|Translators||Celia Hawkesworth, Michael Henry Heim, Ellen Elias-Bursac|
Reviewed by Allie Rigby
Dubravka Ugrešić’s Lend Me Your Character is a kaleidoscopic amalgamation featuring one novella, seven short stories, and several sections of author’s notes. In classic Ugrešić form, fairy tale elements abound–magic, crass humor, textile allusions to sewing, grotesque imagery, repetition, and warnings fill the pages. Ugrešić is not shy about her reference to fairy tales: many of these stories were originally published in Zagreb as part the collection, Life is a Fairy Tale, in 1983.
With translations as recent as 2022 (from Croatian into English) and author’s notes that feel like behind-the-scenes bonuses, this collection from Open Letter Books is both humorous and serious. The stories often center hyperaware narrators interjecting themselves into the text, trying to do best for ordinary characters amid absurd situations. Ugrešić’s opening work, the novella “Štefica Cvek in the Jaws of Life” that was translated by Celia Hawkesworth, plays with the idea of storyteller as clothier and clothier as storyteller. Chapter titles like “Key to Symbols,” “The Pattern,” and “Designing the Garment” make this connection clear, as do various symbols dissecting sections of the story, which can be decoded if readers refer to the “Key to Symbols” chapter. These visual cues implore the reader to “Cut the text along the dotted line,” or “Make a metatextual knot and pull tight as needed,” thus giving readers a more active role as recipients of the story (12).
Breaking the fourth wall is one of Ugrešić’s signature moves and while these directional symbols give the novella a choppy feel, it does blur the line between fiction and reality, which the author does throughout her fiction. Sadly, we can no longer ask Ugrešić about her fascination with textile fairy tale motifs–the buttons, the sewing, and the like–she died in Amsterdam on March 17, 2023. Only one month before her story collection debuted from Open Letter Books, Ugrešić passed, reportedly surrounded by “family and friends.”
Now readers are left with this last and most recent collection of Ugrešić, unless something comes out of the woodwork from her literary estate. After her novella, Ugrešić offers her first set of author’s notes under “Finishing Touches,” translated by Celia Hawkesworth, followed by “How to Ruin Your Own Heroine,” translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać. Finally, we have seven short stories. “The Kharms Case” and “A Hot Dog in a Warm Bun” may stir the most conversation for their hilarity. “Who Am I?” and “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” carry Ugrešić’s curiosity for textile objects and their symbolic potential.
What next, for characters and for readers of Ugrešić? “I have to keep sewing, Štefica, your loose ends can’t be tied up just yet,” Ugrešić writes in her novella (58). For now, assemble the fabrics and find a proper place for each button.
Allie Rigby is a poet, editor, and educator with roots in Orange County. In 2023, she completed a year-long Fulbright fellowship in Romania where she taught creative writing at Universitatea Ovidius din Constanța. She holds a master’s degree in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Allie loves connecting with people to develop and share impactful stories that generate cross-cultural dialogue. For her most recent book of poetry and other writing, please visit www.allierigby.com or @allie.j.rigby.
At the heart of Split lies Diocletian’s Palace
Before Croatia became a country in its own right, the area was under the rule of various powers and empires, each of which has left its mark on its cities and culture. One of the earliest is the Romans, whose architecture formed the foundation from which cities such as Split continue to grow and evolve.
At the heart of Split lies Diocletian’s Palace, built at the start of the fourth century for the Roman emperor. The white stone that makes up its walls and streets are characteristic of the architecture in the city as well as the greater Dalmatian region and lighten the city even on the rare cloudy days.
The palace has four arched entrances, fortress-like walls shielding all sides, and a bell tower, added later on around the twelfth century, that stands as the highest point in the city center. The wall, once bordering the Adriatic, now stands as the permeable boundary between the palace and the Riva, a walkway lined with cafes by the sea.
Once the site of defense and trade, now it is a social area of small-scale business. Underground is the palace’s cellars, with cavernous ceilings and cobblestones, which now house the stands of artists and artisans selling handmade jewelry, sculptures of wood and limestone, and tourist paraphernalia of all kinds. The ebb and flow of people through the palace’s streets follows time-worn paths; looking at the smooth, time-worn flagstones, one can see the repeated indentations of millions of steps.
Over the many centuries since its construction, the palace’s narrow streets and tunnels, small squares, and leftover pillars have remained largely unchanged architecturally, but the spaces have transformed in functionality, serving new purposes with each new era.
