Kathy Rae Huffman on Wed, 22 Jan 1997 15:16:35 +0100

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Novi Sad - VideoMedeja, Dec.1996, 1/3

[written by Kathy Rae Huffman for Telepolis Online Journal
telepolis pop~Tarts - http://www.heise.de/tp/fpo.htm";]


Novi Sad authors initiate VideoMedeja:
the first Video Summit for East European Women.


Novi Sad, a bustling University town in Serbia, is the first metropolitan
stop after the border check from Hungary into Yugoslavia. You would arrive in
Belgrade in one hour by staying on the train.  Traveling by train to
VideoMedeja, the First International Video Summit (with Diana McCarty,
MetaForum Conference organizer, Budapest), we found a warm reception upon our
arrival.  A festival driver eased our fears of how to find the festival....he
was waiting for us on the platform, holding up a big sign with our names on

We really didnt know what to expect, and even though we had been in contact
with the festival via email for over a month and were reassured that it was
safe for us to travel.  News reports sounded grim, with sensationalist
reporters predicting violence would erupt before Christmas from the student
demonstrations, which at that time in Belgrade had become a firmly entrenched
daily activity that stopped traffic, busses, and all forms of movement in the
central city.  Instead, we found Novi Sad prepared for the holiday season,
and even Christmas lights were strung in the shopping downtown area, near the
Orthadox cathedral.  The shops were full of goods, and even though prices
were high the stores had customers.  Meals were especially costly, i.e.: a
modest business meal for two cost 85 DM in the hotel cafe.  Most shop people
spoke a little German or English, and we were later told that because of the
large, well respected language department at the University, Novi Sad had a
larger than normal foreign population for Yugoslavia.

 Novi Sad residents are proud of their pacifist tradition.  The regions
farmers are said to have sheltered many young men who did not want to fight
against their neighbors in Bosnia and Croatia.  There has been little
violence in the area, even  since 1991, when the country fell apart and split
into separate countries.  But, even so, the residents of Novi Sad have
suffered from a general depression about their future, and of course from
economic crisis and political censorship.  I heard stories of many suicides.
Communication has only recently been possible between Yugoslavia and the
neighboring countries of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, etc., not to mention
other European cities.  The VideoMedeja Summit was located near the city
center, a large open square with a central sculpture of a former hero.
Bounded by the city hall, the central Orthodox church and McDonalds.  Every
evening,  it hosts 1-2 thousand of students who joyfully demonstrate for
political honesty,  in solidarity with the Belgrade students.   We
participated on Saturday night and although we missed a few videos, found the
experience both important to understand the community feeling, and personally


VideoMedeja - Novi Sad, Yugoslavia
December 20 & 21, 1996
Organized by VideoMedeja / Association "Apostrof"
Executive organizer:  Branka Milicic-Davic
Editor (curator): Vera Kopic

With immense excitement, the first VideoMedeja Summit took place in the Novi
Sad Theatre, December 20 & 21, 1996.  It was the first festival of videoworks
by women from Eastern Europe.  Screenings took place on Friday and Saturday
night in the Novi Sad Theatre, a well worn cinema with fixed seats for
approx. 200.  It was bitterly cold and raining, but it didnt seem to hinder
the audience from attending.  The symposium on Saturday morning was held in
the lounge of the Ben Akiba Club, adjacent to the cinema, a local meeting
place.  Although it used the title Female Narcissus - Lie an Identity, the
symposium was actually a local discussion that concentrated on the problems
of networking to other festivals, production and equipment access for the
video makers. A few men were present at the symposium, and typically - they
frequently dominated the conversation.  Some of the older women in the circle
suggested that subsequent festivals include men, because after all -- they
help [us] so much.  The organizers resisted, by sayin this is not part of
their plan.

All in all, VideoMedeja was extremely unpretentious.  The fact that it was a
no frills event (no receptions, free drinks, or special dinners) did not in
any way detract from the sincere mood of the organizers and guests, and the
quality of the program.  Only three Western guests attended, besides Diana
and myself, Adele Eisenstein (who like Diana is an American living in
Budapest) was present.  Three representatives from the Mediawave festival in
Gyor, Hungary [April 28-May 3, 1997], made a presentation of the upcoming
festival.  they spoke little English, so we had limited communication.  The
organizers were aware that the escalating local demonstrations (and
understandable fear of political unrest) would most likely keep many visitors
from traveling to Yugoslavia.  But they wanted to realize their plans
regardless, for the sake of the local artists and audience.

Why VideoMedeja?

With the extreme economic crisis, and recently lifted embargoes on
communication, mail, food, and almost everything, the question quickly comes
to mind, why a festival for women in Eastern Europe at this time, and why in
Novi Sad?  It seemed an unlikely place, out of the main traveled links and
definately not a focal point for new media.  The unstable and volatile
political climate would discourage most Western organizers from attempting
the most simple program.  I learned that there is a strong tradition in Novi
Sad for film and new media.  According to Lidija Srebotnjak, who teaches at
the Academy of Fine Arts, Novi Sad has maintained a multimedia classes since
the 1970s.  She was quite proud to inform me that Marina Abramovic had been a
student assistant (for one year) during her studies, there.  Classes in
feminist theory have also been a regular part of the University curriculum.

Fund for an Open Society:

The Fund for Open Society, which has operated in Novi Sad for the past few
years, primarily supports childrens workshops.  Classes are available for
various cultural electives, like English classes, puppet making, and drama.
Also, a team of psychologists offer special counseling to adults, especially
to refugees.  The entire population has been affected by the large number of
new residents in Novi Sad, most are victims of the war.   The refugees kids
in the classes make up 80 % of the kids, according to Sarita Matijevic,
coordinator of the Novi Sad program.  It is a main goal of the OSI to
integrate these kids into the local scene.  We took the quick tour through
the cramped offices of OSI, and had to push our way up the stairway, which
was packed with dozens of excited teenagers, waiting for their class to
begin.   OSI Novi Sad was the main financial sponsor for VideoMedeja.

[Internal Link to article about the  Soros Centers for Contemporary Art/OSI]