Belgrade for Creative People is a Must-visit Destination

Meet Petar Zekavica, an actor and film producer. Petar discusses contemporary art and style with Art&signatures’s Irina Vernichenko.

Belgrade, image © Danilo Mijatovic

Irina Vernichenko: Can style be felt intuitively? What is Belgrade’s style?

Petar Zekavica: Belgrade is a much-suffered city, which has undergone destruction tens of times. To this day, historians argue from where to start keeping track: due to how many wars and historical happenings the city has underwent.

This living area, which we see now, has been built over the past 200 years. It is eclectic; a daring, almost random combination of different styles: from the “Neo Byzantine”, “Secession”, “Art-Deco”, “Neoclassical” to the socialistic “Brutalism” of the concrete constructions, and this combination creates that third, fifth “style of Belgrade”, its spirit, its metaphysical presence of a city within a city. And this attracts the eye.

Belgrade, image courtesy of Petar Zekavica,

Paris is a very stylish city, created in one kind of aesthetics. Each arrondissement, district is in some ways similar to an another, even if they do slightly differ, but generally the city’s style is maintained. It envelops the viewer into an almost fairy tale narrative.

Belgrade, image courtesy of Petar Zekavica,

Belgrade inspires and awakens the thinking process in a completely different way: it is more likely to provoke you and amaze you by its unexpected, ugly kitsch and immediately after, an elegant masterpiece hidden behind a crumbling fence. For melancholics and creative people, Belgrade is a must-visit destination.

I V: What is style in cinema?
P Z: This is a complex, all-encompassing question. It is difficult to talk about cinema as a facet of art, and at the same time not mention the style and taste, because they are inseparable. Style in cinema is a certain tact and sense of proportion. It seems to me that the cinema projects of today (and I do not use the word “project” accidentally) are often impersonal, trying to imitate the tastes of the general public, on the one hand, and fit the aims of the producer (investor) on the other. The result is an impersonal product, which rather resembles an affordable yogurt in neutral packaging, that reads: “A taste you have not yet tasted.”

Another question is whether it is worth trying at all…? Where there is a conveyor belt, there is no place for high style.

Style is above all individuality – the film director’s individuality. And now it seems that directors are afraid of producers, who in turn are fearful of giving freedom to film directors. It is a great rarity and great happiness when fearlessness is funded properly.

image © Petar Zekavica

I V: What was your most successful film project?
P Z: If you mean the projects in which I participated, then I cannot highlight any single one. Not because I exclusively participated in successful projects and not because these projects are extremely unsuccessful, but rather due to my difficulty of giving an objective assessment. Personally, I remember the series «The Garden Ring» directed by Alexei Smirnov, the film by Egor Grammatikov «I will leave you love», the series «Vera» by Serbian film director Nedeljko Kovačić and perhaps the post-apocalyptic fairy tale «The Steppe» by my friend and colleague Sergei Dyachkovsky.

I V: What do you like about modern literature?

P Z: I like that it is possible to write about everything in the world without being afraid that the work will not be published. This is not an ode to joy against censorship, but only the result of an overabundance of material. There are likely eight billion very active authors on earth – today almost everyone writes in the notes on their phone or in another medium. If you add various programs based on the so-called «artificial intelligence», then modern literature is so multifaceted and motly that even Hieronymus Bosch could not paint a picture of it.

The anamnesis of the situation is rather fear and confusion and, as a result, a very gloomy picture of the future. At the same time, today young authors can express themselves faster and find their readers, especially if they write well.

Petar Zekavica, image © Danilo Mijatovic

I can name the American writer David Vann, the Russian writer Viktor Pelevin and the Serbian poet Slobodan Zubanović.

I V: Is the importance of art in the life of society growing?

P Z: I may be wrong, but it seems to me that its value, on the contrary, is decreasing. This bears a direct relation to the fact that over the past sixty years, the number of us on our planet has tripled. Tripled “Carl!” Life has become faster, more expensive, and tough. People do not have enough time to devote to one another, let alone visiting cultural sites for the purpose of an in-depth study of discourses, narratives, and premises.

And then there is the paradox – as I mentioned earlier, people are now creating a huge amount of content and it is obvious that someone is «consuming» it, reads it, notices it – so is this growth?

Can all this content be called art? The answer is no, rather than yes. In order for something to become meaningful, it needs to pass the test of time – not with one single “click”; a telegram post or somewhere else, but through a real period of time in which the observer, the reader will return to the work and realise that everything is in place, that indelible first impression is still there, it touches, it makes you think, it is not indifferent.

I V: Now everyone can take videos and photos, why are there just a few names in

P Z: It seems to me that a commercial interest plays a role here. Gallery owners and agents artificially maintain the price for certain works and it is not in their interest to show bright, new works by not yet that well-known artists.

I V: How do you feel about the theme of the Venice’s new Art Biennale «Foreigners

P Z: This topic is very dear to me. The curators of the next biennale, Adriano Pedrosa and Roberto Cicutto, borrowed the name from the Turin art movement of the early 2000’s «Stranieri Ovunque», who with their creative work drew attention to the growing provocations of right-wing and far-right movements. I see this as a bold and at the same time romantic attempt to openly talk about a person as an individual, about his position in a modern, rapidly changing society. Who are we and where are we going?
Feeling as a foreigner has haunted me all my adult life – feeling out of place amongst strangers, as well as among my own people. It is a strange and sometimes exhausting feeling. Maybe it is time to go to the biennale (laughs).

I V: What is it like to play the leading role?
P Z: In addition to great responsibility, there is also the need to correctly calculate your strength – not to run out of steam right away; not relaxing at all. But above all, it is a great joy.

It is good when the main role comes to the artist on time, not too early and not too late. But my key role in life is fatherhood… for me, this state is similar to how I would feel if I were to play three main roles in three films simultaneously; I need energy, perseverance and honesty.

I V: Challenging historical orthodoxies – is this present in modern cinema?

P Z: I consider historical revisionism to be an extremely dangerous occupation. Of course, if we are talking about satire or a fictional comedy, then the author has every right to make the Pope a Chinese mandarin or Lenin a mushroom, but these are genre stories. Today, some authors flirt with entirely serious topics that they often cannot master. The freedom to do anything is primarily the freedom of choice in which it is possible and necessary not to harm in the first place. And it does not matter if it’s a patient in the hospital or a young, unprepared spectator.

I V: Who do you consider to be the most brilliant Western actors?
P Z: Maurice Ronet, Jack Lemmon, Jeanne Moreau
IV: And, in Russia?
P Z: Innokentiy Smokunovskiy, Nataliya Gundareva, Oleg Yankovskiy

I V: Do you not like salon art?
P Z: I do not find the dialogue created by salon art to be very captivating, because it leads neither the narrator, nor the listener to a substantive conversation. In such situations, sharp corners, unpleasant topics are avoided, and insubordination is unforgiven. There is no place for rebellion, experimentation, and mistakes. The nakedness of our mortal life is averted. In the 17th century, the famous English philosopher Hobbes said that human life is «nasty, brutish and short,» and this has remained as such,
apart from rare moments of peace and tranquillity.

I V: Would you like to participate in a salon film project?
P Z: It depends on the size of the salon and who will be walking around in it. Of course, I’m just joking. I do not want to be absolutely categorical. I want to stay open to the world, to surprises, and sometimes to making impulsive decisions. It happens that in the «salon» project there is a share of the today; a share of sincere misunderstanding that can make the audience think and not leave empty-handed.

Petar Zekavica
actor and film producer