How ‘Advertising Slaves’ Made Serbia’s First Sci-Fi Hit

Listen to the interview with Lazar Bodroza (in Serbian) below as part of the Pokretači podcast

Lazar Bodroza shot to the top of the Serbian film scene earlier this year after directing “Ederlezi Rising” (review here), the first Serbian sci-fi film and an unlikely success, given that it is in English and the film’s synopsis reads like a pulpy exploitation movie.

Adapted by Dimitrije Vojnov, an established Serbian screen-writer, from a 1980s short-story by Zoran Nesković, the film focuses on the relationship between a lonesome Yugoslav astronaut, Milutin, and Nimani an android forced on him by the Soviet-style Ederlezi Corporation, to keep him on track (and entertain him) on his mission to “install” a new ideology on a remote capitalist planet.

Set in the 22nd century, the main roles of Milutin and Nimani are played by Sebastian Cavazza, an acclaimed Slovenian actor, and Stoya, an American porn actress and columnist of Serbian origin.

Despite the risqué topic and modest budget of around 350,000 euros, Bodroza’s deft handling of the topic of love and toxic masculinity, as well as its atmospheric visuals, have made the film an artistic and popular success.

Rather than unsuccessfully aping blockbusters like “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner”, Bodroza took his cue from indie sci-fi films like “Another Earth” and “Beyond the Black Rainbow” on how to make an eerie universe on a tight budget and tell a powerful story.

“Ederlezi” won the best film, best director, as well as best actor-actress awards at the Belgrade Film Festival, FEST, in early March.  Although its global theatrical run is set to begin in early 2019, it is already showing on the international festival circuit and making waves, especially among sci-fi enthusiasts.

The film won the Cineplexx Distribution Award at Vienna’s “Let’s CEE” festival of Central and Eastern European film, was well received at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival and is to be shown at Brazil’s Fantaspoa film festival.

Its success is all the more remarkable given that it is Bodroza’s film debut. Besides that, Bodroza is not even a trained film director, but one of Serbia’s most accomplished young graphic artists and designers.

After graduating from Belgrade’s Faculty of Applied Arts, he co-founded the design studio Metaklinika and was listed as one of Paste magazine’s top 20 under 30 visual artists in 2011. The sortie into film, which he regards as an extension of his visual opus, came about from his wish to find a creative break from client-focused work and collaborate with Vojnov on a project.

“In the middle of our bromance, we wanted to work on something together… As Dimitrije pitched the story I reacted, as most people reacted to our idea about the film later: ‘Sci-fi in Serbia? I’m not convinced…’ – but the idea stuck and it was all so crazy… the initial motivation was the idea itself, the opportunity to work with Dimitrije and – trying to do something that hasn’t been done before,” he recalls.

“It was quite a gamble, and from this perspective I’m not sure I would have leapt into it as casually as I did,” he adds.

Bodroza and Vojnov envisioned Stoya starring as Nimani from the beginning, as they were intrigued by her personality and back-story.

“She was conceptually interesting. We knew her interviews, and she is an interesting and influential public figure with columns published in the New York Times, the Guardian and Vice,” he says.

Although “Ederlezi” was her first feature film, Bodroza was immediately won over by her acting and presence, and enlisted his wife, Nada Sargin, a popular Serbian actress, to help Stoya with any problems with the technique.

Apart from Slovenian actors Sebastian Cavazza and Marusa Majer, the rest of the production team was assembled from the local talent in Belgrade’s advertising industry who were working as, Bodroza jokingly quips, “slaves of the market”.

“It was a generational film. All of us who are slaving away in advertising and who are often complaining about the point of it all, made something that is much more creative and what is undoubtedly authorial work,” he says.

“All those involved were carefully picked, and had a lot of freedom to express themselves, as the film itself is quite spare.”

The film’s minimalist design and ingenious use of some iconic Belgrade interiors and exteriors, like the main reading room of the National Library, or the Avala tower, were, in part, a consequence of the difficulties in obtaining cash for this ambitious project.

After securing an initial third of the funding of about 145,000 euros from the Serbian Film Centre, Bodroza and his team tried various ways to secure additional financing, including organising a crowd-funding campaign. Although that effort failed, it sparked interest in some private investors who ended up putting money into the film.

Bodroza took all these own challenges on the chin.

“Film [in Serbia] … is mostly done for free, in your own free time and, financially, at your own loss. That is simply the reality we live in. The earlier you accept it, the better,” he says.

After the release of the film, the team which, in his sardonic manner he describes as “a family… with all the family pathologies”, continued with their daily grind.

“After the premiere [at FEST] and the awards ceremony, we all went back to our jobs. This was a step out of the normal life, and we greatly enjoyed it,” he adds.

However, Bodroza is now developing another film, set in the same universe as “Ederlezi”,and embarking on a new directing adventure.

“I had an idea to make three films in my life. It is the goal of every [Serbian] film worker to have a retrospective of their work in Kinoteka [Belgrade’s Yugoslav Film Archive]. I need two more so that I can have a full day of projections dedicated to my work,” he jokes.

This article was published in BIRN’s bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy. You can also find the article on the Balkan Insight portal

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