by Marta Popivoda

illegal_cinema is conceived as an open (self-)educational project of exchange and contextualization of the art house, documentary, political, activist, queer, anarchist, censored and other marginalized and in the local context hardly accessible films. The project is open to everyone interested in proposing films, but carries an obligation to speak about them, to open up discussion, or to invite guests – wherewith we try to erase the boundaries between the editor (curator) and audience and to perform a long-term process of (collective) self-education. During its realization the project is constantly developing and expanding its original framework, generating different program-lines and trying to explore new modes of facilitating art and culture as a space for diverse knowledge production.
illegal_cinema Belgrade started in 2007 at "Magacin u Kraljevića Marka", a cultural center dedicated to the independent scene, where TkH – Walking Theory had the opportunity to work. From the beginning illegal_cinema was meant as a no-budget program, which could only be realized with a "home" and active community.
The basic idea was to transfer and open procedures of sharing and discussing films from private space (among friends and colleagues) to the public space, and start to produce non-specialists’ discourse about and around the films that we haven’t had a chance to watch in cinemas in Serbia.
The actual situation in Serbia concerning film distribution is very bad. It started in the ‘90s as a consequence of the economic-cultural embargo on Serbia by the international community, which resulted from Milošević's politics and the country's involvement in the ex-Yugoslavian civil wars. After that, in the 2000s, Serbia entered the process of transition to capitalism and, again, cultural production and distribution suffered, among many other segments of society. To put it more clearly, in ‘90 we had many cinemas without films, and now at the end of ’00 we don’t have cinemas anymore, as they have been sold and transformed into more profitable business. Cinemas in Serbia are nearly extinct, in some cities there are no cinemas left. People from these contexts think about illegal_cinema procedure as a possible bottom-up solution.
Compared to similar projects in Europe, such as Pirate Cinemas Berlin and Copenhagen, which mostly deal with expanding the subject of copyrights, illegal_cinema Belgrade is especially interested in addressing the local cultural context. So, in the Belgrade version of the initiative, "illegal" means producing a space for contents, procedures, and modes that are evacuated from local cultural production and distribution. Nevertheless we strongly support the copyleft and piracy battle, as, without these tactics our knowledge would be stuck in the 1980s.

illegal_cinema in Belgrade as an open source procedure in a cultural field with a clear leftist ideology quickly gained a large community of individuals and organizations who use this public space to share films and speak about certain non-mediated socio-cultural issues through the medium of film. It happened that illegal_cinema became important to cinephiles and, more importantly, to marginalized communities in Belgrade, such as the LGBT population, victims of violence, anarchists, etc., who could use the visibility of this frame and its diverse audience to open up public discussion on "non-supported" social subjects.
Paradoxically, in the local public sphere, such as television, newspapers, and even public institutions, the initiative gained very good reception without any problems concerning copyright issues, and with elaborated and positive reviews. But in "social reality" it has been quite different. The project and its audience were in danger several times. The initiative and the TkH collective were targeted as an anarchist and leftist cell, by numerous right-wing nationalist groups. They threatened audience security several times, for example in the case of some anarchists films screenings or when an LGBT activist presented a film. So we were in position to ask for help from the police on several occasions.
As illegal_cinema is in a certain way dedicated to the independent cultural scene in Belgrade and especially to the Other Scene ( which gathers artists, activists and theoreticians, and in which TkH is strongly involved, I started to be invited by young curators from the scene to intervene in the context of high art, by organizing illegal_cinema as a side program of exhibitions. Here, things took an interesting turn, as I didn’t accept to realize it as a side program of the exhibitions, which would be a logical continuation, but decided to explore how illegal_cinema procedures could be contextualized as community-based and context-specific artistic work.
So far, two curatorial teams have accepted this offer and illegal_cinema as artwork was realized within the exhibitions "Salon of the Revolution", 29th Zagreb Youth Salon curated by Antonija Majača and Ivana Bago (Zagreb) in 2008, and "No More Reality: Crowd and Performance" curated by Jelena Vesić (Belgrade) and Claire Staebler (Paris) in 2009 in Istanbul.

Here is an excerpt from the Zagreb exhibition concept note (http ://, which I consider important for understanding the context of the exhibition and questions which we tried to address:
"Is it time for a salon or a revolution?
Or does even a hint of yearning for revolution necessarily get "salonized", becoming part of the globalized, amorphous mixture of market and spectacle? The title of the exhibition for the 29th Zagreb Youth Salon contains a deliberate paradox, creating a space of uncertainty about its determination and presenting itself primarily through questioning of the possibilities, responsibilities, and positions which contemporary art can activate and create today.
The title also evokes the two contrasting approaches to contemporary art, as they have been formulated throughout the 20th century: the modernist dogma of art as an autonomous activity, independent of anything beyond the domain of visual laws and the artist’s inspiration, and the opposing idea of art that not only critically reflects on, but also actively participates in reshaping everyday life and socio-political reality."

And here is a short articulation of illegal_cinema's concept within the Istanbul exhibition:
"In collaboration with "No More Reality: Crowd and Performance'" illegal_cinema appears as new edition of thematic cinema which gathers a number of films related to the topics of representation of crowds, demonstrations, and micro- and macro-revolutions. The basic idea of illegal_cinema in the context of this exhibition is to be a platform for further discussion and consideration of the topics and an opportunity for participating artists and others involved in the exhibition production to think about and share their own references in the film medium. Also, one of the aims of bringing these kinds of community-based works into a high art context is to effect transformation and legitimize socio-cultural engagement in the field of art as artistic practice itself. So, with this initiative, I would like to make the shift from the concept of "art as cultural practice", which has become quite popular in recent decades, toward the concept of "cultural practice as art", which I consider more problematic and problematizing for the art institution as it is generated from outside (public sphere) and brings really "unwanted" issues into the field of art.
All participating artists, curators, exhibition staff and audience members are invited to propose film / s for the programme of the Istanbul edition of illegal_cinema."



Published in Le Journal des Laboratoires (sept.-dec. 2010)