SILVANA / Serbia
I was born in 1992. in a small town called Krusevac. In 2011, I moved to Belgrade to study Film and television directing on Faculty of Dramatic Arts. In 2015 I`ve finished my bachelor studies with a film \”Backwards\” and continued for master studies on the same faculty. Next year I went to China to film a short documentary called \”Water of Lijiang\” for Looking China Project. In 2017, I finished my master studies with a short film “Gills” and started working for Radio Television of Serbia as a director of Tv series mostly about science and shows for kids. In meanwhile, I`ve directed a few commercials and music videos as a freelancer.
Zilha Barjaktarević is a young girl, growing up in the city of Doboj in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the post-WWII period. One of the earliest memories she has is of a local kafana (a Balkan type of tavern, with live music, food and drink) and the female singer performing there. Everyone, including her father, are obsessed with the singer’s voice and looks. When Zilha turns 16, she decides to go to Sarajevo and pursue her own singing career, running away from the typical housewife life, for which her parents (and society) prepared her. Zilha moves in with her aunt Hanka. She’s living a much more urban type of life and is very free with expressing own sexuality. Zilha, at first, only succeeds in finding a job as a waitress. When she gets fired, she accidentally finds out that her aunt’s lover – Meho – is the boss of a local kafana. The place is really shady and dirty, frequented by drunks and lowlifes, but Zilha’s happy to start her career anywhere. The things don’t go as planned. Zilha manages to gain some recognition, even from Šerbo, a bandleader in the Topola – the most famous kafana in Sarajevo. But, all of it comes with the price. Being young, beautiful and very talented, there are several men who frequent Meho’s kafana, just to watch her. She is aware of the effect she has on guests, but she gets used to playing it off. Unfortunately, they read this only as teasing from her part. Even her aunt becomes increasingly jealous because she catches Meho flirting with Zilha. One night, two of the guests who obsessed with Zilha get into a fight, trashing Meho’s kafana. Meho and aunt accuse Zilha of initiating the trouble. When Zilha is left alone with Meho, he tries to blackmail her and have sex with her, as a payback for the things “she did”. Zilha manages to escape, but even her aunt doesn’t believe that Meho tried to rape her. Zilha must leave aunt’s house, so she goes to Topola to audition for Šerbo\’s ensemble. In the meantime, she wanders into a cinema, where she watches Bitter Rice and emotionally connects with Silvana Mangano’s character, with whom she even shares a physical resemblance. Zilha manages to become a full-time singer in Topola, playing a more urban type of music with Šerbo. Topola is completely different from Meho’s kafana. There are no drunks, everybody working there is much more professional and she is well respected by the guests. She earns good money and lives in the room on the second floor of Topola. Šerbo introduces her to his young friend Safet – a handsome, rich, sweet-talking Sarajevo native. Slowly, Zilha falls for him. He is intelligent, funny and treats her with respect, introducing her to new experiences and ideas. Zilha, Safet, Šerbo and Šerbo’s girlfriend Amira start a friendship. Amira is a bit cold towards Zilha, seeing her as a ”common singer“, but she avoids starting an open conflict. Zilha decides to lose her virginity with Safet. She is over the moon with her life now. She is in love and famous singer in Sarajevo – all that she ever dreamed of. One night, Safet invites Šerbo and his wife to have dinner with Zilha and him. After the pleasant evening, Safet and Šerbo’s wife go to another room, while Šerbo and Zilha are left alone. It soon becomes obvious to Zilha that Šerbo’s flirting with her. She is offended by this because Šerbo was like an older brother to her and they had a good professional relationship. She decides to find Safet and tell him what happened. Zilha enters the room and finds him having sex with Amira. Hurt, she runs away, but Safet manages to catch her on the street. They talk and Zilha is shocked that Safet, not only knew about the plan, but he’s confused that she didn’t let Šerbo have sex with her. Zilha tries to call her father and return to Doboj. She eventually decides against it and returns to Topola. Zilha dyes her hair blonde, puts on heavy make-up, cuts up her dress and makes it, for the period, very short and with deep cleavage. Šerbo comes to her to apologize and is surprised with her sexualized look. She acts like there is no problem between the two of them and asks him to call him by her new stage name – Silvana. She sings in full kafana, while waiter changes the name on the blackboard in front of Topola. He erases Zilha and writes Silvana. This stays on the screen as the title of the movie.
Zilha Bajraktarevic aka Silvana was one of the biggest stars in Yugoslavia. Her path, from childhood in Doboj spent in poverty, to amazing glory is one of the most familiar stories of Yugoslavian culture. Besides her songs, she was also influential because of her free way of dressing, her look, all of which in general brought some new and modern insight to Yugoslavian musical and not just musical but cultural scene. It can be told that with her appearance she brought a new understanding of female figure in Yugoslavian culture. At the peak of her career, she died in the car accident.
Already these facts speak enough about the need to make a film about Zilha Barjaktarevic. However, in her life story one can find far more than a mere factography.
Main subject is an attitude of society towards Zilha`s singing in kafanas*. In reality, Zilha denied, through her later years, that she began as a bar singer. Of course, there is a lot of evidence and stories that she really did start her career as a bar singer, although, even without that, just by common sense, one can conclude that she couldn`t start her career in grand halls. Why did she, then, had a need to hide that part of her life?
The answer is in the way how society looks at bar singers. In the years when she was performing, bar singers were almost equated with prostitutes, alcoholics and coons… For someone who was trying to build a public figure which is pure and safe enough to be popular in broad masses – this would just be fatal.
This is also a reason why is this subject relevant today. Although, the things are much better now in case of women position in society than it was sixty-seventy years from now, some aspects are much harder to change. It is still not possible for women to express their sexuality with the same amount of freedom that men have, without being condemned by society. Zilha Barjaktarevic is one of the people that made an important step in that field.
Her personality can have an impact on viewers to form a certain picture about her character. However, I think this story can also communicate with people that know nothing about her as a public figure. This film can also be seen as a personal story about a girl simply trying to find her voice in the world of men. This girl could be any girl in the world. That’s why I think it is very interesting to make a film about this particular period of her life which is a period before she became widely popular.
Besides this is a biographical film and a story about women position in society, this is also a film about kafana as cultural phenomenon. For people in this region this phenomenon is pretty familiar. However, when trying to tell a story about Silvana abroad, I figured that atmosphere around kafana is pretty unfamiliar but in the same time very interesting to foreigners. If consulting Wikipedia one can find that the “term kafana is used in former Yugoslavia countries for a distinct type of local bistro which primarily serves alcoholic beverages and coffee. Most kafanas feature live music performances. It is a concept of a social gathering place for men to drink alcoholic beverages and coffee originated in Ottoman Empire”. All of that is true, but it`s not nearly enough, kafana is much more than that. It is my goal to, through authentic and realistic scenes and characters, try to catch the heart of what kafana represents – with raw emotions, small stories and bizarreness.
The story about kafana, paired with a story about Silvana, is a reason why I think this film has a great potential.
Producer: Jelena Mitrovic (Bas Celik) Funding: Film Center Serbia, project development support