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Filmske Novosti: Filmed Diplomacy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

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This article maps out a network of cinematic collaboration established between Yugoslavia and the non-aligned countries in Africa, primarily via the institution of the Yugoslav Newsreels (Filmske novosti). Yugoslav newsreel activities developed to accompany the performative diplomacy of President Tito’s “Voyages of Peace,” playing a role both in cementing his image internationally and his political status at home. By the late 1950s, cinema would become one of the central instruments of Yugoslav information activities abroad, capitalizing on an expanding diplomatic network. In this context, Filmske novosti became the bearers of Yugoslav technical aid in the domain of cinema. Building on a trope of shared revolutionary struggles, they boosted Yugoslavia’s international reputation through the filming of the Algerian Liberation Movement. The unique nature of the cinematic aid provided by Filmske novosti to liberation movements such as the ALN and FRELIMO was continued, with assistance in setting up of national film centers in countries such as Mali and Tanzania. Throughout, Yugoslavia maintained a praxis of non-conditional and non-credited transnational ciné-kinship, which is one of the reasons this remains an unknown chapter in the history of Third Cinema and militant ciné-geographies.

Special Issue Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Association for the Study of Nationalities

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Yugoslavia played a central and yet specific role in the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was founded at the Belgrade Conference in 1961 to challenge Cold War machinations and represent the interests of emerging countries. In the context of an East-West conflict and the growing urgency of anti-colonial movements, Yugoslavia represented a country that had both won its own fight for freedom and charted its own path toward socialism, and this conferred it a unique stature among the NAM countries. To maintain and solidify this position in the international arena, the architects of Yugoslav diplomacy systematically developed a communication system promoting Yugoslav activity. In the years leading up to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, cinema—newsreel, documentary, and less frequently, fiction—would emerge as an important focal point of Yugoslavia’s information strategy and a vector of public diplomacy across the non-aligned world.

This article begins by examining the political and diplomatic use of cinema in constructing and communicating Yugoslavia’s image internationally. It maps out the infrastructure and institutions involved in the fabrication of Yugoslavia’s image, focusing on one of the principle agents of this activity, the state-run Yugoslav Newsreels—Filmske novosti.Footnote 1 Given the global post-war prominence of newsreels as an information medium, Filmske novosti would play a key role in cultivating the personal and performative diplomacy of President Tito. In reporting on Tito’s international activities, the newsreels served to further Yugoslavia’s foreign policy objectives. In addition, by forging a narrative of similarity and commonality with the countries he was visiting, they created a discursive framework that had important echoes for the domestic priority of constructing a multi-cultural Yugoslav nation. Towards the end of the 1950s, when Filmske novosti entered a system of international newsreel exchange, they expanded their initial task of filming and producing newsreels and documentary films on Yugoslavia to distributing this news internationally. This article argues that the international circulation of moving images of leaders and events solidified the nascent Non-Aligned Movement for its respective publics, in effect making it more visibly meaningful than politically concrete. By situating Filmske novosti’s activities within a wider analysis of Yugoslavia’s filmed diplomacy, the article joins recent literature that has taken off a purely Cold War lens in order to begin the long overdue examination of transnational political and cultural circulation that sprung from a period marked by intense summitry and activity in international organizations. Such events offered a platform for the visibility of non-aligned countries and a forum through which they could assert their political sovereignty as part of a continual struggle against monopolies on the flow of international information.

Beginning as a means of reporting on political and technical aid, cinema would gradually become an important component of this assistance. As countries emerging from colonialism sought to set up their information infrastructures, during the 1960s and 1970s they became a battleground for Cold War influence. With the withdrawal of colonial networks of newsreel production and cinema distribution, the culture and information sectors in newly-liberated countries were lacking essential personnel and equipment. Between attempts at commercial penetration of emerging markets and responding to requests for technical aid, Yugoslavia would come to chart a different form of cinematic collaboration. During the 1960s and 1970s, Filmske novosti appear as a main agent of Yugoslav cinematic activity in Africa and Asia, the hub of a state-managed network of international filmmaking practices, with their cameramen becoming a conduit of exchange, solidarity and important political ties. Starting with filming carried out in Ethiopia in 1954, over a period of 25 years the role of Filmske novosti would evolve from responding to the needs of documenting a political era to playing a role in advising and supervising the setting up of national film centers in newly-independent countries in Africa. Today, the non-aligned collection of Filmske novosti contains important film archives from Algeria (filmed in the period 1959–1986), Mali, (1961–1986), Tanzania (1965–1973), and Mozambique (1967–1986), along with 35mm material filmed in many other African and Asian countries.

As such, this cinematic archive constitutes a separate yet integral chapter in the mapping of a ciné-geographyFootnote 2 known as Third Cinema. This article delves into ways that Yugoslavia’s role extended beyond the support for the creation of information infrastructures in independent countries in Africa, to assisting and training liberation movements in the documentation and propagation of their fight, notably in Algeria and Mozambique. At a time when the decolonization struggle was pivoting towards diplomatic revolutions and international information strategies, Yugoslavia sponsored, produced, distributed, and exhibited a militant cinematic image, which was used both internally and externally by liberation movements. And while the instrumentalization of cinema for the militant purposes of African liberation movements was a key form of support of their struggle, it was also harnessed to Yugoslavia’s diplomatic needs, because it served to forge a political connection with the recent memory of Yugoslavia’s own battle for freedom.

This article puts forward a three-pronged argument. Firstly, that Yugoslavia’s cinematic role in the decolonized world, reflected in the creation of newsreels, documentaries, and even fiction films, is distinctive in that collaborative production practices were not dependent on ideological identification or regional alliances, but that rather cooperation was based on universal principles and common interests (Dimić, Reference Dimić and Mitrović2008). Yugoslav leadership decided that despite deep heterogeneities on political, economic, and ideological planes, they had an interest to provide technical aid to countries which were not socialist, positioning themselves instead as a country that had similarly gone through its own period of decolonization. Secondly, this was reflected in the production of films whose content purposefully did not emphasize socialism. Thirdly, in a bid to differentiate itself from either of the two blocks, in the Filmske novosti newsreels and documentaries produced for non-aligned partners, the participation of the Yugoslav side was not publicly promoted, in keeping with Yugoslavia’s diplomatic principle of “aid without strings.” As a result of this, the affiliations which shaped Yugoslavia’s participation in the anti-colonial struggle and cinema’s role as an expression of non-aligned solidarities have been largely forgotten, and virtually unknown to both the general public and scholars studying the field today.

The mapping of the various forms of cinematic collaboration which resulted in the creation of the films that constitute the non-aligned collections of Filmske novosti attempts to rectify this knowledge gap and reveal the specificity of the political motives underpinning their production. The article traces the process by which the political and pedagogical exchange and use of films turned the moving image into one of the central instruments of Yugoslav diplomacy. In examining the modalities of this militant image, it seeks to situate the activity of Filmske novosti in a ciné-political geography, revealing cinema to be one of the most potent incarnations of non-alignment.

Filmske Novosti: Filmed Diplomacy

The 1950s were a decade of peak cinema attendance, which made newsreels the dominant visual information medium, a period Sorlin describes as the “newsreel era” (Sorlin, Reference Sorlin1998). In Yugoslavia, during this period, the screening of newsreels in cinemas before fiction films was mandated by law, which gave the institution of Filmske novosti a strong public presence in comparison to other sources of information. Filmske novosti were created in 1944 during the final stages of the antifascist partisan resistance in the Second World War, as the film section of the supreme command headed by Josip Broz Tito. This not only made them the oldest film production institution in post-war socialist Yugoslavia, but also the only film studio in Yugoslavia that was directly answerable to the federal government. They were part of the Executive Council of the Federal Government (Savezno izvršno veće, SIV), answering to the Information Secretariat (Savezni sekretarijat za informacije, SINF) which created a direct channel of political influence over the institution’s editorial policy and functioning. Political oversight notwithstanding, the partisan origins of Filmske novosti would come to be reflected in their militant engagements as the decades unfolded.

By the end of the 1950s, Filmske novosti had expanded their production and outreach, setting up a network of correspondents in every Yugoslav republic. In addition to 52 weekly newsreel issues per year, they produced various thematic editions and documentary films, dedicated to special events, commemorative anniversaries, and public projects. The newsreels were printed in 80 copies, showing in 663 cinemas and institutions around the country. Reflecting the changes concerning the use of cinema in information policies, the SINF authorized Filmske novosti to dramatically expand their reach in 1960. The number of printed copies of the weekly newsreel was increased from 80 to 129, in order to “maintain the actuality of Filmske novosti, and for their informational-propaganda activity to yield positive results.”Footnote 3 By increasing the number of copies, they were able to halve circulation time from six months to three months, and thus avoid “harmful” showings of political and other events that might be outdated.

