Dispatch from Küstendorf: Part 1

Emir Kusturica is an internationally known Serbian filmmaker, actor and musician. He enjoys touring with his The No Smoking Orchestra, to perform traditional folk music and is largely acclaimed for his films that tackle political struggle with reveries of unyielding optimism.

His most acclaimed feature films include When Father Was Away on Business and Underground, that won him the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, or Arizona Dream awarded with a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival; as well as Black Cat, White Cat that won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Not everyone knows that Emir Kusturica is also established in “town-buliding” as attested by his “City of Trees,” i.e. Drvengrad. This a traditional village that the Serbian film director created for his film Life Is a Miracle — located in the Zlatibor District near the city of Užice, two hundred kilometers southwest of Belgrade. Drvengrad is also known as Küstendorf and this is where Emir Kusturica runs his music and film festival. The name is a pun, since Küstendorf, combines the German word “dorf” (village) and Kusturica’s nickname, “Kusta.”

This quaint village is a true love letter to Emir Kusturica’s most cherished filmmakers. There is the Stanley Kubrick Cinema: a main house which houses a cinema-hall in the cellar, a living room, a guest room, a closed yard, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a sauna and private rooms for the Kusturica family; a sports hall; a restaurant; a pastry shop, as well as a souvenir shop; and finally, a Church dedicated to St. Sava.

The village is further articulated with streets that bear the names of individuals that the Serbian director holds dear, such as Nikola Tesla, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Diego Maradona, Miodrag Petrović Čkalja, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Joe Strummer, Novak Đoković and Ivo Andrić, after whom the main street is named as well as the library.

There is also an artist gallery named Macola as a tribute to sculptor Dragan Jovićević, and it was previously known as Anika, after a character from Ivo Andrić’s prose. Furthermore there are markets, that occasionally sell local products, and there is also a factory that produces organic fruit juices.

If you have a stroll through the woods, wandering through an enchanting winter wonderland, where snow adorns the dainty landscape and wooden houses, you will arrive at the nearby village of Mokra Gora — that means Wet Mountain in English. A historical reconstruction has transformed it into a popular tourist center with unique attractions, not to forget this is where you will find the railway from Kusturica’s Life Is a Miracle. Its route viewed from the sky, looks like the sign of infinity of number 8.

The number is significant because it is since 2008 that Drevengard hosts the annual Küstendorf Film and Music Festival, showcasing international films, workshops with illustrious guests from the cinema world and music performances with local and international performers. The 12th edition of the Küstendorf Film and Music Festival will run from the 11th until the 16th January. The Bronze, Silver and Gold Egg  will be awarded to the best short films by a jury composed by actress Stana Katić, photo-journalist Slobodan Despot, filmmaker Tancrède Ramonet. Whereas the Vilko Filač Award will be bestowed by cinematographer Michel Amathieu. In parallel to the Competition Programme the festival features a Retrospective of Greatness featuring films by the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci and Miloš Forman; Workshops with international talent analyzing contemporary trends in cinema and an engaging Music Programme running after midnight.

The 2019 edition of the Küstendorf Film and Music Festival kicked off on January 11th with a punny Opening Ceremony —a witty celebration of “The Perfect Dozen,” represented   by this 12th edition of the festival, with references to the holy and philosophical symbolism of this powerful number. A terrific performance by Moldavian artists, embodying three hens and a rooster, joyfully set the mood. Professor Emir Kusturica made a touching speech about the power of cinema, followed by the one made by the Serbian Minister of Culture and Information, Vladan Vukosavljević.

Two old short films glorified the first steps of two film students who are known today as masters of the silver screen: Roman Polański’s Two Men and a Wardrobe and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Office. Emir Kusturica made a tribute to his longtime actor, Slavko Štimac and the ceremony was succeeded by the screening of Emir Kusturica documentary El Pepe, A Life Supreme, that was presented at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, about the legacy of Uruguay’s last president, José “Pepe” Mujica.

This first festival night ended with a joyfully boisterous concert by the Advahov Brothers Big Folk Orchestra — that is a sensation on both Moldovan and Romanian music scene— with Soloists Valeriu Cascaval and Cristi Tractor.