Goran Trenčovski

A View Of The Macedonian Documentary Film

An Introduction to Film Professionalism in Macedonia

If we trace the chronology of the seventh art in Macedonia, we immediately notice that the first film footage that drew international attention to the stormy Macedonian milieu was Lucien Nonguet’s MASSACRES DE MACÉDONIE (MASSACRES IN MACEDONIA, 1903). This was one of many directed film journals, filmed and entirely processed in the Pathé studio in Vincennes near Paris. However, the first authentic films about Macedonia are the films of Charles Rider Noble, who was, as a representative of the Charles Urban Trading Co. of London, given the task of documenting the current events in the Balkans during the period after the Ilinden uprising. It is thought that his film MACEDONIAN UPRISERS FIGHT AGAINST THE TURKS (England, 1903) contains the first “live” killing captured on film. This was actually the first film portrait of Macedonia in Europe and the world, as well as the first official presence of a film professional on the Macedonian soil.

According to Milton Manaki, his brother Janaki bought a Bioscope No. 300 movie camera in 1905, manufactured by the same company that Charles Rider Noble was working for. It marks the outset of the creative history of the Macedonian cinema. Milton first tried out this unexpected gift from his brother to film his 114-year-old grandmother Despina, born in the 18th century. The legendary Manaki brothers continued shooting other events, famous people, gatherings, folk and religious customs and so on, and in 1911 they filmed the Turkish sultan Mehmed V Reshad’s visit to Salonica and Bitola. In their framing they had a realistic approach toward the actual event. This is what Miron Černenko says about the work of Milton Manaki, the first cameraman in the Balkans: “He never edited his material, but showed it in the same form as it came out of the camera”.[1]

In 1919, Arsenij Jovkov wrote the screenplay for an Ilinden film – which was never shot, due to financial reasons – inspired by the myth of Prince Marko. A year later, Trifun Hadži Janev, who had worked in Hollywood as a set manager, built the Vermion Cinema in Voden, with a repertoire of titles purchased in Thessaloniki. In 1921, the Manaki brothers organised their first public screening in the yard of their own movie theater in Bitola. Following Jovkov’s idea, the two-part documentary film MACEDONIA (1923) was made, initiated by the Sofia-based Macedonian emigrés with an intention to remember the Macedonian uprising against the Ottoman Empire on St. Elias Day, 1903. Film critic Ilindenka Petruševa wrote this about the film: “The camera dynamically follows the magnificent procession through the streets of Sofia, at moments slowly crabbing, coming up close to Delčev’s closest associates walking behind the sarcophagus, holding a close-up of the pledge written on the front of the sarcophagus (binding the future generations with an oath to bury these sacred bones in the capital of an independent Macedonia), and then showing the faces of the gathered people.” [2] Soon after they had their own cameras, others, like Blagoja Drnkov and Nikola Hadži Nikolov from Skopje, Kiril Minoski from Prilep, Blagoja Pop Stefanija from Ohrid, Stojan and Branko Malinski and Sigfrid Miladinov from Kumanovo, and other film enthusiasts also began their film activity. What at first seemed like amateur cinema soon became a serious profession.

In 1946, the Kultura Cinema in Skopje showed Grigorij Aleksandrov’s film CIRCUS (TSIRK, Soviet Union, 1936), as the title with Macedonian subtitles on record. With the foundation of the Vardar Film production company in 1947, and the State Film Archive in 1951, the film industry in Macedonia became institutionalised. The 1948 appearance of the collectively directed documentary newsreels marks a new beginning in the creation of documentary films.

One of the newest professions of the time being was put to test – that of the film director, without whom any future project would be inconceivable. While a number of documentaries had already been produced, the first Macedonian feature FROSINA (d.: Vojislav Nanović) was filmed in 1952.

In 1956, the Tehnofilm Company for technical film services was formed. At the same time, the Macedonian film professionals were discussing the filmmaking opportunities offered by television technology. Many discussions and polemics were held about the ways in which cinema and this new marvel called television are similar, and yet vastly different.

  • Miron Černenko, Makedonskiot film (Macedonian Cinema), Kinoteka na Makedonija, Skopje 1997, p. 17.
  • Kulturen život, No. 3-4, Skopje 1995, p. 54.

