The formal beginning of state cinema in socialist Yugoslavia is dated 13 December 1944, when the Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), established a film section in the state administration. The cultural significance of film was elevated through the centralization of the film industry which was governed by a number of federal committees between 1945 and 1951. Consequently, each republic was granted a film company (Jadran Film in Zagreb, Aval Film and Zvezda Film in Belgrade, Triglav Film in Ljubljana), and a film archive (Kinoteka, established 1949) and film school (Film Academy, established 1950) were opened in Belgrade. Films depicting the battles of Tito's partisans characterized the early films produced by the new regime. Slavica (Vjekoslav Afrić, 1947) is the first Yugoslav feature film and quite predictably deals with the conquests of the resistance. The glorification of the partisans gave way to films portraying the postwar reconstruction and the building of a new socialist state. Živjeće ovaj narod ( The Unconquered People , Nikola Popović, 1947) and Na svoji zemlji ( On Our Own Land , France Štiglic, 1948) on the one hand exemplify this period of state propaganda, but on the other reflect the innocent postwar enthusiasm of the nation. The Soviet-style socialist realism of the 1940s gave way, beginning in the 1950s, to more critical views of the socialist reality that reflected Yugoslavia's new political position in Eastern Europe.

A subgenre of Yugoslav partisan films emerged in the 1960s and enjoyed its highest popularity during the 1970s. Although films that glorified Tito's partisans, combining the pathos of the officially sanctioned war films with emotionally charged stories, had been made since the end of the war, with time they acquired the attributes of a commercial genre. They began to emulate American Westerns in their emphasis on action and clearly defined forces of good Yugoslav partisans and evil Nazi soldiers. The portrayal of major battles of Yugoslavia's World War II served as excuses for making such films, including Veljko Bulajić's (b. 1928) Kozara (1962) and Bitka na Neretvi ( Battle of the River Neretva , 1969). Predictable endings and stylistic simplicity made partisan films very popular with audiences, and some of them, such as Otpisani ( Written Off , Aleksandar Djordjević, 1974), turned into television series. Tito's death in 1980 brought an end to this subgenre.

Yugoslav cinema received international recognition in the late 1950s through the work of a group of animators collectively known as the Zagreb School of Animation. They viewed animation as a form of abstract visual expression. Their experimental films were recognized for their humorous look at the paradoxes of modern life and parodies of other art forms while providing a profound look at the dehumanization, alienation, and other anxieties of contemporary society. The films relied on formal simplicity to convey intricate ideas. The school's achievements were crowned by an Oscar ® awarded for Surogat ( Ersatz , Dušan Vukotić, 1961). Writer-director Vatroslav Mimica (b. 1923), who made both animated and live-action films, received international acclaim for Samac ( The Loner , 1958), Kod fotografa ( At the Photographer's , 1959), and Jaje ( The Egg , 1959). Other Zagreb animators of note are Nedeljko Dragić, Vladimir Kristl, Borivoj Dovniković, Pavao Śtalter, Zdenko Gašparovic, Joško Marušić, and Aleksandar Marks. Many films of the Zagreb school became classics of animated film and a major international festival of animation, held in the Croatian capital since 1970, established the city as a major force in world animation.

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