My First Film: Farewell from the Greatest Directors

Agnès Varda, Miloš Forman, Dušan Makavejev, George A. Romero and Nicolas Roeg, directors whose debut films will be shown this year in a special IN MEMORIAM edition of the permanent side program of the Zagreb Film Festival, MY FIRST FILM, all have in common the fact that they played key pioneer roles in their cinematographic milieus, and therefore the whole history of film, but also that they passed away in the last two years.

Therefore, in their honor, the program curator, the film critic Nenad Polimac, dedicated this year’s program to their first films as a farewell from the directors whose work permanently marked the history of film and whose pioneer aesthetics led their local cinematographies into a new era of modern tendencies and possibilities of film expression.

Agnès Varda’s debut film La Pointe Courte (1955) is considered an avant-garde work which preceded the French New Wave, Black Peter (1963) by Miloš Forman is a key work of the Czechoslovak New Wave, Dušan Makavejev’s Man Is Not a Bird practically marked the beginning of the Yugoslav Black Wave, while George A. Romero established the term of “cult movie” and turned zombies into new film heroes in his debut film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Performance (1970) by the director duo Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg was met with such dismay upon release due to the brutal depiction of London’s drug scene that Warner Bros kept it “in a bunker” for nearly two years. We are showing the film on the occasion of Nicolas Roeg’s recent death, one of the most uncompromising filmmakers of British cinematography.

Black Peter, Forman’s exceptional first feature film about the generational alienation, shot in the style of cinéma vérité, with a camera panning around characters played by amateur actors, depicts the atmosphere of an ordinary summer in a small Czech town in the early 1960’s. The growing youth rebelliousness in the Eastern Bloc is shown through the character of a disobedient young man focused on his own pleasures and unwilling to be a mere informant of the regime.

In his debut film Man Is Not a Bird, Dušan Makavejev, as a key figure of the Black Wave, already outlined the fundamental characteristics of his radical authorial approach inclined to naturalism and primacy of biology over ideology, and whose pinnacle was achieved in the cult Mysteries of the Organism. The lead actress was the star of Yugoslavian film, Milena Dravić, who also recently passed away.

At only 25 years old and with no previous directorial experience, Agnès Varda shot her first film and it already created a whole new aesthetic. Aside from the curiosity and innovation, La Pointe Courte was a complete commercial flop, but was later proclaimed the predecessor of the French New Wave.

George A. Romero’s film debut, The Night of the Living Dead, was shot for literally a handful of dollars, but became a hit thanks to word of mouth and midnight screenings. Today, it has a place in the history of film as a landmark horror film with which Romero practically invented the genre about flesh-eating zombies, which resulted in numerous sequels and remakes.

Equally influential was Performance, by the duo Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, with Mick Jagger in the lead role. At first, the film was criticized because of the mix of violence and rock ’n’ roll, but today holds a place in the pantheon of modern film.