The Actual Beginnings...

Of The Macedonian Film And Television Directing

Over the years, film directing came to be considered and respected as a crucial factor in the creation of a film, where the responsibility is more than complex. The investigator of the phenomenon of film directing, the director and writer Ljubiša Georgievski, divides the period of filmmaking in Macedonia into three stages: a stage of foreign filmmakers, a stage of mixed foreign and domestic filmmakers, and a stage of domestic filmmakers, thus explaining the onset of the film directing art in Macedonia.[3]  From today’s point of view, it seems pointless to ask questions such as “Why were Macedonian individuals limited in carrying the burden of an independent directorial engagement?” As a matter of fact, “the Macedonian cinema, in all the processes of its creation, is a product of the filmmakers of Macedonia” .[4] 

One view is that “in the Macedonian cinema you can clearly distinguish content which is full of folk-inspirited rhetoric of the heroic pathos, from that in which we do not experience the heroic incentive and stimulus as an act of extortion, but rather as an announcement of an emotional condition ruled by the morphological laws of speech, style and metaphor.”[5]  The other view is that filmmakers wisely fought for faithfully following their director’s actions. But that’s why perhaps one of the largest initial tasks of the Macedonian directors was to achieve a rational balance of thematic positions and formalistic frameworks. In that sense, many differences remained, to be overcome only after a certain time. After all, “the film is like a river. Its source marks the creation in its conceptual form. The aesthetic nature of the source is equal to the true nature of the river source. Namely, it represents a free choice of the time and place of its appearance.”[6]  Above all, “the camera is the main instrument of the director’s art, which must be organically adjusted to the cameraman in order to start shooting live, pulsating pieces of film with strictly determined action. The camera lens is the primary element that breaks apart the rays of life. Furthermore, the circular form of the picture information is optically transformed into a temporal view. The film camera establishes the relationship with the view being filmed by way of the frame. The frame of the visor, through which the eye of the cameraman sees, forms the frame as it will be seen by the viewer.” [7]

Finally, in 1963 Tehnofilm and Radio-television Skopje were fused, creating a new potential feature film production entity. The Television Skopje begun operating on December 14, 1964.

The examples through which we can analyse a director’s poetics with all the attributes of an auteur are truly limited. The reason for this is that in extremely very few cases the screenwriter is the actual director of the film.

Of the selected odd documentary titles (e.g. PTICITE DOAGAAT / THE BIRDS ARE COMING, d.: Branko Gapo, 1956; DVANAESETTE OD PAPRADNIK / THE TWELVE OF PAPRADNIK, d.: Dimitrie Osmanli, 1965; SVADBA NA ŠARPLANINECOT / THE WEDDING OF THE ŠAR PLANINA SHEEPDOG, d.: Trajče Popov, 1970; DRUGARI / COMPANIONS, d.: Dušan Naumovski, 1971; SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI, d.: Ljubiša Georgievski, 1974; JAS, BLAGA MICANOVA / I, BLAGA MICANOVA, d.: Laki Čemčev, 1977; TULGESH, d.: Kole Manev, 1977; SREKNA NOVA GODINA / HAPPY NEW YEAR, d.: Vladimir Blaževski, 1978; GOLGOTHA, d.: Meto Petrovski, 1979; DAE, d.: Stole Popov, 1979; MARKOVI KULI / MARKO’S TOWERS, d.: Boris Damovski, 1989; LJUBOVTA NA KOČO TOPENČAROV / THE LOVE OF KOČO TOPENČAROV, d.: Antonio Mitrikeski, 1991; BERIKET / YIELD, d.: Mitko Panov, 1994; ROZA, d.: Maja Mladenovska, 2000; RADOSTA NA ŽIVOTOT / JOY OF LIFE, d.: Svetozar Ristovski, 2002) one can make an anthology of the creative non-TV documentary film that would include works by directors who were active in the second half of the twentieth century, but also works by our contemporaries who are still active and whose works are shown on the current international festivals. It could also stand as a quality cross-section of the development of the Macedonian creative documentary film.

It offers the filmmakers a wider range of researching. The same observations apply to the TV documentaries. With the appearance of television, the journalist often finds himself in the role of a co-author, or an assistant to the director.

