Anja Petrovic attends director Ognjen Glavonic’s DokuFest screening of his documentary thriller Depth Two, which aims to destroy illusions about atrocities committed in Kosovo in 1999.
Ognjen Glavonić is the director of Depth Two (2016), a documentary thriller about a subject that’s been shrouded in silence for seventeen years: mass graves in the Belgrade suburbs and the accompanying investigation into atrocities committed in Kosovo in 1999. Ognjen managed to bring the story to life using simple yet powerful filmic elements: as we hear statements from people involved in the crimes and their cover-ups, and the testimony of a female survivor, we see haunting imagery shot at the locations where various parts of the crimes were carried out.
Glavonić was asked about his inspiration for the film at a DokuFest screening this week. He explained that he happened upon an article about mass graves in Belgrade online, and was shocked that neither he nor anyone he knew had heard about them. Initially he set out to make a feature film about a driver of one of the trucks carrying dead bodies. Then he met producer Sandra Orlović, who wanted to make a documentary about the case. Glavonić later opted to use much of the discarded material from the original film in the documentary.
Many refused to be interviewed for the film, so the crew mostly relied on testimony given before the Hague Tribunal. This explains the slow-paced, detailed recollections, particularly those of the woman who survived the massacre.
The film was shot in just ten days. Editing, however, took around ten months, as editor Jelena Maksimović and Glavonić sifted through over 400 hours of testimony and struggled to cut five hours worth of film down to documentary size. They reached the final cut by adopting a set of rules: they only used testimonies from those directly involved in the crimes, cover-ups, or investigations, and of people who suffered directly from the violence. Filmmakers envisioned the end product as a documentary thriller, so they decided against using any faces.
One of the ideas behind Depth Two was to approach victims differently. “Victims don’t ask for much,” Glavonić said. “They want dignity, they want others to acknowledge their pain and suffering, but in this region victims are always used to gain political points. Politicians speak about them only when they need to compare them to the victims of ‘others’ in order to show that their pain and losses are greater. So, the idea was to use a different logic when we speak about the war, to try to fix the logic that has been broken by nationalism and denial propaganda.”
“Not just in our region, but in the entire world, it is important to fight your own fascists and nationalists,” he continued. “In the region, there is the issue of people wanting to point the finger or the camera to the ‘other’ and not to oneself or the mirror, so with this film I wanted to show that such logic cannot lead to reconciliation. There are many young people full of hate — even more than their parents — because their parents, who were responsible for what happened in the war, never took any responsibility and kept blaming the ‘other’, [or] the West. And these kids have never been to Kosovo, to Croatia or Bosnia. You have to fight for them and make films that will destroy their illusions and hatred inherited from their parents.”
Depth Two has been screened in ten cities in Serbia. Glavonić has noted similar reactions across the country: audiences have either been silent and moved or revolted by the fact that they didn’t know anything about the case and that some of those involved remain free. The filmmakers haven’t experienced any backlash during the screenings, despite the still-recurrent smearing of those who question the dominant narrative of the war as traitors or foreign agents. What pushed Glavonić to make the film was the feeling that he couldn’t bear living in the same city where such crimes were covered up, where those responsible still walked free and not do anything about it. “I live with these people, you know,” he said. “They walk my streets. And I just didn’t want them to feel comfortable, to feel that they won.”
Anja Petrovic is a graduate of urban studies (MA), education activist, freelance graphic designer and photographer.
DokuFest, International Documentary and Short Film Festival, is the largest film festival in Kosovo. Each year the festival fills the cinemas and improvised screening venues around historic city center of Prizren with a selection of more than 200 hand picked films from around the world.
Photo credit: Dubina Dva/Still