"My wife is the pillar of my family" - interview published in Serbian magazine Story, 21 January 2009

The famous Serbian director Emir Kusturica, appreciated and recognized all around the world, doesn't want anyone to disturb the universe he built in Mecavnik, and certainly none of the modern influences of the outside world. He refused all opportunities to go live elsewhere, like other celebrities from the world of cinema, Kusturica has found his ideal oasis, a place that has helped to develop ideas of his last two films. In addition to other awards and titles for his work, he has recently been made a Knight of Arts and Letters in 2007, what had been awarded before him to Danilo Kiš and Vladimir Velickovic. With his group the No Smoking Orchestra, for over ten years, he has been giving concerts around the world, and the media covered them wherever they go. Even if he is the friend of the people of the jet-set, he avoids the major events, and spends most of his time surrounded by his wife Maja, Stribor his son, his daughter Dunja, and received a high dose of emotion with the birth of his little son Janko for whom the famous director devotes all his spare time.

  • Are you satisfied with the second Küstendorf film festival, as president and founder ?
    • Emir Kusturica : I am very proud, because firstly, it is a festival with a very high potential. It is in the right place and is positioned where young people bring fresh ideas to the cinema, before they are poisoned by all the obligations dictated by the film market. Moreover, in the opinion of everyone, this is a funny festival. My festival is made for fun in the cinema, but for much more than that too.
  • On the last few months, you had 5 concerts in Serbia with the No Smoking Orchestra. Why didn't you come earlier ?
    • EK : Serbia is moving towards democracy, and it is not nothing ! I grew up with all these developments, and all that Belgrade has experienced. But anyway, I think we do not have a relationship with our natural heritage. We easily forgot that we are not as much a part of the world that what we contribute with our culture. The No Smoking Orchestra reactives our musical heritage. At the closing night of the KFF, there was folk groups on stage and you had to see the energy they gave off. As a group, we have a long life because we offer the world something they have never experienced before. Energy is mixed with rock and organically it affects the public. Regardless of where we play, we always give the impression of something they did not know, but it is very important to discover.
  • Here, it is said that you have a better reception from the public outside of Serbia. Did you not feel that the Serbian public is insisting on having the old songs of Zabranjeno Pušenje ?
    • EK : It's fine to want to hear the old songs, but it is a little boring at the end. This approach is like wanting to identify with the past, after so many years of change, it is normal that we were playing new songs. The group has produced a major work with the Opera "Time of the Gypsies", played in Paris, and more than ten years of stage. For us, Belgrade this is just one stage of our tour. We don't try to conquer radio, or to make tubes for the hit parade.
  • Why have you stated that Nele was the greatest philosopher of today ?
    • EK : He is irreverent, and even in France, media reports said that compared to him, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger were only small rascals. In a way, they are right, because I do not know anyone who can excite the audience like him, and repeat it constantly in front of thousands of people. I think this version of the Zabranjeno Pušenje and the former one are what they are, simply through the energy and talent of Nele.
  • You have both a strong personality. How do you work together ?
    • EK : Wonderfully. I believe that this bond between us is based on a sort of collective pattern that can be applied to all. This is a recipe for communication for the rest of the world.
  • In “Story” Nele said recently that it was you, the leader of the group.
    • EK : I have no doubt sometimes heated and emotional reactions, and the authority over him, and for ten years, keeping together eleven people, this is not so simple ! The most important is that we communicate and work much as we feel. The moments of happiness get over the times of depression or anger. That's why we are not a group that started together, and which separates because some take drugs, drink or become destructive. We represent a ethno-musico-political band, in an anti-globalization way.
  • Do you drink beer often after concerts ?
    • EK : Yes, because of vitamin B and positive effects on the kidneys.
  • How was the filming of Farewell ?
    • EK : It was the first time for me to play a leading role in French. It is a spy story, and I think it will be an interesting and exciting movie.
  • Some of your colleagues think that Serbia has not forgiven your reputation.
    • EK : Those who say this are lying, because it is very easy to check on the websites and forums that trere are only small groups of people who are against me. And I am sure behind them, there are politician groups seeking to create a false image of me.
  • In 1993, the Bosnian magazine “Dani” 1) published a story saying that your double Pantelija S. Milisalvljevic was in Belgrade while the real Emir Kusturica had stayed in Sarajevo during the war. How much truth is there in this story ?
    • EK : They just want to sow confusion and mix things that have occurred several years later. When my mother died, I was baptized and took the name of Nemanja. I did not want to be in the situation described in Pancho Villa, where a Scotsman sentenced to death penalty is being asked why he digs such a deep grave - because he does not want the vultures eat him after his death. In the Balkans, even when you die, it continues to run after you, whether for ideological reasons, nationalist or religious, all that on such a small territory ! To avoid this, I decided to be Orthodox. I had no idea that this would create so many reactions, but I was stupid, and I should have guessed. When I hear this I can not stay neutral, and I think especially for the future of my children. That's why I was baptized Orthodox, a Religion in which I raise my family. I'm not really a big Orthodox nor a Serb believer, but not a great Herzegovian either.