In 1923 Vladimir K. Zvorikin discovered the iconoscope, the first electronic tube, patented in 1926 as an electronic picture analyser, which was a precondition for television transmission, image gathering, and the application of film principles and framing, but with a different technological approach. Since that major moment, “in front of the television screen the viewer gets almost the same impression as in front of the cruel reality.” [9]

In the first ten years of television feature production in Macedonia, “the orientation in the original production was initially based upon the dramatisation of the fiction originals, and then on specially-made works meant for TV broadcast.”[10]  The chronicler Ivan Mazov has noted that the first dramatic program made by the Skopje TV was the adaptation of the novel Wasteland by Georgi Abadziev. In that context he noted: “its broadcast on the small screen included features typical of a beginning.”

This applies to the choice of motifs for the story, which are an integral part of the historic striving of the Macedonian folk hero for independence in every field of existence from the beginning of the 20th century. The pioneer attempts of the former Television Skopje were followed by projects of various genres and categories. “Television was not only a medium - it was a cinema.” [11]

For a while now, every citizen, omni tempore, has had the absolute right to select the channels on her or his TV set, but lately s/he has lost the feeling of selection among the material shown on daily basis in the name of some false aesthetic and commercial values. However, “.the contemporary little TV viewer remains obsessed every night by the irresistible visual aggression of the cartoon on the small screen...” Is it possible that the cartoon, too, has initiated explosions on the screen? [12]

Media theorist Dona Kolar-Panova is convinced that “the television as we know it today will be with us tomorrow, too, yet alongside new mutations and hybrid gadgets.”[13] It might be so because each technological age concurrently imposes its own ways of conduct towards the reality and the artistic issues. For forty years we did not have an independently isolated “proper broadcasting identity as a basis for media sovereignty.”[14]

A number of significant works produced for TV were created in the last two decades (e.g. GLAS / THE VOICE, d.: Ivan Mitevski, 1984; MONISTA VO NUŽNICI / PEARLS IN CLOSETS, d.: Vlado Cvetanovski, 1984; MOJOT TATKO IZET / MY FATHER IZET, d.: Blagoja Markovski, 1986; SESTRI / SISTERS, d.: Aljoša Simjanovski, 1990; KAKO NORMALEN BRAK / SUCH A NORMAL MARRIAGE, d.: Ivo Trajkov, 1996; RAZME, d.: Slobodan Despotovski; SKOPJE PO SEKAVANJE / SKOPJE FROM MEMORY, d.: Darko Mitrevski, 2000; SPISOKOT NA TONI MANDŽA / TONI MANDŽA’S LIST, d.: Marija Dzidzeva, 2003; DECATA OD 1948 / THE CHILDREN OF 1948, d.: Suzana Dinevski, 2004; MOLITVA / PRAYER, d.: Stefan Shashkov, 2004; PLANETARIUM, d.: Kiro Urdin/Ivan Mitevski, 2005; PATUVANJE VO G MAJOR / VOYAGE IN G MAJOR, d.: Georgi Lazarevski, 2006; MAKEDONSKI SON / MACEDONIAN DREAM – A GIRL AND HER ACCORDION, d.: Biljana Garvanlieva, 2006).

Since 1991, following the constitution of the Macedonian Television (the former TVS) and the first transmission of the television signal through the Macedonian satellite segment, the possibilities for unlimited presentation of the film and TV works are no longer taboo. In one of his renowned works, Apocalypse Postponed, Umberto Eco clarifies in a very interesting way the particularities of this trenchant and incredibly powerful medium. The Macedonian Television is, so far, still standing as the most stable, most serious, even the only continuous producer of television feature films, made especially for the television medium.

  • Tudor Eliad, Kako napisati scenario (Comment ecrire et vendre son scenario), Institut za film, Beograd 1982, p. 21.
  • Božidar Kalezić, Televizija – tvrđava koja leti (Television – A Flying Fortress), Cirpanov, Novi Sad 1978, p. 134.
  • Risto Stefanovski, Teatarot vo Makedonija (The Theatre in Macedonia), Makedonska kniga, Skopje 1976, p. 170.
  • Živko Andrevski, Komunikativna kultura, Makavej, Skopje 2005, p. 92.
  • Aleksandar Prokopiev, Da li Kalimah beše post-modernist? (Was Calimah a Post-Modernist?), Templum, Skopje 1994, p 31.
  • Dona Kolar-Panova, Kulturen život, No. 1, Skopje 1999, p. 27.
  • Aljoša Simjanovski, Dnevnik, No 1675, Skopje 2001, p 15.