Filmske novosti were not aimed solely at informing domestic audiences. In 1957 they became a member of the International Newsreel and News Film Association, thus joining in the international exchange of newsreels. By the end of 1958, Filmske novosti had sent 406 newsreel stories abroad to 29 different countries.Footnote 4 The geography of the newsreel exchange indicates Yugoslavia’s foreign policy re-orientations in a context of political realignments taking place in the international arena. On the heels of the Bandung conference in 1955, Third WorldFootnote 5 countries began emerging as political actors on the international stage. For Yugoslavia’s political leadership they offered potential new allies, and hence efforts were made to expand cultural activities (such as film screenings) in these regions and to enlarge distribution circuits towards Latin America and across Africa and Asia. Newsreel exchange was an integral part of this strategy, and thus exchanges with countries such as Japan, India, and the UARFootnote 6 rivaled those with immediate neighbor countries like Italy, Bulgaria, and Austria. That same year a newsreel story was exchanged for the first time with newly independent Morocco and Tunisia, as well as with Argentina and Uruguay, indicating how Yugoslav audiences’ foreign policy interests were being primed to bring these countries together.

It is not surprising then, that Filmske novosti’s cinematic involvement with the Third World advanced in parallel with Yugoslavia’s diplomatic evolution, with both being symbolically inaugurated by President Tito’s first voyage to Asia. In November 1954, Tito sailed to India and Burma, as Alvin Rubinstein described it, “to end Yugoslavia’s position of relative diplomatic isolation [which] saw him embark for the first time out of Europe, seeking to link Yugoslavia with ‘progressive’ forces of the world in the new nations of Asia and Africa” (Rubinstein Reference Rubinstein1970, 39). Tito’s trips on the ship Galeb, which took place over a decade and during which he would visit 18 countries, became known as the “Voyages of Peace.” The information strategy surrounding the trips was an integral part of their conception from the very start. Journalists, but also prominent writers, would be invited as guests on the voyages, and the crew included a photographer, radio reporter, and two cameramen of Filmske novosti. Filmske novosti were charged with the task of producing weekly newsreel reports and documentary films of the trips. The manner in which they executed this task would position them to become one of the primary vehicles in the communication of Tito’s strategy of performative diplomacy for audiences in Yugoslavia, but also abroad.

An analysis of the content and aesthetics of the newsreels and films that were produced during the Voyages of Peace offers insights into the complexity and maneuvering inherent in the political discourse that framed them. In certain cases, such as the visit to Burma on the first Voyage of Peace in 1954, or visits to Ghana and Mali in 1961, Tito was the first foreign or European head of state to visit the newly-independent country and address its parliament (in the case of Mali). In the scenes of welcome ceremonies and parades, parliamentary sessions honoring the guests, and diplomatic protocols of gift-exchange, the filmed materials reveal the way the young nations chose to present themselves, their cultures, and customs to their visitors. As Vučetić (Reference Vučetić, Vučetić and Betts2017a) points out in her analysis of Tito’s trips to Africa this produces a slightly jarring effect, particularly in the case of state ceremonies, as much of the visual culture of representation in these countries was inherited from the colonial era.

The complexity of visual representations did not escape the two cameramen, Dragan Mitrović and Stevan LabudovićFootnote 7 , who sought from the very first Voyage of Peace to expand the “visual vocabulary” of the newsreels. To enhance the filmed reports of the official welcomes and protocol, they made on-the-fly portraits of the countries they were visiting, seeking to capture the living and working conditions of the people. Their subjectivity, informed by shared progressive political views, provoked a certain reflexivity in the images. This insight was necessarily partial as it was dictated by access which was firmly controlled by the hosts. However, though the filmmakers managed to negotiate a margin of agency on the ground, it should not be assumed they were able to assume authorship of their work. The duo shipped the film reels back to Belgrade during stops along the way. These were developed, edited, and screened within the weekly newsreels while the president was still on the voyage, allowing Yugoslav audiences to follow the trip in “real time.” Seeing as the trips lasted between 60 to 90 days, taking Tito and the country’s leadership to the other side of the globe, the weekly presence of the president’s image in the newsreels was symbolically important to show he remained “present” and in control. Equally, without the filmed images, the Voyages of Peace would have been, as Sorlin puts it “an imprecise event,” as the films served to “fix [the trips] in people’s minds” (Sorlin Reference Sorlin1998, 378). In considering the impact newsreels had on audiences, Sorlin underlines that cinemas were the only places where people caught a glimpse of the living bodies of their leaders, and for him this is their real power, whereas the commentary was “trifling” (Sorlin Reference Sorlin2019, 796).

Trifling or not in its effect on audiences, the commentary of the newsreels and films further reveals the narrative complexity of the political instrumentalization of the medium. Archival documents kept in Filmske novosti, detailing the production of each newsreel issue, reveal that the commentary was written under direct political control. The voiceover often oscillated between traditional travelogue and an accolade to post-independence modernization, with emphasis on aid provided by Yugoslavia. In observing how the newsreels were edited and what was emphasized, Jakovina’s claim to the inherent contradiction in Yugoslavia’s position is confirmed (Jakovina, Reference Jakovina2011). Jakovina points out that while Yugoslavs were at pains to strike a note of equality with the countries Tito visited and to invoke the commonality of the experience of fighting against oppression, nevertheless Yugoslavia is portrayed as the superior helping hand. Clearly the commentary’s discursive frameworks were aimed at domestic audiences. Firstly, by building Tito’s personality cult, where his travelling figure over time came to represent the Yugoslav body politic, as the warm welcome to Tito was twinned in the voiceover to represent the warm attitude of the host country to the entire Yugoslav population (Brkljačić Reference Brkljačić2002). Secondly, as Jakovina points out, by sensitizing Yugoslav audiences to the “friendly” nations around the world, and through constant foregrounding of solidarity among different peoples, cultures, and religions, the narrative served to underpin Tito’s principle of brotherhood and unity, central to the stability of the multi-ethnic Yugoslav project (Jakovina Reference Jakovina2011, 13).

Upon the return from the first trip the material was compiled into a documentary film, called simply Put mira (The Voyage of Peace).Footnote 8 The poster of the film confirms the process of authorship at Filmske novosti, in that the credit of director of the film went not to the cameramen, but to the story editors at Filmske novosti who wrote the voiceover commentary. The film was screened at festivals internationally and in cinemas and earned high praise from critics. Vicko Raspor, one of Yugoslavia’s most highly regarded film critics and theorists, wrote in the magazine Film that Voyage of Peace “represented a fountain of reporter invention, adroitness and reflexes, and can enter at the top of the annals of the world’s best filmed reportages”Footnote 9 (Mitrović Reference Mitrović2001, 35). Indeed, the awareness that the cinema community of Yugoslavia had for the diplomatic value of the film is also evidenced in the fact that in April 1955, as a delegation of Yugoslav filmmakers was received by Tito to commemorate the first decade of Yugoslav cinema, they brought him the recently-completed Voyage of Peace as a gift to mark the occasion.Footnote 10

The Yugoslav Film-Diplomacy Nexus

The expanding reach of Filmske novosti was only one of the ways in which cinema was being harnessed for Yugoslavia’s diplomatic and information needs. In a report on their activity in 1959, the Information Secretariat highlighted that year as the turning point in their launch of systematic information activity towards other countries, “in view of the great interest that exists abroad about our social system and its functioning.”Footnote 11 This had been enlarged by President Tito’s most ambitious voyage to Asia and East Africa which took place from December 1958 to March 1959. Tito had travelled by boat to Indonesia, visiting Burma, India, Ceylon, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the UAR, for a marathon second Voyage of Peace that had lasted 97 days. Upon their return, members of his delegation attended a meeting focused on new information strategies in Africa. Agreeing that newly-liberated countries in Africa and Asia presented important arenas for Yugoslav diplomatic activity, and also that Yugoslavia had an interest in linking up with liberation movements in Africa, a new cultural-political nexus of policy-making began to form, which included representatives from various film institutions and political bodies. To calibrate their new strategy, the SINF launched an extensive research project, sending questionnaires to Yugoslav diplomatic outposts. The embassies, along with the two Yugoslav information centers in Cairo and New York, came back with an overwhelming consensus that “the most effective form of information and propaganda - film - was sadly being underused.”Footnote 12

In one of their first steps to rectify this problem, the Information Secretariat sought to expand the network for the circulation of films, joining forces with the DSIP to equip Yugoslav embassies with film projectors and a library of films. The decision was made to purchase 35 16mm film projectors for those embassies deemed most important in view of ongoing diplomatic efforts—including those in Tunis, Accra, Khartoum, Colombo, New Delhi, Karachi, Rangoon, and Tehran.Footnote 13 An initial fund of 20 documentary films was constituted, to be synchronized in two foreign languages and printed in 600 copies. These were primarily documentary and educational films that were screened either in the embassy or in the context of certain ceremonies and events, and rarely in cinema. A film council was established to select films on an annual basis that were to be circulated internationally via diplomatic channels.

