures of worldly quality. The critics’ circle presided by the critic Vladimir Vuković whose members gathered at the Zagreb café Korzo soon gained new members — contemporary documentarists (Sremec, Marjanović, Golik, Gluščević, Babaja, Papić). Galić joined in too. Due to his impressive documentaries, he was given a chance to film a feature film Black Birds. He asked Krelja to work with him on the script. The story craved for much more experienced scriptwriters than were those two, but this experience ’touched’ Krelja. His commitment to criticism was further shaken up by Peterlić’s idea that Tadić, Krelja and himself should write a script for the film that Peterlić would direct (Accidental Life). After several meetings in rented apartments, the film finally came to life in a small, new company called FAS. However, in the midst of the overall obsession with motion pictures, Krelja got an idea for a documentary — about small adds from the daily newspaper Večernji list. He and his wife were frequently changing apartments so that they were reading those adds on daily basis. The question was which adds to choose. The idea finally formed — ’they will try to prove in a documentary manner that small adds — like some senseless machine for slicing life — reflect the shattered totality of one’s life, especially the problematic and miserable aspect of the individual’s questionable existence’. The script for the documentary Replies to the Number... was put before the reviewing board for evaluation and was accepted. The film obtained funding. Of course, smaller amount than was usually given because the author was an unknown beginner. The preparation for filming consisted in going through tons of adds. The approach to filming presented a problem: should they visit people before the shooting, without the crew and try and work something out in advance or go for the ’attack them unprepared’ tactics, turn up unexpectedly in someone’s life and shoot before it — the life — had time to put up a façade? His former experience of a critic was not of much help. He opted for the method of unexpectedly appearing at the door of people who advertised in the newspapers. A threesome crew (cameraman Branko Bubenik, Vesna Krelja and Krelja himself) first started by filming the procedure of turning in adds, publishing and distribution of newspapers. On the second day they set out to visit the advertisers. Soon they encountered their first problem: how to make people listen to them instead of shutting the door in their faces. Should they knock at the door with the camera ready for action or should they ask for permission before filming? They decided to talk to people first without the gear. Although people received them nicely, the meetings were unsuccessful. Those who advertised were not at home, their stories were uninteresting, or simply had nothing to do with the idea of the script. After some self questioning, they went after the adds posted on trees and lamp-posts. The adds of the poor. This resulted in another series of failures and a painful encounter with an invalid who agreed to be filmed but was somewhat confused with the use of it all. The project was in crisis. After a night of deliberation, Krelja decided to abort the pointless filming and went straight to the critics’ circle to inform them of the news so as to prevent any gossip and rejoicing of directors over the critic’s failure to make a film. Vuković’s rather cold reaction and the disregard of the circle made Krelja think about preparing better. When Peterlić started filming his film, he offered Krelja to be an assistant. Krelja accepted and closely watched the way in which the crew functioned and how documentary elements incorporated in the framework of a feature film. When the film was finished, Vesna and Petar started to look for adds that sounded interesting. They found a young man who was looking for a flat, a girl looking for a glamorous job, and a mother with a child searching for a ’life partner’... The pair decided to follow them with camera in a mix of ’acted’ pursuit of a flat, job and a partner, and a documentary account of particular situations. During the filming, cameraman hinted that Krelja insisted on medium shots and avoided close-ups. Krelja was not really sure whether that was good or bad. The fact was that medium shot was predominant in documentaries of that period, while close-ups could be found only in experimental documentaries. Editing with Katja Majer took a lot of time. She worked slowly, was rather relaxed and talked a lot which opposed Krelja’s wish to work on the material intensely. At the obligatory authorisation screening Krelja presented a yet unfinished version of film. Branko Bauer, member of the board that had approved the script, was the only viewer. He watched the footage silently, then decidedly said that it was not what he had expected and gave discrete suggestions about what should be redone. Since film was shot on 16mm it had to be transferred to 35mm so that it could be screened in cinemas. There was no such possibility in Zagreb, but Bubenik found out that it could be done in Belgrade Zastava film. The premiere took place in the Zagreb movie theatre Kozara before the screening of that evening’s feature. Reply to the Number... was accepted with some other noted works by the authors from the café circle (Tadić’s Others, Papić’s Handcuffs, Ivanda’s Gravitation). It seemed that things were starting to happen, but the following years did not favour film, especially critical documentaries. Political repression slowed down the production at the beginning of 1970s and many were affected by censorship. In time, however, especially from today’s perspective, many of the 1960s critics found their place in the ’pantheon’ of Croatian film.

Petar Krelja

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