In the time of Diocletian, the Peristyle—a large square lined by pillars—was the site of the emperor’s announcements and appearances, adjacent to a building that contained a mausoleum. That mausoleum later became known as the cathedral of Sveti Duje (Saint Domnius), where mass is still held today. The bell tower above it rings with every hour and is still a defining feature of the city’s skyline.
During certain periods this area of the palace was simply another part of the city center and everyday life, not used for any particular purpose. On one hand, this led to decay from lack of maintenance, but on the other, the palace was spared from external harm. Despite the turbulent events in this region throughout the twentieth century, Split remained largely untouched by the wars and skirmishes and none of the palace’s architecture had to be rebuilt as a result of wartime damage.
The Peristyle has come to be known as the city’s “living room,” a space where performances, from orchestras to street artists, are staged and people frequently gather to dance, eat and drink, and spend time together.
As tourists become an increasingly prominent presence in the city, there has been pushback against letting these cultural spaces turn into architectural and historical museums. After all, cities are made to be lived in, never truly preserved in a crystallized state. They take on a life of their own and transform with the times, constructing on top of their architectural and cultural foundations.
Beyond the walls, the liveliness of the palace spills out into the surrounding area. Layers of history take the form of ruins, parks, and houses, and on the outskirts of the city, the architecture transforms into modern apartments. Nevertheless, the essence of Mediterranean living has been preserved in these various forms. Open spaces and squares with coffee shops are ubiquitous and a source of food, socializing, exchange of information, and a part of everyday life. The way of living, persistent through the ages, is reflected in these spaces even as the city continues to evolve.
SEEfest had the honor of joining an international panel hosted by UCL, University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies on February 3rd, 2021 paying tribute to Mira Furlan. You can watch the conversation below.
The recently departed Mira Furlan (1955-2021) was a legend of Yugoslavian theatre and cinema, representing the hopes and visions of a generation both through her artistic work and her political and social engagement.
Ousted from her job at the Croatian National theatre and driven from her home by a vicious campaign of threats and media defamation, she remade her career in the United States, where she achieved success in popular television series including Lost and Babylon 5.
For many people in the region, she remains an icon of artistic quality, integrity, and courage in the face of adversity.
Her passing is a moment to consider not only this extraordinary artist but the issues that she confronted and partly conquered: the role of the artist in a conflicted society, the complex interaction involving socialism, nationalism, and culture, the constrained representation of women, and gendered relationships, and the parts of the society that have survived the transformation of cultures into mutually hostile camps.
Our panel of cultural scholars and creators/critics of culture will consider Mira Furlan’s contribution and the current condition of cultural life in the region.
The panel includes Sanjin Pejković, associate professor of film studies at Dalarna University, singer and songwriter, Sara Renar, and SEEfest’s very own festival director, Vera Mijojlić. The panel was moderated by Eric Gordy, Professor of Political and Cultural Sociology.
A field of olive trees.
Meandering between the parcels of land are walls of loosely-stacked stones, dividing the trees among neighbors. From a high vantage point, the walls are hidden beneath the trees’ leaves, slim and dappled with sunlight, and in such abundance that they form a sea of their own in the field. The branches that hold them may seem fragile, but they grow from trunks that have weathered hundreds—if not thousands—of years. The trunks widen at the base, forming a kind of enclosure at the heart of the tree, where one might have room to step inside and see from the tree’s point of view.
This is a typical sight on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, where every fall villagers follow worn trails to their respective parcels of land. In this region, olive trees often grow on sloped and ragged land, found all over the rocky and hilled islands of Dalmatia. As soon as the olives begin to fall from the branches, the time has come to collect them, since the longer they sit apart from the tree, the more they will sour. The work can be tedious, especially since most of the farmers are older—a problem that holds true across much of the Mediterranean. Spread out in a wide international diaspora, younger relatives are rarely around during this time of year to help and only the older population remains to tend to the olive trees.
After gathering thousands of kilos of olives, the next destination is the olive press. Green and purple olives tumble into the machine, where they are compressed and out flows slick, smooth green oil in waves. The oil fills large bottles, encased in woven coverings, and stored away in cellars, to be cooked with and shared, or sold and shipped away. Those who do not participate in the industry make only enough oil for themselves, their families, and close friends and relatives. A gift of home-grown oil is a sign of great gratitude, knowing the care and effort that goes into making it.
And the gift is always appreciated since olive oil is the base of virtually every dish in the region. The Mediterranean basin produces around 90% of the olives in the world and also consumes the vast majority of them, making olive trees a fundamental part of not only the landscape but also the regional food. As the meeting point of cultures from three continents, the Mediterranean basin has allowed a wide variety of olive oil-based foods to flourish over the centuries, ranging from grilled fish sprinkled with olive oil using a branch of rosemary to soparnik to simple pasta with olive oil, garlic, and parsley.