The selection of films was, in the case of feature—in other words fiction films—hampered by the fact that Yugoslav producers had hopes of penetrating networks of distribution beyond official and event-related screenings. They acknowledged they were up against formidable odds, and that they were late to the game. In early 1962, the Council for Film Industry (part of the Federal Chamber of Industry) had prepared a three-page memo titled “Information on the problem of conquering the film markets of certain unengaged countries of Africa, and the Council’s proposals.”Footnote 14 The report went on to map out the Cold War power struggles taking place across African screens, with the countries of the Eastern bloc vying to get a foot in the door of previously colonially-controlled markets. The cinemas were dominated by American films, which represented 60% of the films shown. According to the report, the strategy of the Soviet bloc centered on the free gifting of all their films (synchronized in the appropriate language), and keeping only 15% of any revenue.Footnote 15 The report cites the “residual distribution ties with former colonial centers” and the “uneconomic basis of competition of socialist cinemas” as two barriersFootnote 16 to entry.Footnote 17

Early on however, the question of distributing Yugoslav films internationally had begun shifting from being an economic activity to a political and diplomatic one. In a report that laid out their concerns to the Secretariat of Information, the director of Jugoslavija Film, the state agency in charge of international film distribution, had stressed the need to subsidize film export “particularly to territories in Africa and Asia, where our concerns must be primarily political.”Footnote 18 Through diplomatic presentations and cultural exchanges, the placement of fiction films yielded great impact for Yugoslav policy, as summed up in the same report: “The export of films is not a mere export of goods, it is an export of our reality, the informing of the world public of our cultural and artistic achievements, and finally, the export of our propaganda.”Footnote 19 As previously noted, for the expanding Yugoslav diplomatic corps in the field, particularly in the countries that had recently won their independence, the importance of this strategy was evident in the informational use-value of documentary and newsreels.Footnote 20

That the embassies understood the political as well as diplomatic value of placing Yugoslav films in cinemas was evident in a case like Guinea. As reported by the Yugoslav Embassy in Conakry, at the start of 1960, President Sekou Touré requested from chiefs of foreign missions to examine the possibility of their countries donating films “of all kinds” to Guinea.Footnote 21 The urgency of the request revealed the difficulties they were experiencing with the French. A little more than a year after having voted for independence, Guinea was facing punitive reprisals from France,Footnote 22 which retained control over the import of films, as all distribution towards Guinea went through French companies. The distributors were limiting import of any recent or political films, allowing “mostly cowboy films” to enter the country. Where the Yugoslav ambassador saw an opportunity is indicated in the types of films he asked for—from fiction films on the subject of the war, to documentary films on industrial topics, particularly agriculture. He added a special request for “films about workers’ brigades and construction as the movement of ‘human investment’ is very developed in Guinea.”Footnote 23 In the eyes of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (DSIP) the importance of responding to this request lay in the gesture of solidarity, which would at the same time allow the presenting of Yugoslavia via its cinema and “negate the lies about our country."Footnote 24 Subsequent documents trace the growing frustration of the embassy and the DSIP as the promised aid delivery of Yugoslav films got mired in the administrative formalities of getting producers’ permissions, securing appropriate (subtitled) versions of the films, financing the creation of copies, and getting customs exemptions for their shipping—all of which highlighted the inherent tension between political and commercial considerations and revealed the lack of a systematic approach to cultural diplomacy via film. A full ten months later, a package of fiction and documentary films was finally shipped to Conakry.

In the ensuing years, the relationship between the commercial imperatives posed by film producers licensing their films internationally via Jugoslavija film and the political institutions treating cinema as a tool of “information-propaganda” (informativno-propagande aktivnosti) abroad would go through cycles of collaboration and antagonism. As described in a case study of cinematic relations with Egypt and Ethiopia in Vučetić’s overview of Yugoslav film collaboration with Africa (Reference Vučetić2017b), these swung from attempts at commercializing the penetration of African markets to initiatives for including films in technical assistance to those countries. The unresolved contradictions would ultimately sabotage both a stable and long-term strategy for the distribution of Yugoslav cinema in Africa, and the continuity of its use as a tool of diplomacy.

Diplomats were getting a handle on cinema, as demonstrated in the way films were used to lay the groundwork for the Voyages of Peace. Cinema, both fiction and documentary, was used in advance of Tito’s visits to African countries, and as part of the official program during his visits. One such example is Tito’s first visit to Sudan in February 1959. As reported by the Yugoslav embassy in Khartoum, in the months preceding the visit they launched “a massive propaganda effort,” aiming to inform the Sudanese about Yugoslavia’s social and political system, its development and post-war reconstruction, "socialist democracy," and the "position of our national minorities."Footnote 25 As detailed in a document titled “Report on propaganda activities,” “of particular importance during the visit were the screenings of Yugoslav films … to an audience of around 60 invitees of the government, diplomatic corps and public figures. In other places in Sudan films about Yugoslavia’s economic development were shown, as well as Filmske novosti’s documentary film about Tito’s life and about his Voyage of Peace to Indonesia, Burma and India.”Footnote 26 These actions, the report concluded, contributed to the “understanding of the position of an independent non-bloc country and show the Sudanese that this road is also the best one for them.”Footnote 27

In analyzing the use of films as vectors of information, Filmske novosti newsreels and films proved to be one of the best information conduits for Tito’s brand of personal diplomacy. Documents show that Yugoslav embassies in countries such as the UAR and Ghana repeatedly requested from the SINF that Filmske novosti send them documentary films reporting on Tito’s travels and speeches. The embassy in CairoFootnote 28 asked for the films not only to show them in screenings organized by the embassy,Footnote 29 but also because Egyptian authorities were interested in incorporating the reports into their own newsreels, which as the embassy pointed out “are also shown in other Arab countries.”Footnote 30 However, embassies were sensitive to how political alliances and enmities affected potential reception of the films—thus, for example, the Yugoslav embassy in Tunisia was not able to place the Filmske novosti film of Nasser’s visit to Yugoslavia in the Tunisian newsreels, due to President Bourghiba’s boycott of the Arab League, while for Tito’s visit to Indonesia to be shown in cinemas they obtained special authorization from the Tunisian Ministry of Information, because as the report stated, the Tunisian government avoided anything that might “inflame Occidental powers.”Footnote 31 This indicates the level of complexity Yugoslav diplomacy faced in navigating existing political pressures and alliances on the ground in the post-colonial era as these countries became theaters of the expanding Cold War struggle for supremacy.

That the fine calibration which informed the diplomatic effort also influenced the film-making is evidenced in the documentation surrounding the production of a half-hour documentary titled Guests from Africa Footnote 32 by Filmske novosti. The SINF timed the film to be released during Tito’s third Voyage of Peace in 1961, as part of a number of films which he would offer as gifts, along with Yugoslav-made film projectors, to the heads of states he was visiting.Footnote 33 The trip, Tito’s first to West Africa, lasted 54 days, and took him to Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Republic. The purpose of Guests from Africa was to sum up the chapter of Yugoslavia’s diplomatic links with Africa that had begun in July 1954 when Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie became the first leader from the African continent to visit the country. The SINF sent the script for the film to the Cabinet of the President of the Republic, asking for their comments “in view of the delicate relationships between certain African countries.”Footnote 34 The president’s secretary commented on the script in detail, from the choice of shots (“make sure the shot of President Tito greeting Ibrahim Abboud of Sudan is not more affectionate than the shots of the meeting between President Tito and Nasser”) to instructing several structural changes—one of which was expanding the section on Yugoslavia’s growing role in the support of the Algerian liberation war.Footnote 35 This was echoed by comments on the script provided by the DSIP, which also recommended expanding the section on the visit of Ferhat Abbas, the president of the Algerian Provisional Government, to Yugoslavia in 1959, advising them to “highlight the most important aspects of our assistance to the fight of the Algerian people (wounded soldiers, students, aid to refugees), which is very popular in African countries.” Footnote 36 It was the Algerian war that would lead Filmske novosti into a extraordinary era of transnational collaboration, as their cameramen became bearers of a cinematic solidarity.

