The Survivor's Suite: The Life of the International Festival of Ethnological Film in Belgrade through Interesting Times


  • Slobodan Naumović Department of Ethnology and Anthropology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, Serbia



documentary film festivals, ethnographic film, festival studies, festival policy, the social role of festivals, visual anthropology


This paper is an attempt, based on many years of following the International Festival of Ethnological Film, organized by the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade, to provide insight into the way in which it has so far fulfilled its purpose, while at the same time experiencing tumultuous, occasionally even tragic events and processes. The main question concerns the way in which “interesting times” have left their mark on and shaped the world of human experience of people who have lived through them, thus also film production and festival practice. The phrase “interesting times” is used in the sense in which it was used by the historian Eric Hobsbawm, who used it as a label for “the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history”.

Two elements are of prime importance in the paper – the assumption that “interesting times” can exist simultaneously with, and can cause or heighten emotional and creative tension, and also the fact that the limited possibilities that the resulting states of mind and initiatives can be fulfilled through the usual channels, such as political ones, can lead to attempts to satisfy them through art or cultural forms. Film production and festival activities can, under certain circumstances, offer alternative channels for expressing moods and content that arise or are enhanced during “interesting times”.

On the one hand, the framework for analysis will provide reflections on the nature and the possible social roles of film festivals, including festivals of documentary and ethnographic films. Essentially, it will be necessary to consider the questions of the types of experiences provided by the Festival to its participants and attendees, the cinematic experiences it offers, and the specific aims and ideologies advocated as part of it. On the other hand, relying on valuable testimony in the form of the Festival Catalogue, words and images which testify to the achievements of the Festival will be identified.

At the very beginning, in the turbulent times when political orders were overthrown, along with legal and ethical frameworks, it seemed that the Festival had managed to be conceptually ahead of its time. It was a dream come true and a model for many, a place where “miracles” happened. After a number of years, its long history temporarily weakened the Festival's creative potential. The times became somewhat less interesting, slightly dull even, and the Festival followed suit. And yet through all the changes, the Festival has not ceased to be a place where people meet and learn; a place where images inspire thoughts, and thoughts seek visual means of expression; a place where, by meeting Others, we learn something about ourselves as well, but also a place where by seeking to find a way to represent ourselves, we enrich Others.


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How to Cite

Naumović, Slobodan. 2021. “The Survivor’s Suite: The Life of the International Festival of Ethnological Film in Belgrade through Interesting Times”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 16 (4):1013–1042.