Lydia Papadimitrou and Ana Grgić (eds.): Contemporary Balkan Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022, ISBN-13: 978-1474458443, 322 pp.

Asja Makarević
Balkan cinema, 2008 global financial crisis, co-production culture, affinitive transnationalism, opportunistic transnationalism, Europeanisation of Balkan cinema, transnational textual approach, criticism of patriarchy, transnational aesthetic interactions, genre diversification, arthouse cinema, international visibility, local reception, post-socialist, post-war legacies.

In their introduction to Contemporary Balkan Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits, the editors Lydia Papadimitrou and Ana Grgić argue for the concept of the Balkans to be a valid framework that can be productively applied to study the cinematic activity in the region, despite any negative connotation evoked by the term. As Maria Todorova argues in her seminal book Imagining the Balkans (1997), the origin of the West’s hostile perception of the Balkans is exemplified by words such as “balkanization” primarily used to denote “the process of nationalist fragmentation of former geographic and political units into new and problematically viable small states” (Todorova 1997: 32). Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) and Todorova`s Imagining the Balkans are referenced by Papadimitrou and Grgić due to their influence on other critical approaches to studying the Balkans. The impact is most evident in concepts such as ‘nesting orientalisms’ (Hayden and Bakić-Hayden 1992, 1995), ‘self-exoticism’ (Iordanova 2001) or ‘self-balkanization’ (Longinović 2005), as well as in more recent contributions to the field made by Dušan Bjelić and Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli. According to Papadimitrou and Grgić, their book is less invested in further exploring the complex relationship between the West and the Balkans, offering instead a well grounded study on cinematic activity across the region. It takes the 2008 global financial crisis as its point of departure, rather than insisting on the collapse of communism in Europe as its launching point. The authors opt for a broader understanding of the region, one that dismantles its limiting identification with the former Yugoslavia. The national profiles of the cinematic activity of the 13 countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey) are thereby included, while the emphasis is firmly placed on transnational collaboration and exchange. As often noted herein, Cyprus, Greece and Slovenia, as EU member states, were directly influenced by the economic crisis, while the crisis had relatively little influence on the majority of Balkan countries. Nevertheless, the editors maintain that a shift towards a more “extrovert[ed] attitude” in film production and distribution could be observed from 2008 onwards across the Balkan states. This attitude is most evident in the establishment of national film centres across the states of former Yugoslavia, as well as in the adoption of an international co-production funding scheme. All countries included in the study, except for Kosovo, are member states of Eurimages, a cultural support fund of the Council of Europe. By 2019 they had become signatories of the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production. As the introduction reveals, a revision of the convention in 2018 lowered the minimum participation level for a co-producing partner to 5%. This move has enabled “smaller producing countries” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2005:79) to become co-producing partners on bigger projects from which they had been previously excluded, due to budgetary constraints. The authors in this volume agree that the quick adoption of international co-production as an industry practice in its two forms – majority and minority – has shaped the film production landscape of the Balkan states in the past decade. Jurica Pavičić and Aida Vidan assert that the democratisation in funding processes in Croatia provides opportunities for many debutant directors, opening the space up for previously neglected female visual sensibilities. Maria Chalkou attributes the success of a co-production culture in contemporary Greek cinema to the international orientation and professional training abroad of a new generation of executive producers. In a similar fashion, Gergana Doncheva argues that the “rejuvenation of Bulgarian cinema” takes place in part due to the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers, who are ready to work in a transnational competitive environment. In her view, the scarce state funding led to a steady professionalisation of producers. The smaller size and output of film producing territories, the newly formed states of the former Yugoslavia in particular, necessitates neighbourly, cross-border collaboration. As Dijana Jelača, Nevena Daković, Aleksandra Milovanović, Iva Leković and Vessela S. Warner assert in their contributions on Bosnian, Serbian and North Macedonian cinemas respectively, these co-operations are not only financially motivated akin to what Mette Hjort terms “opportunistic transnationalism”. They also occur among partners who, more importantly, share common cultural space and some linguistic elements. In that sense, they correspond with Hjort`s definition “affinitive transnationalism”. Jelača quotes one of the most prolific Bosnian producers Amra Bakšić Čamo, who claims that the shared cultural space makes these co-productions organic. Nevertheless, “it is not the case of ‘mere’ Yugonostalgia, but rather an instance of ‘practical thinking’ and mutual support that guarantees the survival of all individual regional film industries” (Vukobrat 2014 as qtd. in Jelača 37). Similarly, Daković, Milanović and Leković argue that the pre-existing exchange and co-operation across the states of former Yugoslavia led to the establishment of today's co-production practices. The authors add that Serbia`s membership in Eurimages and Creative Europe MEDIA, the EU programme supporting the cultural and creative sectors, has enhanced the development of co-productions within and across the region of former Yugoslavia, the Balkans and Europe. (204) Warner notes that following the collapse of communism, North Macedonia renewed ties with its old Western partners, Germany, Italy and France, as well as with its neighbouring countries. In her view, regional collaboration prevails while acting “as a safeguard for many smaller economies in the region after the 2007–8 global financial crisis” (Stojcheska 2018 as qtd. in Warner 157). Most of the contributors emphasise the role, which film festivals and co-production markets have for the sustainable film production culture across the Balkan states. They act as “sites for co-production networking and deals” (Iacob 182), alternative distribution networks for arthouse films” (Papadimitriou and Grgić 14) or key frameworks through which Bosnian cinema, for instance, “circulates and interacts with the globalising flows of world cinema more broadly” (Jelača 37). They stand for “exhibition outlets” (Papadimitriou and Grgić 14), especially in the former socialist states, where a devastated distribution system has left many areas without access to cinema. CineLink Industry Days of the Sarajevo Film Festival, Agora of Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and Transylvania International Film Festival`s industry strand, to name a few, act as hubs for film activity within, across and beyond the Balkan region. The benefits of the so-called Europeanisation of Balkan cinemas appear to be numerous, according to the authors of this study. They are evident through the emergence of new film centres, structural changes in cinema legislation, transnational movements with regards to production, distribution and exhibition, the increase of women filmmakers, as well as the digitalisation of film heritage. A closer look into more obvious advantages of transnational movements of Balkan filmmakers and films activates a string of questions with regards to more implicit challenges. To what degree does the access to European film funds influence thematic and stylistic preferences in the Balkan films? How are films, which circulate internationally with significant media coverage, received locally? Under what circumstances are the expectations implicit in the EU film funding policies restrictive and when do they become enabling for the Balkan filmmakers? What are the possible backfires and what productive challenges of co-production alliances between Western European funders and their Eastern counterparts? Some of these questions have been addressed and announced early on in Introduction, yet most have been brought up or explored in detail in the subsequent chapters on Bulgarian, Croatian, Cypriot, Greek, Romanian and Turkish cinemas. I will discuss them by drawing comparisons between somewhat different, yet relatable experiences.

