Nicolas Wagnières: Hotel Jugoslavia

Since the beginning of this century I have visited Belgrade once per year – as readers of this site will know because of reports from the Magnificent7 documentary festival. Every year one of our tours for lunch goes to wonderful Zemun at the the Danube, and to go there we have passed the Hotel Jugoslavija. What is the story of the hotel, I have asked local hosts. Ahh, it used to be important in Tito’s time but after his death and after Yugoslavia stopped being Yugoslavia, it stopped being important. Were the short answers you get in a car passing by the huge building.

Now I know much more thanks to the film of Nicolas Wagnières, his first long documentary. His mother was born and lived in the country until the sixties, bringing him to visit, he became fascinated, fell in love with the ideas that were once behind the non-aligned country – unity, brotherhood, collectiveness and self-management.

In stylized images, with constant camera movements through the empty hotel, beautiful as it was, then totally in ruins and built up again, but not totally, once a superb hotel built on the order of Tito, in 1969, a hotel where top politicians and celebrities checked in, placed beautifully in New Belgrade, then later in the 1990’es home for criminals, bombed by NATO in 1999, as Arkan and his gang was supposed to operate from there… he set up a casino, and there is still a casino there, I was there a couple of years ago, super posh with no soul.

Wagnières makes the hotel a symbol for a country falling apart, he has interviews with his mother, with people working at the hotel, he goes from images from inside the hotel to interviews, to propaganda films, to archive footage showing the mourning that followed Tito’s death in 1980, but he also includes clips from fiction films, one of them a recent action film, where the hotel is blown up. And there is Milosevic with his nationalism.

Wagnières says that he during a decade has come back to the city and the hotel and that he has filmed “pour garder and pour regarder”. He conveys his point of view very much through his personal voice off – one of the best sequences is the interview with the mother, who remembers how people stood together after the ww2, eager to build a new society of unity and brotherhood, values that are no longer part of the Serbian society. Wonderful propaganda footage.

The film is not deep, it is not an analysis of the history of a country, there is too much “it was much better before”, but the director is an outsider, his style and approach is to be respected, and as I have seen and experienced Belgrade during the years of visiting, I can only share the director’s and Belgrade friends worry for what is happening with the city and its development, when you see the glass skyscrapers popping up at the water front. Which he captures well at the end of the film.

Switzerland/France, 2017, 78 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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