20 Essential Films for an Introduction to Yugoslavian Cinema

Once upon a time there was a country, and that country made films. The films produced in the former Yugoslavia remain fascinating for anyone interested in the country or in films. This list is by no means definitive, for Yugoslav cinema is too rich and varied for that. It is rather, a primer for those unfamiliar with the region, the best bits from each era and each generation.


During the 60s, when the country was buoyed by an economic high, they even regular commercial and critical success; the country became a regular location for film scouts all across Hollywood due to its cheaper labour and wide geographic variety.

The country’s socialist dictator, Josip Broz Tito, more genial, liberal and significantly less brutal than his equivalents across the rest of Communist Eastern Europe himself was a great fan of films, and commissioned war films that promoted the actions of his Partisans against the Nazis in World War II.

Able to afford Western stars, these films, at various times, starred such names as Orson Welles, Yul Brynner, and even Richard Burton, and their budgets and scale easily matched and sometimes far surpassed their Hollywood equivalents.

Elsewhere, the roots of cinematic protest began to take charge. Inspired by the rule-breaking and anarchistic methods of the French New Wave, the Yugoslav Black Wave emerged alongside similar movements in Czechoslovakia and Poland. These directors, the most notable of which were Dušan Makavejev, Aleksander Petrović and Zelimir Zilnik, worked with low-budgets and little equipment to produce brave, inventive guerrilla films that even in a comparatively liberal communist country often fell afoul of the censors.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, their influence lived on and found good ground in the following generation, which also produced Yugoslavia’s most internationally acclaimed and arguably most controversial director, Emir Kusturica. One of the few to win not one but two Palme D’or’s at Cannes, his films remain wildly inventive formally whilst often very tricky to navigate thematically.

The arrival of the wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia severely damaged the country’s filmmaking capabilities. Despite that, the directors, actors, and crews all soldiered on.

After the war in Bosnia finished in 1995, the film industry began its slow recovery. The authoritarian control of supposedly democratic Serbia and Croatia meant that both produced more than their share of horrible nationalist films that promoted ethnic violence, but nevertheless, good, nuanced films slipped through, and a new generation of filmmakers began to find their feet.

In Bosnia, ravaged by war more than any other nation, the recovery took slower, but its post-war films have arguably been the strongest; in 2001, No Man’s Land by Bosnian Danis Tanovic became the first film from the region, both before and post-breakup, to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Although there are now a multitude of separate film industries across what was once the former Yugoslavia, with the war a very recent, very lived memory for many filmmakers, that has not stopped collaboration. The once multiethnic identity of being a Yugoslav has not subsided onscreen, and it is not uncommon to see actors portraying different identities onscreen: a Bosnian being a Serb, a Croatian being a Bosnian, and so on. The war is an unsurprisingly common theme in modern post-Yugoslav cinema, but it is a very fertile one.

This list, is by no means definitive, for Yugoslav cinema is too rich and varied for that. It is rather, a primer for those unfamiliar with the region, the best bits from each era and each generation. May the next one be every bit as good as those before!


How Are You? by Barbara Matejčić, a review


"From time to time, a literary work would appear that would succeed in giving a voice to the voiceless ones. How Are You?, an excellent collection of short stories by a Croatian journalist and writer Barbara Matejčić, is one of these literary works.
The author has spent a period of her life with her characters, being with them, helping them and listening to their stories, and her method is hence intrinsically one typical of investigative journalism."
Saša Ilić,


Tea Tulić: The Hair is everywhere (Selection)


Tea Tulić was born in Rijeka (Croatia) in 1978. Her work was published in various Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian and Slovenian literature and cultural magazines including McSweeney’s from San Francisco. In 2011, she won Prozak, a literary award for the best young author’s manuscript, which resulted in publication of her first book, a fragmentary novel Kosa posvuda (Hair Everywhere). The novel received numerous positive reviews and was included in the top five prose books of the 2011 by Vijesnik daily newspaper, The Croatian Ministry of Culture awarded it as one of the best prose books in 2011. Hair Everywhere is also translated and published in UK, Italy, Macedonia and Serbia. In 2014. in cooperation with the musical collective Japanski Premijeri, she published spoken word album Albumče on Bandcamp.
She is a jury member of international short prose competition Lapis Histrae and a member of RiLit, a non-formal group of writers from Rijeka. Her new novel “Maksimum jata” (Flock’s maksimum) is recently published.

CM extensions

Film festivals in Croatia

The Croatian Audiovisual Centre currently co-finances 59 film festivals and other audiovisual events. These serve various functions: they are particularly important for promoting Croatian audiovisual creation and serve as a platform for screening artistic content and non-commercial film forms, which makes them relevant on a local, regional, national and, in some cases, international level.


The Little Black Egg: a punk excursion to Croatia

"It’s called Rijecki Novi Val. (Novi Val is Croatian for New Wave.) This is one of the best collections of anything I ever acquired. Punk and New Wave were huge in the Balkans. I said it once, and I’ll say it again: the ex-YU countries are responsible for the some of the best punk music made anywhere."


An interview with Zdenko Franjić

Starting out in 1987, Croatian record label Slusaj Najglasnije! (or Listen Loudest!) documented many of Croatia’s greatest bands, including Majke, Hali Gali Halid, Satan Panonski, Bambi Molestors, and many others. Over time, Listen Loudest! evolved, and today releases music from artists the world around. The mastermind behind Listen Loudest, Zdenko Franjic, has been kept his label/life mission together for over thirty years without a break.


Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.


Dancing under socialism: rare electronic music from Yugoslavia

In the last couple of years, various collections of electronic music from former Yugoslavia popped up, ranging from numerous downloadable CDR mixtapes to official compilation albums. Yet there are several more waiting in line to be pressed and, as you will see, these are most definitely worth waiting for.


First Croatian newspaper for asylum-seekers, refugees launched

The monthly publication was launched with the aim of establishing closer mutual trust and offering information to people who were forced to leave their homes in search of protection and security, it was said at the launch.
Most of the newspapers' authors are asylum-seekers.


Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.


Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.


A History of Eastern European Matchboxes

Although they were produced under strict state-controlled production processes; that were aimed at exploiting them as a means of publicizing political initiatives, promoting public health and safety, and selling the communist ideal both at home and abroad, the artists used them as a vehicle to experiment with various imaginative ideas and artistic techniques, achieving truly stunning results.

Authors' pages

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