More recently, as environmental issues have come to the fore, the region is learning to take measures to protect the olives and their traditions. Fortunately, olive trees are relatively stable and capable of growing on their own in the wild; an estimated 70% of the world’s olive orchards are solely grown on rainwater, without any irrigation system.
However, the lack of farmers in the younger generation endangers the tradition of making olive oil, and already many have accepted that their fields will become wild and overgrown as they can no longer maintain them. Although olives are often praised for their great health benefits, recent literature and films have aimed to go beyond science by showing the cultural traditions surrounding the over 3000-year-old cultivation of olives and encourage the preservation of these traditions.
Unlike most fruits, which grow from the pit, olives grow from other olive trees. Root cuttings are the common method of propagation. Much like the traditions surrounding them, olives grow from the root, from their very beginnings, before they can stretch their own branches into the field. And like the ancient trunks, every effort is being made to help the traditions of olives of the Mediterranean continue for many centuries more.
Watch “The Diary of Diana B.”
Austrian-born Diana Budisavljević leads the comfortable life of the Zagreb upper-middle class when in the fall of 1941 she learns that Jewish and Serbian (Christian Orthodox) women and their children are being taken to Ustasha camps where they are left to die of starvation and disease. Since the Jewish Community is only allowed to send provisions to the Jewish prisoners, the equally vulnerable Serbian women and children are left helpless.
This is the untold story of how Diana organized the largest rescue operation, a campaign that, by the end of World War II, will have saved more than 10,000 children from certain death.
Don’t miss this extraordinary historical drama currently playing in SEEfest virtual cinema.
Submissions for the 36th IDA Documentary Awards extended till July 28!
Submissions are open for the 36th Annual IDA Documentary Awards, the world’s most prestigious awards dedicated solely to the documentary genre, celebrating the best nonfiction programs and documentarians of the year!
Entry is open to any non-fiction shorts, features, series, and podcasts completed or publicly released between October 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020. Apply by July 7, 2020!
Films from SEE region in Cannes Cinéfondation selection
Congrats to three student films that made the Cannes Cinéfondation selection: Agapé by Márk Beleznai, Budapest Metropolitan University, Hungary; Contraindicatii by Lucia Chicos, UNATC “I. L. Caragiale,” Romania; and Nihče ni rekel, da te moram imeti rad by Matjaž Jamnik, UL AGRFT, Slovenia.
If you like our programming orientation and the cultural mission of SEEfest, consider making a donation to support our work. Thank you!
FRIENDS OF SEEFEST
SEEfest program and activities are supported, in part, by the California Arts Council, a state agency; Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture; and by an Arts Grant from the City of West Hollywood. Special thanks to ELMA, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for their continued support of our programs.
While the 15th South East European Film Festival is temporarily postponed, we invite you to stay in touch and enjoy some of the films from our past editions online. They are available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and some on YouTube (and some for free)! We’ll share updates, tips, and recommendations on Instagram at @seefest and here, on our website.
Stay safe, and we hope you enjoy our movie choices! Be sure to let us know in the comments, which films are your favorites! Check out SEEfest At Home Part 2
This lavishly produced thriller was first screened at the opening of our festival in 2014. The story is told from the point of view of the examining magistrate who was tasked with investigating the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 2014. It perfectly summarized the festival’s theme, “Europe in time of turmoil”, highlighting the turbulent past that looms large over the present.
Directed by Andreas Prochaska. Main cast: Florian Teichtmeister, Jürgen Maurer, Melika Foroutan, Edin Hasanović.
THE WAY I SPENT THE END OF THE WORLD
Shown at SEEfest back in 2007, the film is a bitter-sweet throwback to Romania on the eve of the 1989 revolution, with ordinary people committing small and oftentimes comic acts of defiance while naively dreaming of swimming across the Danube to freedom – or fantasizing about escaping in a submarine.
Directed by Catalin Mitulescu. Main cast: Dorotheea Petre, Timotei Duma, Ionut Becheru, Jean Constantin.
The opening film of the 2017 edition of our festival. While recovering from a homophobia-driven assault, a Croatian professor confronts his own xenophobia after agreeing to help his Serbian neighbor memorize the Croatian constitution for a citizenship exam. An example of a great director-writer pairing (Rajko Grlić and Ante Tomić), this film features three amazing actors from Serbia and Croatia in a very funny and poignant ‘love story about hate.’
