FILMS FROM BALKAN WAR-ZONES

1995 – 2001

Like many Artists, Writers, Filmmakers, Rockstars, Hacks, Misfits, Aid Mercenaries and hardcore Mercenaries, I was drawn into events in the Balkans in the 1990’s.

Armed with a DV camcorder and loaded with idealism, I saw what was happening in a place that used to be called Yugoslavia how a previous generation may have seen the Spanish Civil War:

As an opportunity for adventure in a country that was full of tragedy and yet also a place full of inspiration to make films, discover new and different narratives about war and its legacy and perhaps even make money….

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From the first day I left my safe European home in Glasgow behind me, to the moment I turned on my camcorder in Sarajevo, right-up until the moment I finally left Skopje pissed off, frustrated, heart-broken and disappointed by a war that didn’t happen on a bus, 6 years later the Balkans and its people had felt as much as a home to me asGlasgow.

Being there gave me a buzz and got into my blood, while it’s people sucked me into their worlds and lives, became friends and inspired me, and it was a privilege to film the lives of so many brave, sad, mad, lost and beautiful people, some of whom – sadly – are no longer of this world.

Looking back now it seems that rather than making the 4 films I’ve included here (and including the shorts and other pilot materials) I think I was probably really making one long film – and probably still am. While I am also re-visiting people, places and archive from the time in my forthcoming project Legacy of an Invisible bullet

VICTIM of GEOGRAPHY

WORLD PREMIER International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam IDFA 1999: Official competition Silver Wolf

A Film to leave the 20th century with and start the 21st

Victim of Geography is a camcorder generation road movie with a story (despite what some might say) that began in Sarajevo (a war-zone) in 1995 and ended at Cape Wrath at the end of  Scotland (on a NATO firing range) at the end of the 20th Century.

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 One of the best films about the Balkan conflict
(Dox Magazine)
 A remarkable story an even more remarkable film
(The Glasgow Herald)
 Aubrey’s film is nothing short of a glimpse into the abyss
(The Scotsman)
 Hasn’t got a ‘proper’ storyline! 
(Channel 4 Executive)

Victim of Geography is a journey across both time and territory, during which the events in the Balkans eventually caught up with and overtook us as the clash of civilizations which many thought of as once being far-away started to become very, very close to home:

Someone had set off a grenade in the multi-ethnic melting pot of the Balkans and my film was following its shock-wave out across Europe.

Armed with a new generation digital camcorder, I set out to write directly with the camera and tell a story that captured the spirit of the time (the Zeitgeist) in Europe at the end of the 20th century.

Victim of Geography is a film without mediation by one-dimensional TV presenters, pious geo-political experts or even a conventional  narration or 3 act structure.

Needless to say all of this got me into a great deal of trouble with the TV financiers of the film, who were at that point starting to cultivate an unhealthy obsession with Celebrity culture, Property Programmes and TV Chefs.

In Victim of Geography the sad, mad, bad, lost and beautiful people I filmed are more ‘Anti-Celebrities’ telling their own stories directly to me and my camera, opening windows onto worlds/geographies we don’t often get to see. That’s of course if – as the film’s opening statement says – you’re prepared to open up your eyes and try to see things differently.

Victim of Geography was Scotland’s first digital feature (despite claims made elsewhere by certain drama queens!) and the first Scottish documentary to ever be selected for it’s official World-wide premier and the Silver Wolf competition at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)

A Pictorial Heroes Production in association with Channel 4 Television,The Scottish Arts Council Lottery Film fund and The Glasgow Film Office

There is  a limited edition 2 disk interactive  DVD set of the film available, which also includes the film’s entire original sound-score, a Director’s commentary and many extra scenes and invisible cities not included in the cinema feature. Contact me via this website for further information.

Louder THAN Bombs!

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Like many males I’m obsessed with War and Football.

Both are things that – if you let them – can get into your blood. And while War is something that takes place when dialogue and reason fail and hate and testosterone takes-over, football on the other hand can be a universal language that crosses all borders, gets the passion (and testosterone) going and unifies as well as divides.

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I first met Scotty Lee – as a lot of people did at the time –  in a legendary bar in Sarajevo during the filming of Victim of Geography. 

He told me all about how and why a  footballer from Hatfield had found himself in a war in the first place as a humanitarian aid convoy driver.

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With the war over (well the shooting had stopped at least, but the war was still going on) Scotty Lee was with his charity Spirit of Soccer using football as a way to unite the divided tribes of Bosnia and cross borders that others couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Spirit of Soccer had – and still have to this day – a universal message for the young footballers – in fact for all of the people of Bosnia – or anywhere else on the planet, who lives with a lethal legacy of Land-mines, UXO and Guns.

A message that took the form of a simple question:

” What do you need to be  a professional footballer?

Answer: Your legs! “

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I told Scotty I’d make a film about him someday.

He told me to: “Fuck-off – Buy him a drink and he’d think about it”

Well I brought  him that drink and we’ve been filming on-and-off ever since in war-zones across the planet.

Louder Than Bombs! is the first film in a trilogy (including my current project: Minefield) that explores a game that people play in-between life and death.

They are also films about masculinity and friendship

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A Pictorial Heroes Production in association with Channel 4 Television UK and The Scottish Arts Council Lottery Film fund

A limited edition DVD that includes Louder than Bombs! and my second film with Scotty Lee and Spirit of Soccer: A Different Pitch is available. Please contact me directly for more information.

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The final film in a trilogy about War and Football called Minefield is a work-in-progress that is seeking further production funding for its completion in Syria. Please contact me directly to discuss this further or to find out more about the project.

