A cinematic tradition in the lands inhabited by Southern Slavs has evolved under various political divisions, of which Yugoslavia covers the longest time span. The film legacy of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is also crucial to the formation of national cinemas of several states, such as Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Macedonia. The term "Yugoslavia," which came into use in 1929, designates here a territorial, linguistic, and cultural entity rather than a country.

Indigenous filmmaking in Yugoslavia emerged in the first two decades of the twentieth century, producing shorts, scenics, and documentaries often ethnographic in nature. Local pioneers included Karol Grosmann and Metod Badjura (1896–1971) in Slovenia, the Manaki brothers (Yanaki and Milton) in Macedonia, and Josip Karaman, and Josip Halla in Croatia. In Serbia, Svetozar Botorić (1857–1916), in collaboration with the French company Pathé, produced the first feature-length film, Život i dela besmrtnog vožda Karadjordja ( The Life and Work of the Immortal Leader Karadjordje , 1911). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the establishment of several production companies—specializing mainly in documentaries and sporadic feature films—was not enough to create a film industry. Among the notable films of that period are the Serbian Sa verom u Boga ( In God We Trust , Mihajlo Al. Popović, 1932), the Slovenian V kraljestvu zlatoroga ( In the Kingdom of the Goldhorn , Janko Ravnik, 1931), and films by the Croat, Oktavijan Miletić (1902–1987), and the Macedonian, Blagoja Drnkov. A film industry in Yugoslavia emerged only after the World War II.

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