Directed by Rajko Grlić. Main cast: Nebojša Glogovac, Ksenija Marinković, Dejan Aćimović.
NO MAN’S LAND
Danis Tanović’s Academy Award®-winning satire of the war in the Balkans is an astounding balancing act, an acidic black comedy grounded in the brutality and horror of war. Stuck in an abandoned trench between enemy lines, a Serb and a Bosnian play the blame game in a comic tit-for-tat struggle while a wounded Bosnian soldier lies helplessly on a land mine. A French tank unit of the U.N.’s humanitarian force (known locally as “the Smurfs”), a scheming British TV reporter, a German mine defuser, and the U.N. high command (led by a bombastically ineffectual Simon Callow) all become tangled in the chaotic rescue as the tenuous cease-fire is only a spark away from detonation. Tanovic directs with a ferocious, angry eloquence and makes his points with vivid metaphors and savage humor as harrowing as it is hilarious. Searing and smart, this satire carries an emotional recoil.– written by Sean Axmaker.
Directed by Danis Tanović. Main cast: Branko Đurić, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Šovagović. SEEfest held a special 10th-anniversary screening of the film in 2012.
THE EYE OF ISTANBUL
The legendary Armenian-Turkish photographer Ara Güler dedicated his life to recording the spirit of one of the most vivid cities on earth: Istanbul. Güler’s colorful life and witty commentary will keep you entertained while you discover the unforgettable vistas and rarely seen corners of the great city. The film, directed by Binnur Karaevli and Fatih Kaymak, screened at SEEfest in 2016.
Become a guest curator for our online edition!
While we all need to do our part and follow the public health guidelines to keep us and others safe, shelter-in-place can be challenging. When you take a break from working remotely or get tired of binge-watching your favorite shows, join the SEEfest community of artists and create a short video, podcast, jingle or cartoon and share with us on Instagram and tag us @seefest or submit to us via the website.
SEEfest program and activities are supported, in part, by the California Arts Council, a state agency; Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Art and Culture; and presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood. For more info on WeHo Arts programming please visit www.weho.org/arts or follow via social media @WeHoArts. Special thanks to ELMA, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for their continued support of our programs.
SEEfest 2019 Kicks Off in 2 Weeks
Tickets are on sale now for all SEEfest 2019 features, shorts programs, and special events. Screenings will take place in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Echo Park and other locations — find all the venues here and don’t forget to go Metro! Plan your trip using the Trip Planner on the venue page.
This year’s SEEfest, running May 1-8, will explore the theme of cinematic audacity by drawing attention to filmmakers whose works grapple with complex existential, ethical, and historical questions in innovative, and provocative ways. You can secure your festival pass now on Eventbrite.
A SAMPLING OF SEEFEST PREMIERES!
I ACT, I AM
Los Angeles Premiere!
Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia
Director: Miroslav Mandic
May 9 at 9:30 pm at Laemmle Music Hall Beverly Hills
Talk about method acting! Three stories examine, through actors, the paradox of life stripped bare of societal constraints. In each story, an actor is either researching or playing a role, eventually beginning to live the life of the character.
Watch the trailer and get tickets here.
North American Premiere!
Directors: VLASTIMIR SUDAR, NIKOLA MIJOVIĆ
May 6 at 9 pm at Laemmle Music Hall Beverly Hills
Jagoda, a city girl, is on a summer visit to her extended family in the Balkan countryside overlooking the Adriatic. Her presence awakens hope, love, and the sense of mystery.
Watch the trailer and get tickets here.
North American Premiere!
Director: SENKA DOMANOVIĆ
May 6 @ 8 pm at Echo Park Film Center
An engrossing documentary about guerrilla action initiated by young activists taking over a long-abandoned privatized cinema in Belgrade. The occupation revitalizes the cinema over the course of a year with 500 screenings, dozens of concerts and public discussions, and participation from hundreds of artists, activists, and filmmakers.
Watch the trailer and get tickets here.
What Does “Premiere” Mean?
Do you know precisely what it means when a screening is labeled as a Premiere?
World Premiere: first official screening of the film.
SEEfest program and activities are supported, in part, by the California Arts Council, a state agency; Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Division. Special thanks to ELMA for continued support of our programs.
SEEfest Editorial | March 6 , 2017 — BELGRADE: Croatian Quit Staring at My Plate by Hana Jušić was awarded the Belgrade Victor for Best Film at the 45th Belgrade International Film Festival – FEST, while Serbia’s Requiem for Mrs. J by Bojan Vuletić was awarded Best Film in the National Competition program.