Yugoslavia in the Information Wars

In June 1959, a delegation of the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA) headed by Ferhat Abbas arrived in Belgrade to meet President Tito. The defining image of that encounter was that of Tito presenting Abbas with a rifle, a visual gesture symbolizing the transmission of resistance, but also the passing from clandestine to public support. This moment propelled Yugoslavia from a passive supporter to an active advocate, and it was a move President Tito would pay for politically, with France ultimately rupturing diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. But it was a remarkable publicity coup. The picture, which appeared on the cover of the FLN’s guerrilla information bulletin El Moujahid Footnote 37 and was carried by newspapers around the world, coupled the image of Tito as statesman with that of Tito as a guerrilla fighter, serving to remind a global audience of Tito’s war-time biography. At the same time, it twinned the narrative of Yugoslavia’s liberation struggle to those of Africa, anointing Tito as a spiritual “godfather” of armed anti-colonial resistance.

The Algerian war, having entered its fifth year, had become the focal point of decolonization struggles around the world. The Algerians had come to Belgrade hoping to turn the political into material support, and they continually stressed their interest in the Yugoslav guerrilla experience. Claiming that the Yugoslav National-liberation war (Narodno-oslobodilačka borba, NOB) represented their ideal in combat strategy, the Algerians asked for films to supplement their knowledge of guerrilla tacticsFootnote 38 (on the military collaboration between Yugoslavia and the FLN, see Lazić in this special issue). The SINF ended up choosing 20 fiction and documentary films about the NOB which were gifted to the FLNFootnote 39 along with 3 projectors.

The visit to the SINF by the Algerian delegation was part of a diplomatic push by which the GPRA was seeking to internationalize the Algerian “question.” The Yugoslavs agreed to offer further assistance to the Algerians to counter an international media narrative that was dominated by the French in which the Algerians were depicted as violent terrorists. The Algerian side was seeking to make films that showed the motives of their fight as well as the plight of the Algerian people, in order to rally international public opinion to their side.Footnote 40 It is only recently that historians and scholars have started looking at the “diplomatic revolutions” of liberation movements.Footnote 41 These authors point out that although the struggles for self-determination in the 1950s and 1960s were military, they were all won through diplomatic means. As the focus of study has shifted away from analysis of military offensives, light has been shed on the role diplomatic strategies played in securing political success. An examination of the use of media by several liberation movements, via printed press, radio and film screenings, reveals an information campaign in which Yugoslavia played an important role, not least through the engagement of journalists and cameramen. Their contribution can also be positioned within the re-emerging examinations of the ethos of militant or Third Cinema,Footnote 42 with its appeal to the political instrumentalization of cinema in the process of liberation. Although the Third Cinema manifesto would appear a decade later (and tend to focus on collectives rather than state actors) the work of the Filmske novosti cameraman can be inscribed into such networks of Third World cinematic solidarity.

The ciné-collaboration agreed upon during the visit of the GPRA to Belgrade was operationalized by the decision that Filmske novosti would send a cameraman to the ALN HQ in Ghardimau, Tunisia, close to the border with Algeria. So it was that Stevan Labudović, one of the two cameraman who followed President Tito on the Voyages of Peace, was assigned this task in November 1959. Labudović, who had begun his career during the Second World War as a photographer with the Yugoslav partisans, was to spend three months filming with the ALN with the aim of making a documentary film about the war. The script for the film was written by Zdravko Pečar, a Yugoslav news correspondent and later diplomat, who had spent the previous summer embedded with the ALN, publishing widely-read reports on their activities.Footnote 43 The script instructed Labudović to supply images of a well-trained army carrying out effective tactical guerrilla assaults on the mighty French forces, accenting troop discipline and morale, relations with villagers and popular support, and evidence of French atrocities.Footnote 44 Narratively conceived as an information film, based on Pečar’s detailed knowledge of ALN activities, the script provided few instructions on the aesthetic approach, leaving Labudović to execute the task according to his ideas and the possibilities on the ground.Footnote 45

While Labudović’s original assignment was agreed with the GPRA’s Ministry of Information, it necessarily adapted to the realities of the security situation, as he would ultimately collaborate with the Political Commissariat of the Algerian Liberation Army (ALN), rather than the movement’s political wing (FLN). This is a key distinction in understanding his exceptional access to the troops and battle areas. It would also affect the ownership of the material and its future use, as the political and military wing of the revolutionary movement would clash throughout the war. As the initial three-month period expired, Labudović’s mission would expand. In part this was because he had not been able to film the scenes anticipated in Pečar’s script,Footnote 46 but also because the army realized the additional value of his presence as a documentarian, and his role morphed into chronicling the war. He would spend lengthy periods of time with the ALN until Algeria won its independence in July 1962, filming an estimated 83km of 35mm film (roughly 45 hours) of the Algerian army and the plight of Algerian refugees in Tunisia. By virtue of the fact that he was President Tito’s cameraman, Labudović enjoyed the trust of the army, becoming an intimate friend of Colonel Houari Boumédiène, the future president of Algeria, at the time Chief of Staff of the ALN. As a result, he had access to film units in the Eastern zone of operations around the Tunisian border, under different commanders of the ALN, one of whom was Chadli Bendjedid, another future president of Algeria.Footnote 47 In the months preceding Algerian independence, Filmske novosti sent two additional units of cameramen to film the entrance of Algerian troops into the country, and their advance all the way to the capital, Algiers. Their reportsFootnote 48 from the field offered a valuable account of the challenges of filming the chaotic handover of political control in the days before independence was declared, while providing the Yugoslav government with an insight into the power struggles taking place on the ground between the army and the government.Footnote 49 The fact that Labudović and the other Filmske novosti cameraman were not in Algeria on their own private initiative doesn’t lessen their agency or affect the value of their engagement, but it does alter the prism through which to view their involvement as they were reporting their actions to the Yugoslav government. Indeed, it is important to underline that many notable cameramen left valuable filmic documentation of the Algerian war at great personal risk and sacrifice. These were, most famously, Djamal Chanderli and French cinéastes Rene Vautier, Pierre Chollet, and Pierre Clement, but also various Eastern bloc cameramen. While the filmmakers had differing statuses vis-a-vis the FLN and the army, and varied production practices, all were dependent on a network for the distribution and dissemination of their work. According to Ahmed Bedjaoui (Bedjaoui Reference Bedjaoui2014, 72) some French filmmakers who were on the ground in Algeria shipped their films to be developed in the Filmske novosti lab in Yugoslavia as well, complicating questions of authorship of many of the reels kept there today.Footnote 50 An example of the sharing of resources and the collectivist film-making these entanglements resulted in is the documentary film Dzazaïrouna (Our Algeria) made during the summer of 1960 by Filmske novosti using Labudović’s material, as well as that of other cameramen that was kept in Belgrade.Footnote 51 Dzazaïrouna is generally considered the first documentary signed by the newly-created Service Cinéma of the Ministry of Information of the GPRA, and a group of Algerian and French filmmakers came to Belgrade to participate in the editing and voice-over recording of the film, making it a truly collectivist work and an example of Third Cinema.

As the concept of ciné-geography extends to considerations of the practices of dissemination and distribution of works, it is important to note that Dzazairouna had been conceived for screening at the United Nations during the discussion of the Algerian question in the fall of 1960.Footnote 52 Upon its completion, the film was shown at the prestigious Leipzig Film Festival. It was further used to create political events and discussions internationally. Indeed, Ahmed Bedjaoui underlines that the primary objective of the films made in the period until Algeria won its independence in 1962 was to “provide journalists around the world with images showing a people mobilized in the fight for their freedom” (Bedjaoui Reference Bedjaoui2014, 89). Filmske novosti filmmakers were important actors in this network as during the war they were not only recording events, developing and editing the footage in Belgrade, and archiving it for the ALN, but in consultation with the Algerian side they were also distributing it internationally. Indicating that the use-value of the material was a conscious concern for all the actors involved, Stevan Labudović was kept informed of the international placement of his footage, and asked to relay this information to the Algerians, keeping them briefed on the results and unexpected problems.Footnote 53

As Manthia Diawara points out in his book on African cinema, outward-facing communications was just one of a multitude of ways films were used by the liberation movements. Harnessed not only to uphold the right of self-determination and expose events to the outside world, they also served an internal diplomatic and instructional purpose by informing people about the significance of the revolution (Diawara Reference Diawara1992, 89). In the case of Algeria, a mobile film projector was used to show films to the troops and the displaced civilian population living in the Tunisian border area,Footnote 54 attributing a pedagogical mission for and to cinema, thus rendering it truly militant in its nature.

