"I come from the poor south" - interview in French newspaper l'Humanité, 13 October 2001

Parisian meeting with Emir Kusturica, the man with two golden palms. This time, we speak about Sarajevo, family films, subversion and music.

Super 8 Stories is the last film of Emir Kusturica (see L'Humanité of Wednesday October 10), a documentary on No Smoking Orchestra in which the director plays the guitar. Meeting in Paris before one of the concerts.

  • Your band No Smoking Orchestra, is often perceived like a kind of UFO. But to understand from where this music comes, we should speak about your birthplace : Sarajevo ?
    • Emir Kusturica : I remember Sarajevo at that time, it was a city open to all the cultures and all the religions. Afterwards in the 80s, at the time of Tito's death, everything turned differently. When Tito lived, I believe that everything was so open that it could have yet been more. After the war, all became less imaginative, the capacity of creation was reduced. Sarajevo became like a symbol of the past, the symbol of a city which had known many artistic experiments. At the end of the Tito era, I believe that we were free as far as we could be. I think that in Sarajevo a wind of democracy blew but unfortunately nationalism reached each community and this destroyed this naturally international spirit forever. The vocation of this city was to be opened to all, except that for this period one did not realize how much it was important that everyone is expressed, as a Muslim, a Serb or a Croat. All was subjacent, but it was as a kind of secrecy which nobody never formulated. In spite of that, at the end of the 70s and the beginning of 1980, we lived well all together beyond this reality. But if this town of Sarajevo, that we evoke, does not exist any more and shall exist never again, there remains always the possibility of having a certain activity with people who lived there. For example, No Smoking Orchestra, I mean the new set of the orchestra, was born with my last film Black Cat, White Cat, there are four, five years. This set which had been given to the public to through the film found a continuity in the existence and the activities of the band, with the concerts for example. The music was taken as pretexts to create a true catharsis and a good feeling. Because the music of today has not the freshness of the ethnic inspiration. It is rather tedious, depressing and does not turn over to the musical sources, with the musical expressions of before.
  • Which kind of music influenced you at the beginning, I mean at the end of the Seventies ?
    • EK : You know, all the good rock'n'roll was the base of what we play. We liked mainly the punk music, the Clash, Sex Pistols. Why we liked this music at that time ? Because from this music came beyond any design, an idea of individuality. People who went to the concerts, then, wanted to be individuals above all. They were all different but all dreamed of the same thing and partly carried out it while taking part in this punk movement : to be an individual. The movement presents two aspects, it is very interesting until the moment where it becomes mechanical, which I do not like much. I prefer the “constructive” side of the punk movement. But this movement makes great authority in the Anglo-Saxon countries and does not need my support. Today, all that does not have a direction, I spoke of course about the feeling that I had in the Eighties.
  • The last time I went to Sarajevo, a few years ago, I remember having taken a picture rather representative of the situation : two women with chador on the head passed in front of a poster announcing a concert of U2. I felt far from the time that you evoke, which was very creative.
    • EK : U2 and Sarajevo for me are two words which do not go together. It is like the shock of two realities which do not have anything in common. At our time, Sarajevo was not far from Europe. We liked the punk music and that came from an original reaction regarding this music. The Sarajevo of U2 the is Sarajevo of consumption, of universalization. If a concert of U2 is organized it is not because U2 is a good group : there is no choice. While at our time, there was the choice and it is very interesting to make the comparison : in art, with regard to the cinema even more than with regard to the music, it is very important that people are free and have the chance to be in front of a choice to be inspired. Today, you have nothing any more but the choice to imitate U2 or other “mondialized” musics.
      It is because I speak to you of a time when we had the choice, which some say today that our group, the No smoking, has a UFO side. Because I believe that we bring fresh air, a different music, and make people happy by making so that they form part of the “trip” with us. At the time of Tito's death, the period was musically speaking very productive, there were groups in Belgrade, in Zagreb, in Sarajevo. It is at this time that Goran Bregović arrived on the front of the scene. We were not really afraid of the mode. But the appearance of groups such as No smoking was very important, because we play this type of music “against the authority”. But it was not the only role of the group. I will say that the fact that it exists was already a form of provocation. Otherwise, there were groups which imitated the other rock'n'roll groups or Bregović which played for the birthday of Tito.
  • Emir, did you start to play music before making films or was that at the same time ?
    • EK : That occurred almost at the same time. But you know, it is necessary to be quite clear, I am not a guitar virtuoso. My talent of director, if I have one, is extremely well combined with my musical talent. Because I can give a structure to the matter. When I am a director, I feel musician and when I make music, I feel director. I am not the best musician of the group, far from there, my son is much better than me. Today, we live a time where the disc jockey is a creator and me, I put my talent as a cinema director at the service of the music. Instinctively, I am a director because I have this capacity to synthesize various experiments in only one. I think that it is most important for a director.

Interview by Michèle Levieux, translation by Matthieu Dhennin

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