In her contribution on Bulgarian cinema, Doncheva addresses how post-socialist legacies, entailed in state corruption, poverty and moral degradation, have been repeatedly and monotonously thematised in contemporary arthouse cinema. She sees a discrepancy between the media coverage afforded to this type of cinema, due to the films` successful runs on the international film festival circuit, and their poor reception by local audiences. Regardless of the audience’s inability to engage with this type of cinema, the choice of a topic and a related style appear to be a successful strategy for receiving national or European funding, according to Doncheva. Nevertheless, Bulgarian contemporary cinema, for its part, is also characterised by a newer, more positive tendency, experienced as the emergence of new genres or the experimentation with the older ones.

Daković, Milanović and Leković argue, in a similar vein, that the Eurimages-funded films in Serbia are characterised by a well-anticipated, yet narrowly specified thematic range. They deal with the issues of the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, engage with the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s through the lens of ethno-nationalism and war crimes, and explore corruption, poverty and moral decay as its consequences. Yet, as is the case with Bulgarian cinema, the increase in co-productions appears to enable and enhance a genre diversification, the exploration of themes and styles beyond the prevalent ones related to war and memory.

Pavičić and Vidan notice that the Croatian war for independence, formerly a major topic, has gradually lost its prominence in national production. The subject has persisted in regional co-productions with the former Yugoslav states. The thematic focus seems to shift towards postwar realities, from epic-scale to intimist dramas, characterised by “criticism of patriarchy” as well as “(t)he misery caused by dysfunctional public services, a conservative mindset and corruption”. (76) In the authors` view, the cinema of the last decade has been marked by a reaction to the global stylistic tendencies in the new Philippine cinema, the Berlin school or in the films by the Dardenne brothers, but also by the influence of culturally, socially and geographically much closer and similar Romanian New Wave films, which makes both types of aesthetic interactions truly transnational. What remains to be seen, according to Pavičić and Vidan, is whether the adopted and, by now, consolidated aesthetic features of slow cinema alienate the local audience or prompt the filmmakers to aim for the international arthouse and festival circuit.