Addressing the pedagogical needs of a movement whose independence was on the horizon, by 1961 the role of Filmske Novosti would extend from chronicling and archiving the war to training and education. An agreement was signed between Yugoslavia and the GPRA to establish a filmmaking training center in the ALN’s HQ in Ghardimau that was headed by Labudović (Pečar Reference Pečar1967, 600). As militant pedagogy was concerned with the collectivity of production, the army cameramen who were completing the course would participate in the shooting of the first five issues of Algerian newsreels, the Journal de l’Algerie in 1962. Despite the fact that these were developed, edited and voice-overed in BelgradeFootnote 55 the newsreels were an important element of empowerment in the anti-colonial struggle with the Algerians taking control of their own information narrative.

While texts on Third Cinema often analyze the filmmakers’ contributions, these filmmakers are rarely seen as vectors of other forms of political engagement, perhaps because they were more often operating outside of (and in opposition to) institutional structures and state networks. Though a cameraman, Stevan Labudović should be seen as a diplomatic as much as cinematic actor, due to his proximity as observer and analyst. The personal relationships he established with both the military and the political leadership would be of strategic value to Yugoslavia. During the war, he reported on the military situation and troop morale to the DSIP via the Yugoslav Embassy in Tunisia, and carried informational materials about Yugoslavia to be distributed among the Algerian troops.Footnote 56 His insight into the personalities and dynamics of the leadership would prove to be a political asset in ensuing years. When, on June 19, 1965 Colonel Boumédiène overthrew Algerian president Ben Bella in a coup d’état, Labudović was filming President Tito’s official visit to the USSR, and was summoned to brief the president.Footnote 57 Labudović would become known in Algeria as the “cinematic eye of their revolution,” with his camera and materials displayed today in the Military Museum in Algiers.

Political turmoil in Algeria following independence sheds light on the complexity of maintaining ciné-collaborations in shifting political circumstances. Filming within the ranks of the Algerian army was continued with shorter or longer interruptions and financed by Filmske novosti themselves until the 1965 coup d’étatFootnote 58 in June 1965, which took place during the shooting of the most famous international co-production on the Algerian war, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, whose producer, Casbah Films, was allegedly financed by the Yugoslavian state. Despite this interruption and the nationalization of the Algerian cinema industry, Yugoslavia’s cinematic collaboration with Algeria extended well into the 1980s, with occasional collaborations in the making of commemorative documentaries for the anniversaries of independence and in particular around the fourth Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers in 1973.

Positioning Yugoslav Cinematic Aid

Yugoslavia cemented the centrality of its role in the Non-Aligned Movement by hosting the first Summit in Belgrade in September 1961, which was as much a media event as a diplomatic one, in that it was one the first live broadcasts by the nascent Yugoslav Radio-Television. As observed by Jurgen Dinkel in his analysis of non-aligned summits as media events, “lacking hard power in military or economic terms, the non-aligned countries tried to achieve their foreign policy aims through increasingly symbolic performative actions, such as summitry, (visual) propaganda geared towards a global mass media … to influence an assumed ‘world opinion’ and make their voice heard in international politics” (Dinkel Reference Dinkel, Boškovska, Fischer-Tiné and Mišković2014, 207).

When the Belgrade Summit began on September 1st, 1961, it was attended by 25 participating countries, three observer countries, and 38 revolutionary and anti-colonial movements and groups from around the world. The prime minister of Burma, U Nu, declared that the conference was important because “the whole world has its eyes on Belgrade today.”Footnote 59 The number of journalists hosted and the organization of the press pool and photo service left an impression on the visiting delegates. Filmske novosti produced a color filmFootnote 60 on the summit shot by Stevan Labudović, which according to the screening diary of Leka Konstantinovic, Tito’s projectionist, President Tito watched on September 21st, the day after it was completed.Footnote 61 The film was subsequently synchronized in four different languages, printed in 35 copies, and sent to Yugoslav embassies with instructions to be gifted to the head of state.Footnote 62 Reports from the embassies indicated a very positive reception of the film, such as that in Ethiopia: “The materials on the Belgrade conference were kept on the program of cinemas in Addis Ababa for 15 days. This kind of success was not recorded even by foreign newsreels, that have never been held so long on the repertoires of cinemas here.”Footnote 63

The use-value of the filmed material extended beyond public interest in the event—it was of political value to other governments as well. The Indonesian government contacted the Yugoslav embassy in Jakarta asking for film of Sukarno’s speech and appearances at the Belgrade conference and Filmske novosti sent the material of the speech to Indonesia.Footnote 64 Acts like these did much to turn attention to cinematic co-operation with Yugoslavia. As the Committee on Film pointed out in their report, of the 25 countries that had participated in the summit, “18 of them don’t have any newsreels of their own.”Footnote 65 And the Yugoslavs had shown their expertise.Footnote 66

In a struggle to decolonize filmmaking, the non-aligned countries were devoting great attention to the setting up of national film production. Their aim was to create institutions through which to harness cinema (primarily newsreels and documentary films) as a tool of information and mobilization of a largely illiterate population—hence the importance of producing talking, or in other words not subtitled films, in the national language. In achieving this aim, they faced a stark choice—to be assisted either by former colonial powers or, in places where there was a wish to avoid the interference of former colonial centers, by socialist countries. In the French colonies, Africans had been explicitly forbidden by the Laval Decree from making films in Africa themselves. Illustrating Fanon’s dictum that independence did not equal liberation, France had maintained its position in its former domains of West Africa, with the exception of Mali and Guinea, providing assistance via its state newsreel production agency Les actualités francaises.Footnote 67 Similarly, in the administration of almost all former British colonies there remained a position called “advisor for film” which was, even in a country like Tanzania, reserved for English experts. Thus, into the late 1960s the British were still making newsreels and education films for several countries including Zambia and Uganda.Footnote 68

As summarized in a report by the head of Filmske novosti socialist countries were also active in pursuing their agenda in Africa: “Socialist countries’ aid in the domain of cinema was eagerly provided at any moment and at any time by the USSR, China, and the GDR. These three countries, mostly, offer assistance and send numerous film crews, building cinemas (China), sending traveling cinema apparatuses on trucks (USSR), and supplying photo and film laboratories (GDR). All three accept cadres for training and specialization, with GDR leading the way in the number of scholarships offered in cinema.”Footnote 69 And while many countries had initially leaned on the Soviet Union to replace the aid and investment lost by the withdrawal of colonial powers, they expressed concern about letting the Cold War overtake decolonization. Some countries expressed great interest in the way Yugoslavia was forging an independent path in its foreign policy, and sought to learn from its example.

By de-coupling the anti-colonial struggle from socialist revolution, both in its foreign policy and its politics of aid to liberation movements Yugoslavia had moved away from dogmatic or ideological imperatives in building alliances. In a political discussion following Tito’s 1961 West Africa trip, it was concluded that as the network of Yugoslavia’s political partners had expanded, the trip had also brought them “in contact with partners or people who don’t agree with us, or agree less with us on basic political questions.”Footnote 70 The discussants recognized that it was too early to promote the Yugoslav socialist experiment of worker’s self-management, as it was “of no interest” to these countriesFootnote 71 . The aim thus became to promote those aspects of Yugoslavia’s political organization that spoke to shared concerns, such as the country’s federal multi-national structure or its push for modernization after the war. In a new plan for activities the SINF confirmed this point of view: “the developed countries of the two superpower blocs … are putting great pressure in this area, imposing on these countries their own conceptions of the role of information. The modest aid that Yugoslavia could provide would be of undoubted use to these countries because it is precisely our experiences that correspond to their needs.”Footnote 72

In 1963, Filmske novosti were assigned their first task providing direct technical assistance to a non-aligned country, with Mali. Their collaboration was to be extended on a yearly basis, an arrangement that was soon to prove most problematic, not only due to financing uncertainties, but because it made long-term planning impossible, which resulted in very uneven production output. Thus, in 1964, during their first year of assistance to Mali, Filmske Novosti produced 20 newsreels and documentary films. This doubled the following year (40 films in 1965), and then halved again in the succeeding years, with 23 films made in 1966, and 33 in 1967. Despite this annual extension, Filmske Novosti maintained a continued presence in Mali from 1963–1971 and then intermittently in the following decade.