See You in the Next War/Vidimo Se U Sledećem Ratu!

I never set out to make a film about Radio B92 especially as a good friend Matthew Collin was writing what in my view is the definitive book on the subject: Serbia Calling (which also possibly in the future might even be a Hollywood movie!)

Then there was also the fact that at that time B92 – as well as being the darlings of MTV’s: Free your Mind campaign – were also being courted by many western government intelligence services, who saw the station as a vehicle for  propaganda purposes.

So I didn’t really see the need to go where other film-makers and spooks had gone before necessarily.

But I did anyway….

But all that changed when I started filming and became inspired by the commitment, sweat and  passion of the reluctantly exiled DJ Gordon Paunovic whom I filmed exiled in a radio station in Vienna.

So I soon found myself going out on yet another wing-and-a-prayer Balkan road trip and shuttling between Belgrade, Skopje, London, Amsterdam, Glasgow and Vienna; Crossing borders – mostly illegally – during NATO’s campaign against Serbia which would eventually culminate in the downfall of the war criminal Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.

Along with documenting the fall, rise and eventual sell-out of a rebel radio station that had found itself caught in-between a rock (n’roll) and a hard place – being bombed by NATO on the one side and shut-down by the mafia-state of  Slobodan Milosevic on the other – The 2 films that make up: See you in the Next War are more a diary of time, place, memory and atmospheres than they are a conventional documentary.

A testimony to a group of brave people who wanted to live in another, better world without state fear, or real and virtual borders.

So I guess, it was the sense of a shared spirit of resistance that crosses all borders that I feel is what the film – which  was eventually put together as an international co-production between B-92/ANEM, the DVD studios in Skopje and Pictorial heroes – is really all about.

In the end though it was also a Balkan film too far on my part and felt like a failure at the time, rather than an achievement.

Out of money, out of luck, out of love and with little – in fact no UK broadcaster’s interested in the project – as well as fast losing patience with the Balkan conflict in Skopje (a war that didn’t happen – thankfully) it was to be the last production I made as a Pictorial hero.

A Freedom Fighter Film in Association with Pictorial Heroes, The DVD studios Skopje, B92/TV ANEM Serbia and the Glasgow Film Office

 

A Different Pitch

Just a few weeks after the invasion of Kosova/Kosovo/Kosov@ by NATO I was back filming with Scotty Lee and the Spirit of Soccer on what was to become our second film together.

It was to be an all together less optimistic film than Louder than Bombs! which despite the tragedy and horrors of Bosnia at least had some sense of hope in its concluding scenes.

A Different Pitch was a far more accomplished piece of film-making than: Louder than Bombs! is, but it’s much, much darker. Bleak in its final scenes it reflected both Scotty’s and my own disillusionment with our experiences in the country that we’d traveled through. 

A Different Pitch doesn’t finish with a Hollywood happy ending but instead with a warning about the state-of-things to come on our planet.

A Pictorial Heroes Production in association with The Scottish Arts Council Lottery Film Fund and Channel 4 Television UK

The final film in my War and Football trilogy Minefield is a work-in-progress and is seeking further production funding.

Please contact me directly to discuss this further.

 

SOME BASTARDS, ORPHANS, WAIFS AND STRAYS

 

Belgrade Babylon

A spin-off short made for Channel 4’s pilot episode of Alt.world. 

Sadly interference by the then commissioning editor (aka: Satan or Napoleon) at the channel (who assumed no one knew where the Balkans was!) led to the film being over-loaded with text and graphic captioning. In many ways this was really the writing on the wall in my relationship with the channel and a reflection on the way that television and the people who make and commission it were going.

Sikter in Mostar

4 rough and ready films shot in Mostar with Sarajevo’s answer to the Sex Pistols back amid the madness of the Balkans.In fact I should have been at an art-reception for some of my films, but instead jumped into a van with Sikter (literally translated it means ‘Fuck Off’)  and headed to Mostar in pursuit of a story that never happened. The band itself was made up of war heroes, pacifists and had a manager who was ex-Bosniak Special forces. The concert  was cut short in the end, mostly because of threats from across the bridge on the Croatian-side of town, that they would start shelling again if the band didn’t stop playing!

THE BOYS FROM THE ROUGH STUFF

A pilot filmed over a day and night in the company of a group of Aid Mercenaries mostly hardcore ex-Army truckers who drove humanitarian-aid convoys during the Balkan conflict as much for hard-cash and kicks as for any humanitarian motivations. I got access to film at one of the groups yearly reunions in the English home counties (on the condition I paid for the lamb!) with the intention of trying to get under the skin of these less than likeable UKIP voting characters,whose politics and attitudes many may find objectionable. If commissioned I had hoped to produce a real life version of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘The Wage of Fear’ which would – as a result of  the geopolitical events that followed – have probably taken me to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo.

 

THE LOST COMMUNIST

Someday Charlie Coutts I’m gonna make a film about your remarkable life

In the course of filming Victim of Geography I got the chance to film with many great and wonderful people. Meeting and filming exiled Glaswegian Charlie Coutts in Budapest was one such highlight. Sadly Charlie was taken from this world just a few years after our filming together (after a botched hernia operation) so I never got the chance to pursue a bigger story I was looking at making about him and his fantastic life as a communist defector from the west, a survivor of the Death Railway/Bridge over the River Kawai, a Rock-star manager and friend and confident of Bill Shankly. So I guess what’s going to be here someday is a homage and portrait of a Red Clydesider, a War-Hero and a real Pictorial Hero.