QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN:
Danyan Chen is a female Chinese filmmaker fascinated by how different cultures with little connection relate to each other. We all have something essential in common, however we are gradually losing such bond, clarifies the helmer in a brief video opening her documentary in the other Other Activities section of the San Sebastian Film Festival.
Storage is a movie symbolic of the universality of documentary. The filmmaker interacts with Serbians in English. Serbians speak with each other in their mother tongue. Chen narrates the film in Chinese. And the movie is being presented in Spain. As a result, Storage has simultaneous subtitles in three languages: Chinese, English and Spanish. The self-shooting documentarist is a lone wolf capable of constructing bridging between those who would never communicate otherwise.
The soft-spoken, avuncular 40-something interacts with the publishing chief of a once powerful chain of bookstores. During the Communist era, they had 8,000 employees in every corner of the Yugoslavia. Now they are down to a single shop in Belgrade, with a mere 14 employees. Their location is very symbolic, right at the crossroads of Serbian history: close to the square where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with a large Ikea store opening soon just opposite.
The man proudly displays his extensive collection of books and posters to the attentive lady, while also talking about his country’s history. He exhibits a map of Yugoslavia and manually draws the borders of the various nations that gradually broke away (Kosovo is strangely omitted). Various Serbians express profound melancholy, regretting the disintegration of their cherished federation. They claim: “everyone was happy in Yugoslavia” and “everyone was a citizen of the world” (referring to the fact that Yugoslavians could freely travel both Eastern and Western Europe, thanks to Tito’s diplomatic efforts).
The filmmaker also visits the wing-shaped Tjentiste War Memorial in Bosnia Herzegovina, which commemorates those fallen during WW2. We are told: if there was a war memorial for each battle in the region there would be no space left for the living. The two wings resemble Sisyphus’ boulders (one on each shoulder). Locals compare Yugoslavia to the Greek myth. Sisyphus’s work consisted of carrying heavy boulders up a mountain only for them to roll back, perpetuating his labour for eternity. Yugoslavia was created and disappeared twice in the 20th century. And many Serbians hope that it will reconvene in the future. These people are dreamers. “Rather Quixote than Sisyphus. At least Quixote has hope”, one of them concedes.
The subjects of Danyan Chen’s documentary are seeking ways to protect their cultural heritage, which is threatened by the inevitable consequences of time, and decades or relative neglect. Precious books pile up in a tiny store. Valuable posters, paintings and artworks are hoarded in a tiny museum. A large warehouse is hired as a safe shelter for these items. Severe flooding claims many books while this film was being made. These nostalgic Serbians wish to act before tragedy strikes again and their history is permanently erased. A lovely Chinese woman is lending them a little helping hand.
The Storage premiered at the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival, which drew to a close this weekend.