The production process established in Mali would serve as a template for future collaborations in other countries. Filmske Novosti kept a cameraman-correspondent stationed in Bamako whose task, in addition to filming the material, was also to train Malian cameramen at the national film office in Bamako. The contract stipulated that this training was to be “within the limits of the [FN] cameraman’s abilities,” and by the end of the first year, the arrangement was amended, and a second person was sent in the role of director/technical director.Footnote 73 While the Yugoslav side covered the expenses of making the films and the salary of the correspondents based in Mali, the Malian side covered the shooting and transport expenses, the costs of purchasing film stock/negatives, and the transport costs between Bamako and Belgrade of the undeveloped films and the completed newsreels. Filming was carried out in accordance with directions from the Malian Ministry of Information, and the material was sent to Belgrade where Filmske novosti would carry out the entire post-production process from developing the films, editing, and recording voiceover. Contractually Filmske novosti were to create both newsreels and documentary films, in two language versions, Bambara and French, and as they pointed out, both the voiceover and the music were Malian, so that the newsreels were “in the estimation of Malian leaders, content-wise and formally in spirit Malian productions.”Footnote 74

In a bid to assure continued financial support for the scheme, Filmske novosti submitted a report vaunting the results of the co-operation to SINF: “Since the [departure of] French newsreels this is the first newsreel in the national language and the first newsreel that treats Malian issues from an informational and political aspect. The newsreels are used not only for regular screening in cinemas, but also for electoral agitation around the country via traveling cinemas that take it to the most remote areas, in the context of national celebrations, etc."Footnote 75 Filmske novosti reported that President Keita (like President Tito) watched every issue of the newsreels, and that important issues were sent also to friendly African countries.Footnote 76

Yugoslav sources are necessarily enthusiastic in trumpeting their own success, but sources in Mali are harder to access. While the political instrumentalization of the films can be questioned in a context of increasing centralization of power structures, what is undeniable is the nation-forming representation these images provided. One accessible testimony to the local estimation of this form of ciné-collaboration is offered in an interview given in 2009, by Moussa Ouane, the head of Mali’s national film center,Footnote 77 in which he evoked the importance of cinema during the First Republic. According to him, cinema had served to inform the population on national developments and to popularize the government’s actions on a national and international level: “Before each screening of a film there was a documentary screened. A documentary that was the awakening of a civil, political, educational—in sum, a patriotic conscience.” He concluded “we can say that thanks to Modibo [Keita], and the policy he put in place, Mali has a visual memory.”Footnote 78

It was in the negotiation of the first contract with Mali that a conceptual change was made that would ultimately represent a difference in how Yugoslavia executed its diplomacy via cinematic aid. The initial draft of the contract, composed in September 1964, stipulated in Article 12, that “The opening and closing titles [of the newsreels and documentary films] will be decided by agreement. The titles will clearly state that the product is that of OCINAMFootnote 79 in co-operation with Filmske novosti—Belgrade.”Footnote 80 In the final signed version Article 12 was changed. It read, "The title sequence for the products will be provided by the Malian Ministry of Information. The name of the Yugoslav cameraman and the name of the Malian cameraman will be put on the credits of documentary films."Footnote 81 This move, which effectively removed the Yugoslav contribution from the production credits, was a reflection of how Yugoslavia framed its aid across a number of programs. In a report on support provided to liberation movements this aspect was underlined: “The understanding we have shown for the needs of certain movements has had a considerable political effect. Particularly because the giving of aid was not tied to any conditions, which was commended on several occasions.”Footnote 82

Filmske novosti’s report further highlights the difference they saw between films made by China, the USSR, and GDR to those of Filmske novosti:

“In one Soviet film about Mali they speak of the hard-working nature of Malians and the natural wealth of Mali, and then immediately about the ‘brotherly’ unselfish assistance of the Soviet Union. They speak of Malian experts and immediately highlight that these are being trained in the USSR, they show images of Moscow University at which a large number of African students are being educated, with added images of the Soviet capital and great buildings, which have nothing to do with Malian students… Such films, though made with high production value (color, Cinemascope), and with a voiceover narration that is peppered with superlatives and despite a friendly dedication on the opening credits, remain foreign— Soviet, Chinese, German, and as such they leave the leaders and audiences of those countries cold … In our films (at least according to statements in Mali and Tanzania), they have for the first time received their real, own, films… During the production of the films we take great care to never let our participation be advertised either in image or in text, or in signature/credits. Instead we aim to accentuate the national character in all components of a film, including that it is in Arabic, Bambara or Swahili.”Footnote 83

Herein lies the unique Yugoslav contribution in the domain of cinema in the Non-Aligned world, one where Yugoslavia’s non-aligned position, rather than its socialist ideology, was advocated. A result of this strategy of relative invisibility is that little is known today of Yugoslavia’s cinematic involvement in Africa. Practically no mention of Yugoslav filmmakers, cinematic technical aid, or filmed material is made in any of the authoritative studies of the history of African cinema or in recent scholarly work.

Forms of Cinematic Co-operation with the Non-Aligned World

Filmske novosti began their collaboration in the production of newsreels and documentary films with the Ministry of Information in Tanzania on the basis of a contract concluded between the Yugoslav and Tanzanian governments in October 1964. With Filmske novosti-produced newsreels, Yugoslavia seized the opportunity to fill the gap left behind after the rupture of diplomatic relations with Britain, when British newsreels were no longer shown. Tanzania’s ally at the time, China, attempted to exploit this situation, sending specially produced newsreels for Africa that were made in the People’s Republic of China and treated Chinese problems, but the supply of such newsreels was inconstant and hence unreliable.Footnote 84 Despite Chinese offers to shoot documentary films, Filmske novosti were informed that the Tanzanian government would prefer to pursue a collaboration with Yugoslavia rather than with any other country, if a collaboration could be established on the basis of technical assistance.Footnote 85

The contract anticipated the production of 16 documentary films and newsreels in 1965, following the model established in Mali—making copies on both 16mm and 35mm film in two language versions—English and Swahili. Films made for Tanzania were regularly shown in all cinemas in the country and in the 22 mobile cinemas that travelled the countryside.Footnote 86 Having learned from the Malian experience, this time two people were sent to carry out the contract. Filmske novosti sent a film director to Dar es-Salaam to act as director of the newly-established Film Unit, and a cameraman who in addition to shooting Tanzanian newsreels instructed Tanzanian cameramen. Filmske novosti’s collection comprises 29 numbers of the Tanzanian filmed journals Habari, filmed mostly by Filmske novosti cameraman Dragutin Popović, but also by Tanzanian cameramen such as K. Bonnyface and S. Kaunga whom he trained (with Bonnyface eventually coming to Belgrade for specialization at Filmske novosti).

Even though Yugoslavia did not advertise its technical assistance, it was a known fact in many African countries, and this earned their cameramen bona fides, which opened the door to continued militant cinematic engagement. The years Dragutin Popović spent in Tanzania would lead to the creation of the Filmske novosti’s Mozambique collection, which comprises materials filmed in the period 1967 to 1986. As the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) was created in 1964 in Tanzania, Filmske novosti established contact with them in Dar es-Salaam. The time Dragutin Popović had spent shooting for the Tanzanian government had earned him sufficient trust to obtain permission to shoot in refugee camps and to cross the border into the north province of Cabo Delgado, which is how he became one of the first journalists to visit the Free Territory. From material shot by Popović in 1966, Filmske novosti made Venceremos Footnote 87 (We Will Win), directed by Miodrag Zdravković, who had been at the head of the Film Unit in Tanzania. Shot on 35mm stock, it is the first documentary to be made about FRELIMO, tracing their struggle against colonial rule. The film shows how daily life was organized in the areas freed by FRELIMO, focusing on the military training of the “followers” and the way the guerrillas disseminated news in the areas controlled by anti-colonial forces.

The film was completed in October 1967, and shown to both President Edward Mondlane and President Tito, as well as gifted to the Tanzanian government. The scholar of Mozambican cinema Marcus Power notes that, like FRELIMO itself, films like Venceremos had much more success and notoriety outside of Mozambique than within the country and were considered very important in gaining international recognition and awareness for FRELIMO’s cause (Power Reference Power2004, 271). The film offers a case study of Third Cinema networks of distribution. It was synchronized into English, French, and Portuguese, and was screened at the Leipzig film festival in the presence of Dragutin Popović. Venceremos was shown at the UN and at many international political conferences such as in Addis Ababa during the conference of OAU, which as Vučetić points out, “was a great opportunity for Yugoslavia to present itself as an important cinematic partner and promote not only its film capacities but its solidarity with liberation movements” (Vučetić Reference Vučetić2017b, 75). President Mondlane, in his visits to various countries, recommended to local committees of aid to address themselves to Filmske novosti for a copy of the film, which inscribed it into an arena of international exchange. This put Filmske novosti in a bind as they had borne the entire costs of making the film themselves, despite earlier promises from other political forums in Yugoslavia for support. They had to give up on any idea of recouping their investment via the commercial exploitation of the film because it was “unthinkable in the context of the free screenings organized by organizations fighting colonialism.”Footnote 88

Popović became friends with FRELIMO’s leader Samora Machel, who as Secretary of the Defense Department organized visits for members of the press, researchers, and strategic guests to the camps and the liberated zones from the early stages of the struggle, as part of the external policy of the movement. As a result of this friendship, his cinematic collaboration with Mozambique continued after independence for a period of almost two decades (until Samora Machel’s death in 1986). The first film produced by the Information Ministry was filmed by Popović. The film, called The Mozambican People United from Rovuma to Maputo begins after the Lusaka treaty, and accompanies Samora Michel’s “triumphant and symbolic” journey from the Rovuma River—which forms the border with Tanzania in the north—to Maputo, showing the future president meeting with people along the day. It also includes the Declaration of Independence of Mozambique on June 25, 1975. The same year Popović filmed Nachingwea, Intelligence and a Hand, a film about the Frelimo training camp in Tanzania during the armed struggle.