  • Did ou get back to Sarajevo after the war ?
    • EK : No, and I certainly won't go back! How can I go there when anyone could beat me in the head for any stupid reason ? I am not afraid, but I just don't want to see these people. 17 years have passed and I can not allow myself to be back with people that I have nothing to do with.
  • Why are you inspired by Gypsies ?
    • EK : I did only two films about Gypsies, and yet it seems that I always put them in my films. Listen, when I was a student, I made a film about Jews 2) and the humiliation of a country. Justice is a big part of my character, and when I say loud and clear that nobody can remove Kosovo from Serbia, I do not say that as a Serb, but as someone who puts justice in first place..
  • You seem to be an unapproachable man, but your friends describe you as someone fun. Is this a defense mechanism ?
    • EK : I give that impression to people, simply because I have trouble getting up in the morning. Most of the time, I look tired, moody. Some even think that I am an alcoholic, which is false.
  • How much time do you spare for your privacy ? You work all the time, and you seem to be more often in the air and on land.
    • EK : Unfortunately, not that much. My work requires precise organization and a strong concept. I always keep in mind that when I was young and I was watching the Football matches of the Yugoslav team, we always lost because of our lack of endurance, strength or will. I have a public life and any sense of privacy no longer exists. Every normal person takes one, two or three months of holidays, but not me. I am constantly under pressure, but it does not bother me. The pleasure of my family is enough.
  • You play with your son Stribor. Is this strictly a relationship based on work, or do you have also your private moments ?
    • EK : First of all, we are friends, and we have shared our lives for many years. He has this strange imagination he demonstrated in writing the soundtrack to the film Promise me this, proof that he has serious talent as an author. I am delighted to accompany him in his training. Now I feel that I can compensate for all the moments that I lost when I worked extensively on my films.
  • About your daughter Dunja, little is known. What does she do ?
    • EK : She studies drama with the director Sinisa Kovacevic. She's a very educated woman and very sensitive, and I am sure she will make important things later. It's just a matter of time. She'll find intuition and a mirror in which she'll reflect her ideas.
  • You became grand father four years ago.
    • EK : Janko, the son of Stribor is great. He's the best expression of the Kusturica family, a big fighter in the kindergarten. But the most important is that people love him. I always find time for him, but I haven't visited him for several days now because I am preparing the festival. We will meet again soon and play together.
  • How important is the opinion of your wife, Maja, with whom you work ?
    • EK : Maja is the emotional center of the family, she is what I call the connective tissue. She has a great intelligence and high sensitivity. Since the 70s until today, she is the pillar of my family. She is graduate in literature, but when I returned from France, she has done her best and showed her talent as a producer and made what is the most difficult on a film shooting - managing the budget and put it on the screen. She helped me for my last three films.
  • You are not someone who takes things for granted. You behave yourself in the same way at home ?
    • EK : There are no real rules. There is a kind of natural authority, but in my house, everything is more or less explicit. Talking is often the best way to pacify the passionate or heavy discussions. We have no formal hierarchy, but everything happens spontaneously.
  • Why did you decide to move to Mokra Gora ?
    • EK : This place is hard to find, because it is surrounded by mountains which remain. I spent many years to find a place to me, and I did not want to live in a big city. This was the perfect choice. I was glad when Vojislav Kostunica and Boris Tadic have used their authority to save the environment and ecology through the law, against those who wanted an environmental disaster.
  • Isn't Drvengrad a “state within the state ?
    • EK : Serious achievements in a State can only be made under the rules, but in Serbia everything is always bizarre. Newspapers have written a lot about the functioning of Drvengrad. In fact, we respect the rules, and that is what makes some people angry. The stories, some did not want to sell the land of their grandparents it's, in fact, because they wanted to get more money.
  • Nobody can deny your friendship with Maradona. How did you meet ?
    • EK : With the film crew, we knocked at his door, and I remember it was a very touching scene. Moreover, you will notice that we share the same ideas and vision on the world of the rich countries, and we have the same freedom of speech.
  • Is it different working with actors in international films, or those of us here ?
    • EK : Working with the home country is often better than other countries. Unfortunately, we are not part of the global system, but our future is open to that. Our people must turn to the outside world, while remaining themselves.
  • For next year, you announced Johnny Depp as a guest of the Küstendorf film festival. Can you really promise his visit ?
    • EK : I talked to him recently for other reasons, and it was his idea! But be careful, we'll have to keep him away from women… We have worked together on Arizona Dream, and he came to the Fest3) in 1992, when nobody dared to come to Serbia. He spends his life on film, he worked with best directors of the world, he is one of the busiest in the world, but it also turns marginal films …
  • do you fly for real helicopter ?
    • EK : Yes, I've made more than hundred lessons !

Interview by Moni Marković, translation by Nina Novaković and Matthieu Dhennin

1) You can read the article (in Bosnian) on the website: http://www.bhdani.com/arhiva/251/t25136.shtml. The most incredible in this story is that this article was written by Abdulah Sidran, the Bosnian poet who co-wrote the scenarios of Do you remember Dolly Bell ? And When father was away on business.
3) Belgrade Film Festival
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