On the Documentary Directing Style

“The director is the real creator of the film language, its syntax, grammar and semantics, punctuation and finally the stylistics of the film artwork.”[15] And according to Lav Felonov, “the talented directors, those ‘magicians’, ‘fanatics’ and ‘martyrs’ of the seventh art have to work hard on making a selection and limit themselves in the course of creation of their work.”[16] Today, amidst the invasion of the various side-media, it is very dangerous to misuse the pureness of the film and TV media for cheap propaganda and psycho-aggressive purposes. We must also remember that the framework is one of the basic preconditions for communicating with these media. That’s why “along with its dramatic function, the framework has a huge importance in composing the frame, as well, especially in its artistic modelling: whether it is static, according to the compositions of painting (or art photography), or dynamic, according to the film aesthetics of composing which is most appropriate to that (kind of) frame.” [17] In the field of the Macedonian contemporary documentary film and TV directing, we are witnessing the growing speed of affirmation of new stylistic procedures. “The style of a filmmaker and the originality of her/his language can completely change the very meaning of the contents.”[18]

  • Radoslav Lazić, Traktat o filmskoj režiji (A Treatise on Film Direction), Institut za film, Beograd 1988, p. 32.
  • Lav B. Felonov, Savremene forme filmske montaže (Contemporary Forms of Film Editing), FDU, Beograd 1987, p. 76.
  • Sidovski, op. cit., p. 108.
  • Jos Roger, Filmska gramatika (Grammaire du cinema), Jugoslovenska kinoteka, Beograd 1960, p. 32.

Between Present and Future

According to previously-published data, around 1,300 documentary films have been produced in Macedonia. Today around 600 films have been stored in the archives of the Macedonian Cinematheque. The same amount of films are stored in the archives of the Macedonian Television. The already non-existent Vardar Film (whose bank account has been blocked for the last few years), along with the former monopolistic distributor Macedonia Film, produced virtually every single documentary film from the period of World War II to the independence of the Macedonia. In this era of new cognition and confirmation of values, some Macedonian filmmakers were awarded by an Oberhausen prize and an Oscar nomination (S. Popov for DAE), Prize in Venice (M. Mančevski for PRED DOŽDOT / BEFORE THE RAIN), a prize in Cannes (M. Panov for BERIKET / YIELD), a prize in Zagreb (M. Dzidzeva for SPISOKOT NA TONI MANDŽA / TONI MANDŽA’S LIST), a prize in Wiesbaden (S. Ristovski for RADOSTA NA ŽIVOTOT / JOY OF LIFE), a prize in Novgorod (G. Trenčovski for EZERSKATA ZEMJA NA NIKOLA K. / LAKELAND OF NIKOLA K.), and received many TV festival awards.

Since 1992, some 15 new production companies came into being. Around a hundred documentary films have been produced in this last decade, significantly less than over the past 40 years, when the Macedonian Republic existed as part of the Yugoslav Federation along with five other republics. The current production output amounts to about 10 documentary films per year, of which only 1-2 are creative documentaries. Until now there have been some so-called small co-productions with the other Balkan countries, Bulgaria, Albania, and the former Yugoslav republics (e.g. DOMA / HOME, d.: Gjorce Stavreski, Macedonia/Croatia 2007), with all of their post-Socialist similarities and differences. The co-production projects were supported by embassies, Pro Helvetia, the government Broadcasting Council, Municipalities, private sponsors, or foundations (e.g., VERUVAM VO MAKEDONIJA / I BELIEVE IN MACEDONIA, d.: G. Trenčovski, 2007, supported by the Boris Trajkovski International Foundation).The subjects of recent documentary films are the state, cultural heritage, or artifacts. There are many personal stories in the narration, with less humour, but more stereotypes and conventions. There are still taboos in the choice of themes. It is harder to get support for a project which deals with veiled communist-political or controversial topics.