The militant image and cinematic aid provided, as well as the work of Yugoslav film experts in Algeria, Mali, Tanzania, and Mozambique, was known all over Africa due to the system of international exchange and distribution that evolved as these countries shared resources. It is worth noting in passing, that Filmske novosti carried out other film collaborations on a more sporadic basis, such as the first Ethiopian film made in the Amharic language that was synchronized in Belgrade.Footnote 89 Already in 1954, two cameramen of Filmske novosti had spent time in Addis Ababa making documentary films for the Imperial Ethiopian Government’s Ministry of Information, a job that would be continued in 1959 by Yugoslav production studio Dunav Film. On other occasions, assistance was also sought by Congo-Brazzaville, whose sole partner in the domain of cinema at the time was the People’s Republic of China. Already in 1961, a few months following Patrice Lumumba’s assassination, the Yugoslav Red Cross had transported Congolese children for a holiday in Yugoslavia. The film about the humanitarian action was filmed by Stevan Labudović,Footnote 90 and was widely distributed. This initial collaboration with the Congo was followed by a 1968 visit to Filmske novosti by the Congolese press minister, who had seen the results of Filmske novosti’s work in Mali, and asked them to produce a film on their Independence Day celebrations.Footnote 91 During this period, Filmske novosti also negotiated with Chad and filmed in Libya, Zambia, and Guinea. This material constitutes an archive of nation-forming narratives, which highlights that a study of ciné-geographies cannot ignore the importance of government infrastructures in underpinning transnational collaborations. While the resulting films are not necessarily revolutionary in their content or radical in their aesthetics, their militancy is undeniable. At the same time, it is clear that though the cameramen operated in ways that were quite independent and on occasion formally inventive (and often voiced their frustration at the lack of understanding of their needs from their interlocutors, the military, and political authorities), subject matter and access were dictated and censored by the politicians in charge of the national film offices and ministries of information.

To this missing chapter in the history of Third Cinema can also be added assistance to liberation movements in the form of material filmed for the MPLA in Angola, and a documentary made for the PLO in 1970. That spring, Stevan Labudović travelled together with Mirko Aksentijević—the Middle East correspondent for the Yugoslav state-run Tanjug press agency—to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon to film at PLO training camps and Yasser Arafat’s HQ.Footnote 92 The resulting film titled Blood and Tears, scripted by Aksentijević, is a portrait of the social and political development of the Palestinian liberation movement and the start of the Fedayees movement in 1967.Footnote 93 In 1983, Filmske novosti produced Yugoslavia and Liberation Movements, a kind of an overview film tracking the story of liberation activities and support and showing the richness of the material filmed during this turbulent political era.Footnote 94

By the 1970s, with the rise of television and forms of electronic communication, circulation of newsreels and films was supplanted by the prominence of other media products. In developing systems to circumvent distribution monopolies on information flow, and build structures that would de-colonize and reconfigure the center-periphery news power-axis, Yugoslavia became very active in the debates around the creation of a “new world information and communication order (NWICO).” This included expanding the reach of the Yugoslav news agency TANJUG and its network of correspondents, and the creation of a Non-Aligned News Pool. By 1977, a Broadcasting Organization of Non-Aligned Countries was created in Yugoslavia for the exchange of radio and TV programs.


In placing a premium on expanding diplomacy through cinema at the highest levels, Yugoslavia’s policy aimed to cater to the needs of the nations and liberation movements it courted, who depended on international ties not only in their anti-colonial struggle, but also in the construction of national identities as newly decolonized countries. In addition to such contributions, which served the agendas of the non-aligned countries, there was another benefit reaped from this collaboration, that placed Yugoslavia at the center of a non-aligned information network that would extend from cinema and newsreels through news agencies and television in the search of a New International Information Order.

By inscribing Yugoslavia into the militant ciné-geographies of the 1950s and 1960s, this article recognizes the anti-colonial principles underpinning the collaboration and informing the world-view of the filmmakers as well as the revolutionary subject matter they treated. Deeper examination of the circumstances of the sponsoring, production, and dissemination of this co-operation reveals the specificity of Yugoslavia’s cinematic role in the non-aligned world. This role is primarily situated in a commitment to downplay Yugoslav participation and accentuate the “national character” of its African partners. Caught in the midst of a Cold War struggle for domination in Africa, they had turned to Yugoslavia as a partner charting an independent course. Here, the Yugoslav provision of unconditional aid differed from the engagement of West European former colonial powers, China, and other communist countries. The more discrete approach that was adopted in the realm of (cinematic) aid can be traced back to Yugoslavia’s own experience of national liberation. The motivation behind this is revealed in the way Yugoslavia positioned itself within the Non-Aligned Movement, as it tried to accommodate various ideological orientations under a common umbrella of universalistic principles. This approach ultimately served to further Yugoslavia’s vision of international relations, and provides us with a revealing geopolitical map of cinematic engagement as a vector of cultural and political exchange.

This article engaged with Yugoslavia’s cinematic legacy in the non-aligned world as a long, rich, and under-explored story. When the cinematic exchanges came to a halt with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Yugoslavia, the exchange based on film and televised images also ended. The status of the material filmed under contracts of technical assistance remains the subject of legal ambiguities and political entanglements. While the archives are conserved and maintained by the state, they are often difficult to access. Over the past three decades, especially during the break-up of Yugoslavia, and since the democratic revolution in Serbia, different African governments have sought to resolve the question of ownership and possession of the images archived in Belgrade. The question of the legal status of the filmed materials is an issue that was not anticipated at the time. Initial contracts for technical aid had stipulated that the material, while conserved in Belgrade, remains the property of the government for which it was filmed. All the complications that remain unresolved today stem from such rudimentary and unconsidered provisions. To this day, the materials held in the Filmske Novosti archives remain an important issue under political and diplomatic consideration. As the Non-Aligned Movement has lost its relevance on the global stage, these filmed archives remain largely untapped as a site of knowledge production, one that has the potential to challenge dominant histories.


The author wishes to thank the entire staff of Filmske novosti for their hospitality, and in particular Filmske novosti director Vladimir Tomčić for his support of the research project, and Jovana Kesić, Head of Archive at Filmske novosti for her participation in the research and filming.


The author is working on a documentary film about Stevan Labudović, one of the most prominent cameramen of Filmske novosti. The film is currently in production, and was financed by the Serbian Film Center, the French CNC, the Montenegran Film Center and the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC). Full financing information can be found on


1 Filmske novosti, literally translated, means Film News. They interchangeably use the name Yugoslav Newsreels in English.

2 For a definition of ciné-geography as a term encompassing practices of production, exhibition, and distribution of the cinematic image dedicated to liberation struggles and revolutions see Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray Reference Eshun and Gray2011.

3 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 33, Državnom sekretarijatu za poslove finansija. November 12, 1960. The reference to informativno-propagandna delatnost (informational-propaganda activity) reveals the instrumental view the SINF had of Filmske novosti’s role, but also denotes the relational and interchangeable use of the terms information and propaganda.

4 Filmske novosti archive. Izveštaj o informativno-propagandnoj delatnosti za inostranstvo u toku 1958. godine. January 29, 1955.

5 “Third World” is used in it’s original sense, as employed by Alfred Sauvy who wrote of "Three worlds, one planet" in an article published in L’Observateur in 1952.

6 United Arab Republic refers to the union of present-day Egypt and Syria in the period 1958–1961, and thereafter denotes Egypt until its name was changed in 1971.

7 Both Mitrović (b. 1929) and Labudović (b. 1927) had experience in the partisan struggle during WWII, and prior to being assigned the task of traveling with the president, each had won the award for best correspondent of Filmske novosti. They would retain the role of following Tito on his official trips until his death in 1980.

8 DF 818/59 Put mira. 35mm, black & white, length:1640 meters, duration: 59 minutes. Director: Božidar Boško Mratinković. Directors of Photography: Stevan Labudović and Dragan Mitrović. Produced by: Centralni studio Filmskih novosti, Beograd. Premiere: March 10th, 1955.

9 Kritika Vicka Raspora: Književne novine, dodatak Film, br 3-4, April 1st, 1955.

10 AJ, 837, KPR, II-2 (Kabinet Predsednika Republike), Transkript. Tito primio delegaciju Saveza filmskih radnika, April 16, 1955.

