Emir Kusturica haunts every wooden crevice of his village and film festival. You often hear him before seeing him, his gravelly baritone breaking through the smoky rooms and chatter. He barks orders, jokes, and councils. He doesn’t suggest.
(For those who don’t know, Kusturica, he is Serbia’s best-known director. The film that established his international reputation is Underground.)
In the Küstendorf theater, a gym converted into a screening auditorium for the festival, he sits in the back, in a box designed to hold the jury. From this darkened perch, Kusturica periodicaly growls out stage directions, asking for a light or mic to be moved, or to remind a moderator to speak in English, or to trade quips with Audrey Tatou about finishing her workshop so they can drink red wine.
I run into him walking across the square at 9 a.m., holding a coffee, and see him holding court at 3 a.m. in a corner of the smoky bar.
He is a large presence and knows how to control his surroundings. And he knows how to talk passionately and thoughtfully about film, as evidenced by his workshop for the student filmmakers where he spoke about the need for directors to discover the hidden architecture of films, to understand the spaces of cinema and the difference between real and realism.
He takes frequent jabs at the horrors of Hollywood blockbusters (one of his favorite whipping boys is Bruce Willis), at the rise of video, and the loss of the communal theater experience.
For Kusturica, film festivals serve an important roll as defenders of art in film. Festivals serve as a bulwark against Hollywood, a place where Kusturica had an unhappy experience with the final cut of Arizona Dream (1993).
“I am sure that festivals will help cinema defend its dignity and maintain group viewership of film,” he says. “Festivals stand on the opposite side of film shown only as a product. They may be a way to bring back the time when film was art and entertainment.”