Regarding directors, there are approximately 25 independent, 10 dependent, 20 pure documentary ones, and 5 exiled ones. The Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje is the only institution that takes care of the education of the young filmmakers, although not systematically enough, and recently the private ESRA in Skopje, where the documentary genre should be established more studiously. At these schools, documentary filmmaking is part of the curriculum. The students learn documentary filmmaking for one or two semesters.

There’s the huge national broadcasting service, the MKRTV – Macedonian Radio and Television, which is currently undergoing transformation. And there are some private television productions: A1, Sitel, Telma, Kanal 5, Alsat, Kanal VIS, SkyNet, TV Intel.

The largest maker of documentaries is the MKRTV. Its significance for creating an awareness for the continual need for documentary films is crucial for the development of the documentary film in Macedonia.

In the process of closing down cinema theatres (Cinema Centar in Skopje, Cinema Balkan in Strumica, many cinemas in the western part of Macedonia), the viewer’s focus is turned towards the TV and the festival screenings. There are also film festivals, which do not continuously follow the documentary film form (Cinedays, the Roma Golden Wheel and Skomrahi in Skopje, ECO Festival in Ohrid, and three that are already established: Manaki Brothers in Bitola, Skopje Film Festival and the newest, the AsterFest in Strumica, the only one profiled for documentary films. At its third edition , an informal conference on South Eastern European documentarists was held. There it was concluded that the documentary filmmakers from the region are in need of a workshop for creating documentary films. Also, the need for associating the festivals with the producers from the Balkans was emphasised as one of the priorities which should be taken into consideration by international financiers who support the initiatives of the smaller or less developed countries. In August 2007, the Tiberiopolian Film Alliance was founded a special kind of Film Institute, with a profiled discourse for research in the field of short and documentary films, as deficient forms of artistic expression in the state and regional Euro-Balkans film belt, an initiative aimed at a broadened Balkans and South Eastern European Association for festival programme exchange and film co-productions between Macedonia, Albania, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Serbia (including Kosovo), Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary and  Bulgaria.


The lack of steady and stable funds for the formation of a budget has become a big problem which confuses the filmmakers and affects the creative improvisation other slow-solving problems. That’s why, here, a new association of the cinematic Balkans with its neighbours may sprout. Thus there should be no limitations and borders. The basic goal should be the unity of the creative potential. The misunderstanding between the Ministry of Culture and the independent filmmakers has lasted too long. There were many privileged, but very few who regularly walked the path from application to realisation. Also, belonging to a certain political party played a large role in the unfair dealings between civil servants and the ordinary, independent and apolitical filmmakers. From January 1st 2008, the National Film Fund will definitely start to function. As a separate institutional body, it will decide in the creation and financing of film in Macedonia. Until then, the State’s support for documentary film will remain humiliatingly low, in comparison to the support for fiction shorts and feature-length films.

The Macedonian cultural transition has been endlessly prolonged, owing to the bad politics in the decision-making process on priority support. But still, in personal initiatives and in the activity of independent documentary makers of short films, there is hope that the situation will begin to change in the near future. One example is the unofficial meeting of documentarists from the South Eastern European countries which was held at the third AsterFest in Strumica. In a similar way, a base is established for the formation of a special Balkans network for new film forms, which together with the new South Eastern European festivals formed in the new millennium, represents a way of implementing direct ideas and concepts from documentary filmmakers in the region.

Goran Trenčovski Biography

Goran Trenčovski (Strumica, Macedonia, 24. 4. 1970) is a film director, head of AsterFest and president of TFA. Graduated film and theatre directing at the art academy in Novi Sad. He directed several TV projects in different genres (serial, documentary, docudrama, feature) as well as stage performances and a number of plays by both classical and modern writers. Trenčovski who also has an experience as producer, publisher and writer, currently works as a free-lance film and theatre director and scriptwriter. Since its foundation in 2005, he is employed at festival AsterFest in his Macedonian hometown Strumica which mainly focuses on film and video works of authors coming from or living in the Western Balkan Region. The festival gains its international reputation especially to its documentary sections. Such, he made network experiences as well as to his involvement with the Tiberiopolian Film Alliance – Institute for Docs & Shorts.

На Растку објављено: 2007-12-26
Датум последње измене: 2007-12-26 16:39:41

Пројекат Растко / Проект Растко Македонија