11 AJ, 507, IX, CK SKJ, Izveštaj o delatnosti sekretarijata za Informacije. December 22, 1959.

12 AJ, 461, SINF, f.19, Yugoslav Information Center, Ocena materijala Publicističko-izdavačkog zavoda Jugoslavija, February 11, 1959.

13 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 20 Nabavka kinoprojektora. October 8, 1959.

14 AJ, 559, f. 137, Informacija o problemu osvajanja nekih neangažovanih zemalja Afrike i predlozi Saveta. January 12, 1962.

15 Ibidem.

16 Filmske novosti Archive. Odnosi Filmskih novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

17 An additional barrier to the penetration of Yugoslav films into African territories was obviously that of language. In view of high levels of illiteracy, films dubbed into local languages were preferable to subtitled films.

18 AJ,461, SINF, f. 24 Pismo Jugoslavija Filma SIV SINF. March 13, 1959.

19 Ibidem.

20 Beyond the scope of this chapter are collaborations on fiction film projects between Yugoslav film studios and film directors with countries such as Mozambique and the United Arab Republic. Fiction provides an interesting case study of the political potential of promoting values through popular culture.

21 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 31, Dodeljivanje Gvineji filmova svih vrsti. February 16, 1960.

22 Guinea was the only French colony to vote overwhelmingly for independence in the French constitutional referendum held on September 28, 1958.

23 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 31, Dodeljivanje Gvineji filmova svih vrsti. February 16, 1960.

24 Ibidem.

25 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 31, Izveštaj o propagandnoj delatnosti u 1959. godini u Sudanu. May 16, 1960.

26 Ibidem.

27 Ibidem.

28 Cairo was a particularly important center for the screening of such films because at the time it was the hub of activity for various African liberation movements. It was in Cairo that the FLN established their HQ at the launch of the revolution, and that the Yugoslavs first established contact with the movement soon after.

29 AJ, 461, SINF, f.20, Telegram Filmske novosti, November 4, 1959.

30 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 24, Telegram DSIP Publicistički zavod Jugoslavija. September 10, 1959.

31 DASMIP, Politička Arhiva (PA), 1959, fasc. 127, dokument broj 44729. Izveštaj o propagandnoj delatnosti Poslanstva u 1958 godini.

32 DF 79/61 Gosti iz Afrike. 35mm, black & white, length: 780m, duration: 29 minutes. Produced by Filmske novosti. Premiere: February 1, 1961.

33 AJ, 461, SINF, Državnom sekretarijatu za poslove finansija. January 27, 1961.

34 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 31. Skica sinopsisa dokumentarnog filma Pretstavnici afričkih zemalja u Jugoslaviji. December 24, 1961.

35 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 41, Kabinet Predsednika Republike. January 17, 1961

36 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 41, DSIP VI Odeljenje. January 12, 1961.

37 El Moujahid, Organe Centrale de Front de Liberation Nationale, No. 44, June 22, 1959

38 AJ, 461, SINF, f.19, Ferhat Abas poseta. June 9, 1959.

39 The GPRA was the exile government representing the political cadres of the National Liberation Front—Front de libération nationale (FLN) which was the principal nationalist movement during the Algerian War. The FLN’s armed wing during the war was called the National Liberation Army (ALN).

40 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

41 Notably, Jeffrey Byrne’s “Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order” (Reference Byrne2016), Mathew Connelly’s “Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era” (Reference Connelly2002) and Paul Chamberlin’s “The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order” (Reference Chamberlin2012).

42 Such as Buchsbaum, J. (Reference Buchsbaum2001) “A Closer Look at Third Cinema,” the special issue of Third Text edited by Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray (Reference Eshun and Gray2011), and the comprehensive book on revolutionary film manifestoes by Kay Dickinson (Reference Dickinson2018).

43 For an analysis situating Pečar’s reporting within the wider media efforts of the FLN see Olivier Hadouchi “Images of Non-Aligned and Tricontinental Struggles”, Volume #5 Non-Aligned Modernisms (Reference Hadouchi2017).

44 Scenario i uputstvo za snimanje dokumentarnog filma o Alžiru. Stevan Labudović’s private papers. July 18, 1958.

45 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

46 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

47 Interview with Saadi Selim.

48 Archive of Museum of African Art, K-1 Documentation of Veda and Zdravko Pečar. Diary of Filmske novosti team, June 18, 1962.

49 Ibidem.

50 Interviews with Stevan Labudović and Ferhat Si Belkacem.

51 Dzazairouna (Naš Alžir), documentary film, b/w, 35mm, length: 300 meters, duration: 10 minutes, directed by Branko Šegović with a group of French and Algerian filmmakers. Produced by Filmske novosti. Exact premiere date unconfirmed, cca. October/November 1960.

52 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

53 Letter from Sima Karaoglanović (Filmske novosti Editor-in-chief) to Stevan Labudović. Stevan Labudović’s private papers. January 18, 1960.

54 Interview with Ferhat Si Belkacem.

55 Interview with Ferhat Si Belkacem.

56 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

57 Ibidem.

58 Ibidem.

59 English transcript of U Nu’s speech. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Subjects. Non-Aligned Nations summit meeting, Belgrade, September 2, 1961. (Accessed October 17, 2019.)

60 Beogradski samit / Istorijska konferencija u Beogradu. 35mm, color, length: 297 meters. Directed by: Boško Mratinković. Director of Photography: Stevan Labudović. Produced by: Filmske novosti. Premiere: September 20, 1961.

61 AJ, KPR, V-13-d, Registri filmova

62 AJ, 461, SINF, f. 51, Filmske novosti - film o Samitu. January 17, 1962.

63 AJ, 559, f. 137. Etiopija izveštaj o propagandnoj aktivnosti. April 4, 1962.

64 AJ, 461, f. SINF. Samit Sukarno govor. March 15, 1962.

65 AJ, 559, f. 143. Odbor za film izveštaj za 1961. godinu. November 10, 1962.

66 Filmske novosti would continue to film coverage of every Non-Aligned Summit until the break-up of Yugoslavia.

67 Filmske novosti archive. Odnosi Filmskih novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

68 Ibidem.

69 Ibidem.

70 AJ, 507, SKJ, IX, Stenografske beleške sa sastanka Komisije za međunarodne veze (SSRNJ), May 20, 1961.

71 Ibidem.

72 AJ, 465, SINF, f.40 Plan informativne pomoći afričkim zemljama, September 7, 1961.

73 Filmske novosti archive. Skica aranžmana o tehničkoj saradni u domenu filmskog žurnala i dokumentarnih filmova. September 12, 1964.

74 Filmske novosti archive. Odnosi Filmskih novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

75 Ibidem.

76 Ibidem.

77 CNCM - Centre national de la cinématographie du Mali.

78 Interview with Moussa Ouane, General Director of CNCM. "Modibo a accordé une place primordiale à la culture,”, 20. November 2009. (Accessed March 4, 2019.)

79 The National Film Office of Mali (l’Office cinématographique national malien, OCINAM) was created in 1962, with the role of producing and distributing films.

80 Filmske novosti archive. Draft contract. September 25, 1964.

81 Filmske novosti archive. Draft contract. October 2, 1964.

82 AJ, 507, IX, Pitanja materijalne i druge pomoći oslobodilačkim pokretima u Africi. November 25, 1959.

83 Filmske Novosti archive. Odnosi Filmskih novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

84 Ibidem.

85 Ibidem.

86 Ibidem.

87 Venceremos (Pobedićemo), 35mm, black & white, length: 560 meters. Director: Miodrag Zdravković. Director of Photography: Dragutin Popović. Produced by: Filmske novosti. Beograd. Premiere: October 16, 1967.

88 Filmske novosti archive. Odnosi Filmskih Novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

89 Ibidem.

90 Deca Konga u Jugoslaviji, 35mm, black & white, length: 282 meters. Director: Branko Šegović. Directors of Photography: V. Jovanović and Stevan Labudović. Produced by: Filmske novosti, Beograd. Premiere: July 28, 1961.

91 Filmske novosti archive. Odnosi Filmskih novosti sa nekim zemljama Afrike. April 22, 1968.

92 Interview with Stevan Labudović.

93 Blood and Tears (Krv i suze), 35mm, black & white, length: 351 meters. Director: Boško Mratinković, Director of Photography: Stevan Labudović. Produced by: Filmske novosti, Beograd. Premiere: July 24, 1970.

94 Jugoslavija i oslobodilački pokreti, 35mm, color, length: 341 meters. Director: Lidija Veljanova. Produced by: Filmske novosti, Beograd. Premiere: November 24, 1983.



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