Silverdocs - "Milosevic on Trial" - June 19, 2008
Last night I arrived in Washington, DC, where Sujewa picked me up from Union Station and we headed on the Metro over to Silver Spring, where I picked up my press pass for Silverdocs. This is my second trip to Silverdocs, last year being my first. Today I saw two feature-length documentaries including Pray the Devil Back to Hell (the filmmaker was not present for a Q&A) and Michael Christoffersen's Milosovic on Trial (per the notes from the filmmaker Q&A below). I also attended a panel discussion in the morning and the Guggenheim Symposium honoring Spike Lee in the evening. I'll be posting notes from all the various events I attend here at Silverdocs, though in no particular order. And this year and actually for the first time ever, I'm now using a digital audio recorder to complement my hand written notes to ensure I get as much as possible down, though I'll continue to only post the most relevant points.
I've started with the excellently edited Milosovic on Trial, which takes approximately 2,000 hours of courtroom footage of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic who was on trial for nearly four years for crimes against humanity including genocide. The film presents the story from all sides including the prosecution and Milosevic's original attorney before Milosevic decided he wanted to represent himself, and eventually died before the trial finished.
Q: How much of the trial footage were you given and how much did you capture yourself?
Christoffersen: The courtroom footage was shot by the tribunal. I find it a disgrace actually because I've watched the Nuremberg Trials, which was exquisite shot by Europeans. This was done six Dutch students and very bad producers. (As for what his crew capture themselves)...everything outside the courtroom.
Q: How did you deal with editing 2,000 hours of footage?
Christoffersen: It was terrifying. When Milosevic died, it was like all these tapes fell on my head. Because the idea was of course that he would have been convicted or acquitted of some of the charges. Basically it was up to me to figure out what this story was about. It also gave more freedoms to approach the material. There are different versions. There's a two-part one-hour version and a two-hour version which aired in Germany.
Q: (An audience member asks Christoffersen about one of the generals that spoke as a witness during the trial, but was never brought up on charges and is now a lecturer)
Christoffersen: When we finished the film, yes, it's amazing. It tells the story of how difficult it is for Serbia to deal with these crimes. There are quite a lot of local trials in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia which deal with lower ranking personnel. He might have been indited since, but I doubt it.
Q: Could this film be shown in the former Yugoslavia including Serbia and what reaction do you have to any such project?
Christoffersen: It is going to be in Serbia. There is this TV station which is part of the whole organization against Milosevic called B92. We've actually also been approached by the national television station. I don't know what the reaction will be. When it aired in Toronto where there's a big Serbian minority, some people were offended. It's still hard for the Serbs to deal with all of this.Milosevic is still an extremely popular figure in Serbia. But others, especially young people are more open to deal with that part of history. It's been shown at a station in Bosnia. They're more happy with it because these trials are trying to make a record of the victims.
Q: How much time did you personally spend working with the film? Milosevic's personal lawyer who is kind of a compelling character despite his Serb nationalism...how did you get the relationship with him and what is he doing now?
Christoffersen: I think he is a young, alter ego of Milosevic. He added to his views. We approached him at the very beginning of the trial. These guys were very sophisticated to the media. It's also what he explains at the beginning of the film. It's the media trying to give their point of view. The good thing about this trial, you could follow it on the net with half an hour delay so I had the computer running. And then of course I made arrangements to sit in the actual gallery to follow the proceedings. It wasn't easy because everyone was to busy to talk to us. It took a while...also to build up a trust. They could not understand at the beginning. Several journalists did not live up to the ethics of the profession.
Q: Do you have a personal opinion on the underlying issue of justice?
Christoffersen: They're very debatable these Tribunals because can you play out a very complex political conflicts in a courtroom where the rules are basically the same as if it was a bicycle theft? Especially since they're very much influenced by the American/British adversarial system where there's sort of a battle between the prosecution and the defense. The criticism of this trial was that it was a far too extensive charge like 66 counts covering three wars over a period of ten years.