Set in post-Balkan War Serbia, this inspiringly quirky and often hilarious film follows one man’s quest to revitalize tourism, the airport, and the economy of a small town by erecting a monument to pop star Michael Jackson (who’s still alive back then) in the center of town.
What inspired you to tell this story?
This comedy is inspired by a bizarre trend happening recently in small towns of Serbia and the Balkans: people are building monuments to Hollywood and pop-icons (Rocky, Tarzan, Bruce Lee…). In the last 20 years Serbia has repeatedly lost wars, changed its name, borders, flags, and anthems. The World War II heroes of socialist Yugoslavia are not politically correct anymore and therefore, their monuments are being removed. Ironically, the recent bloody civil wars have left no new heroes, and so it is not surprising that in this hero-less word people would resort to the crazy idea of building monuments to safe, lifeless heroes, such as Hollywood movie characters.
In my film, Marko, an optimistic daydreamer, has a simple plan: he wants to breathe life into his dying Serbian hometown by building a monument to Michael Jackson. The seemingly innocent monument unexpectedly proves to be very controversial, bringing the undercurrent of ever-present demons in Serbian society up to the surface. Paradoxically, this process will help create a new hero, a tragic-comic Don Quixote-like character that sticks to his idealism to the very end. Both the character and the idea become transcendent, and in the end, they become something much bigger than initially intended, something historic and monumental.
In the course of the film the monument to the King Of Pop transcends into something larger than the idea of Michael Jackson, it becomes a quirky but powerful symbol of tolerance and dignity.
Is Michael Jackson big in Serbia?
Yes, like everywhere else, Michael Jackson is huge in Serbia. But what was more interesting to me, and what informed my script emotionally, pushing onto different directions, was the reaction to his sudden death all over former Yugoslavia. At the time of his death I was still writing the script, I was a week away from finishing it for a deadline. I woke up late that morning and found many messages on my phone, such as “Your monument just died” and other similar messages from friends and colleagues who knew I was finishing this script titled “Monument To Michael Jackson.”
Because of this real-life fact, Michael Jackson’s death, I was forced to stop writing and rethink the whole story. I stopped writing and started researching the reactions to Michael Jackson’s death in former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia etc.) and learned that people took it very tragically, very personally. To me it seemed as though people were not only mourning Michael’s death, but also their lost years during the unfortunate times of the civil wars that have torn Yugoslavia apart in the early ‘90s.
For them, Michael Jackson’s ‘80s music was the soundtrack of their better past, and someone even wrote on an Internet forum “Now that Michael is dead I know that Yugoslavia is really dead.” So I discovered this invisible connection between Michael Jackson and the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia, which I wasn’t aware of before, and this greatly influenced the tone of my script.
Where did you film this? Any specific challenges with making a film there?
We filmed in Serbia, mainly in a small town called Lozovik. My DP, Mathias Schöningh, and I agreed early on that this film would be, in a way, a ‘Balkan Western.’ We watched a lot of Western films of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah while discussing the style; so we went for a look that we called ‘nostalgic-Western Balkan.’ We decided to shoot it with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the widest possible, and the most “Western” aspect ratio.
We were successful in finding a place that perfectly fit what we were looking for; this town had the charm of a small town; run-down but full of earthy colors.
The biggest challenge was shooting for three weeks in a small town and therefore disrupting the every day lives of the people who live there. We often joked about being covered in tar and feathers while being chased out by the locals when things with them got pretty hairy. Once they sawed off the hand of our monument to stop our filming, but after a somewhat tricky negotiation we got the hand back. Recently we had a great pre-premiere there in their local theater and it was very touching, the whole town came and old animosities were forgotten.