THE NAME BEHIND THE FOOTAGE
„The Selection of Macedonian films for this year’s 40th anniversary of the International Cinematographers’ Film Festival “Manaki Brothers” by the Cinematheque of the Republic of North Macedonia consists of titles from various periods of the history of Macedonian cinema, covering a span of nearly one century. It encompasses the entire oeuvre (with a duration of 50 min) of the brothers Milton and Janaki Manaki (1905-1930, according to the testimonies of Milton Manaki); the long-feature films WOLF’S NIGHT (1955) by France Štiglic, THE MACEDONIAN PART OF HELL (1971) by Vatroslav Mimica, ANGUISH (1975) and KNOT (1985) by Kiril Cenevski, TATTOO (1991) by Stole Popov and MACEDONIAN SAGA (1993) by Branko Gapo; as well as the short documentary MIDNIGHT DANCERS (1985) by Meto Petrovski. The Manaki brothers’ films are inevitable on a jubilee of this kind. After all, it is with them that it all started. The other selected films, on the other hand, i.e. their directors of photography, have all been awarded at this festival of ours and that is the reason why we put emphasis on the work of the great masters of Macedonian cinematography: Misho Samoilovski, who has won the Golden Plaque for MIDNIGHT DANCERS; Vladimir Samoilovski, who has won the Bronze Camera 300 for MACEDONIAN SAGA; Branko Mihajlovski – he became festival doyen in 1994; Dragan Salkovski, who was awarded for best camera and with the Golden Plaque “Milton Manakai” for KNOT; Kiro Bilbilovski, who posthumously won an award for his work as a cinematographer; and Ljube Petkovski who in 1988 was presented with the big gold statute of Milton Manaki for Lasting Contribution to the Development of Macedonian and Yugoslav Cinematography. The selection, on the other hand, unifies the introduction of a broad spectrum of genres into Macedonian cinema, such as war thriller and psychological drama in WOLF’S NIGHT, THE MACEDONIAN PART OF HELL (which was, by the way, shot in the Bitola region) and KNOT: historical epic drama in ANGUISH; prison drama as a metaphor of contemporary society in TATTOO, the forbidden love drama, a la Romeo and Juliette in MACEDONIAN SAGA; the existentialist love drama in KNOT; the auteur documentary in MIDNIGHT DANCERS…
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Self-taught. We all know what being self-taught means, so that it is why digital dictionaries don’t pay that much attention to this word. In an ocean of information, such as the Internet, you can barely find the definition of someone who is self-taught: “A person who learned something on their own, without a manager or someone else’s help”. Navigating through information may, on the other hand, lead to the notion of “autodidact”. Same meaning, with possibly a fancier nuance due to the old, Latin language. Were the beginnings of Macedonian cinema – and here we also include this cinematographers’ festival, as the oldest form of an event celebrating cinema – founded on the self-taught admirers of motion pictures? Yes, indeed. In fact, there are no differences between the beginnings of cinema in the USA, Russia, Europe, or Great Britain. Film began as a technical innovation, continued as a new type of “circus” entertainment for the masses, ended up as a new form of art… But unlike most of the arts to date, it has always relied on those three cornerstones: technology, entertainment and aesthetics. If we were to offer an adequate metaphor, it would be something similar to a “tripod”, the three-legged stand for a film camera: two legs provide no stability, and four would burden the space for manipulation around the camera. But only after film photography united these three elements – and in an “imperceptible” way, as simple as the movement of air in the cinema-theater – only then did it get the signature of the creator behind the camera. To put it simply, only then did cinematography get a name and a surname behind it, or, in other words, an author.
If we remove the documentary film footage from the pioneering period of development of cinematography by the Manaki brothers from the selection, we get a rather detailed picture of the development of Macedonian cinema. In the documentary film by Robert Jankuloski MANAKI – A STORY IN PICTURES, there is a minor detail which most vividly explains not only Milton Manaki’s cinematographic technique, but his entire philosophy of filmmaking. Throughout his career as a photographer and cinematographer, when he photographed something Milton would always say: “One for me, one for history!” Under this “mantra” of his we can also accommodate the philosophy of filmmaking through the standpoint of the Cinematheque – motion pictures are history’s records. And not only documentaries, but feature films too are quite adequate material for historical-sociological interpretation. The documentary footage of the Manaki brothers gives us insight into the so-called “grand history” – but also serves as material for sociological-ethnological-cultural interpretation of the “ordinary life” on the Balkans from the beginnings of the 20th century. It is no different, albeit much more layered and voluptuous, than the interpretation of history, culture, politics, society and customs, in the other films from this selection. Journalists and film critics are quite familiar with the modesty and reserve of cinematographers. Similarly to when 40 years ago a very persistent journalist kept bothering the legendary Belgrade theater and film actor, Zoran Radmilovic: “Sir, how do you act?”, and Radmilovic brusquely said – “Just like that, you start and you act!”, the same goes for the Macedonian cinematographers. The brothers Milton and Janaki Manaki were self-taught photographers, and later on cinematographers, and the same applies to Kiro Bilbilovski, Ljube Petkovski, Branko Mihajlovski, Misho Samoilovski and later on Dragan Salkovski and Vladimir Samoilovski who continued creating the “Macedonian part of cinematography”: as a craft. By learning the trade of their colleagues, by “stealing” from the older and more experienced ones, by maturing as creatives in the technically and technologically sparse production in the second half of the 20 century. That’s how they became the most eminent creators of our cinematography. In an interview in the mid-90s, Misho Samoilovski said that Macedonian cinematographers are able to make a movie even with “broken” cameras and accompanying equipment (lighting, sound), adding: “While on set, I was always right behind the director, regardless of whether he was a seasoned one, or a beginner, because I had to see what the director was seeing — that’s the only way you make a film”. So they just took the camera and started rolling.
Our cinematographers had the drive and love for their craft, the patience to hone it in an old-fashioned, valiant way, moving up the ladder from being apprentices, to being assistants and then MASTERS of cinematography. Through their perseverance and creation they reaped dozens of certificates and awards across the festivals in Yugoslavia, Europe and the world. If, on the other hand, Janaki Manaki guided his 4 years younger brother Milton into the craft of photography, is there anything nobler than when this craft is handed down from generation to generation, from master to apprentice or from father to son, just like in the legends, or like in the cases with Misho (father) and Vladimir Samoilovski (son) or Dragan (father) and Tomi (son) Salkovski.
Vladimir Lj. Angelov / Stojan Sinadinov