‘Money’s Tight - But Bitef Hasn’t Changed’
Veteran festival selector Jovan Ćirilov talks to Belgrade Insight about Bitef’s 46th edition – and reveals his hopes of finally putting the festival on a more secure financial footing.
Bitef faces a similar situation to last year, when funds determined how many shows the audience could see, while on the other hand you maintain the motto of quality over quantity. How is this model working, when the number of shows has more than halved compared to decades ago?
Less money means fewer shows. I would say this year we have around 20 per cent less money than we had the year before. But we have several big, Western shows, and by that I mean from the EU and America, and that’s one of the trademarks of Bitef that hasn’t changed. After several years we have again a troupe from the U.S.
What will you be offering this year?
Shows this year deal with significant social issues, like those of directors Joel Pommerat and Oliver Frljić. Then we have non-verbal shows, like those by Gateau and Castelucci and Van Hove. It is interesting that Van Hove managed to find the book Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky, which deals with intellectuals who find it impossible to find their way in new, post-revolutionary social circumstances. Van Hove found parallels between individuals lost in early Communist society and people today. Belgrade audiences like such shows, relying on visuals and with a touch of modernism.
Every year there is a punch line, which acts as a common denominator of all shows. This year’s is “An excursion to the truth”.
By that we want to say that a theatrical performance is a short trip into the truth. This means that at the moment when the viewer is engaged by the show, he is living in a version of truth that is parallel to the outside world, but which for him is true.
Last year you put on several productions from the former Yugoslavia, and this year there are also seven regional shows, which account for half of the festival. Is this approach a trend at Bitef?
It would not be in the spirit of Bitef if I said there will always be a need for such shows, but I can say that it exists now and that last year those shows were the most popular, so we’ve repeated the concept.
Might this help bring about a more unified regional approach to theatre? For example, Oliver Frljić directs in almost all of the former Yugoslav countries…
Frljić is a peculiar case, because he was born to a mixed marriage and grew up in several parts of the former Yugoslavia, so his personal story is very much a regional one. But it is more important that those shows offer a new kind of reality.
How do Belgraders view Bitef now, compared to during Yugoslav times?
I believe Bitef has a reputation, either because people know it is fashionable to like it, or because they really like it, or because it is some kind of an authority. I represent continuity; my co-selector, Anja Suša, represents freshness.
Bitef has had financial issues over the past year, either over not receiving enough money or receiving it at the last moment. Generally theatres can rely less and less on income alone or on state support. Can Bitef find financial support that will make planning the festival less stressful?
I am going to tell you something I haven’t yet said in public. We are in negotiations with a very rich man who has an ear for culture. That might make it possible for the festival to function more easily in the future.