Cypriot cinema is similarly characterised by a thematic shift away from the focus on the island's division, dubbed “the Cyprus Problem”, towards a wider scope of themes concerning gender, domestic violence, migration, and presupposing alternative artistic strategies. According to Costas Constandinides and Yiannis Papadakis, this shift has also led to a relative shift in co-production practices, from island-wide collaborations between Turkish and Greek Cypriot film professionals towards more transnational exchanges.

In her chapter on Romanian cinema, Raluca Iacob reveals that most New Wave films produced from the 2000s onwards, that have had a considerable critical acclaim and international visibility, were associated with “kitchen sink realism”. This type of aesthetic, according to Doru Pop, whom Iacob quotes, captures “the economic and social precarity of the late Ceaușescu era or the early post-communist years.” (174) Post-2010 Romanian cinema is, in its part, characterised by a more recent tendency towards transnationalisation. This implies a conscious removal of local and cultural specificities related to a specific socio-economic status, and a new focus on “upper-middle-class individuals, whose problems are more readily translatable across borders.” (174) Iacob maintains that part of the reason for this thematic and stylistic shift can be found in the integration of contemporary Romanian cinema in the transnational flows of cinematic activity.

On a related note, Maria Chalkou quotes Deborah Shaw, who regards transnationalism as a textual approach, besides being associated with industrial and consumption practices. Evident in a range of Greek arthouse, popular and documentary films, it appears to be either the result of the exposure of Greek films to European co-production practices or a deliberate strategy of locally produced films to meet expectations of international markets and audiences alike. Other possibilities, in Chalkou`s view, involve the reflection upon the multi-cultural character of Greek society as well as the destabilisation of the concept of national identity in today's globalised world. Characterised “by a deliberate sense of a-temporaneity, a-topicality and dystopicality, open to multiple and allegorical interpretations” (117), many Greek New Wave films explore the notion of repressive family in a strictly patriarchal setting, thereby, conveying transnationally shared rather than uniquely Greek experience.

In her chapter on Turkish cinema, Melis Behlil sees the transnationality of arthouse films as a way to benefit from European funding opportunities rather than to explore truly transnational themes. In her estimate, this appears to be an opportunity for future growth. Turkish arthouse cinema shares the features of Hjort`s “opportunistic transnationalism” and in that way corresponds with the Romanian New Wave cinema. Comparable to the most prominent Greek Weird Wave and Romanian New Wave films, notable films by directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Semih Kaplanoğlu and Yeşim Ustaoğlu have enjoyed unprecedented international visibility and critical acclaim. Likewise, they have been, for the most part, poorly received by their wider local audiences.

As we can see, most of the authors address a myriad of challenges brought up by the blossoming co-production culture of the Balkan cinema. They explore discrepancies between the international visibility and poor local reception of notable arthouse titles. What’s more, they scrutinise what they perceive to be a necessity for local film professionals to meet expectations by European film funders and audiences alike and, at the same time, move away from already well-explored topics and styles. This involves deciding between focusing on universally translatable themes involving gender and migration issues, criticism of patriarchy, experimentation with genre filmmaking, on one side, and exploring regionally specific themes, i.e. associated with the post-socialist and post-war legacies of the Balkans, on the other. The value of this edited volume lies in raising such questions and opening the space up for future inquiries into dynamic developments of the contemporary and transnational Balkan cinema.

Asja Makarević
Goethe University Frankfurt


Asja Makarević currently works as a postdoctoral fellow in the research programme “AGE-C Aging and Gender in European Cinema” at Goethe University, Frankfurt, where she obtained her PhD degree. Her doctoral research addresses the ongoing “post-war” condition of the former Yugoslavia and the concomitant emergence of "non-representational” images of war in post-Yugoslav film. Prior to embarking on an academic career, between 2009 and 2017, Asja managed Talents Sarajevo, the Sarajevo Film Festival’s networking and training platform for emerging film professionals from Southeast Europe and Southern Caucasus.


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Suggested Citation

Makarević, Asja. 2023. Review: “Lydia Papadimitrou and Ana Grgić (eds.): Contemporary Balkan Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 16. DOI:

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