It's not about seizing the chance, It's about knowing if that's the chance you've been waiting for
Foto Igor Pavicevic
A rebel with a cause, that's Branislav Trifunović, one of the best actors today. His path could have been immediately labelled as "Sergej's younger brother," which is what would please many evil spirits, but you can write anything else besides that next to his name. He had a certain style, which he used as a shortcut to win the cinema audience with the film Pogled sa Ajfelovog tornja, which dealt with serious topics. A charismatic visage, an actor with an attitude, all make him one of the most wanted Serbian artists.
All Branislav Trifunović's projects have a message, and they are his fight and his way of showing us what he thinks of the rotten system, of false values and of hypocrites. He is a director, an actor, a producer, and a humanitarian. He is one of the founders of the "Lice Ulice" magazine, which helps the most vulnerable people of Serbia, and a fighter for children, their better life, a life that the previous generations didn't have. An accidental meeting with eight young and talented persons from Novi Pazar, full of revolt and the will to change the system, just like Bane, was so inspirational that he decided to help them direct and set a show called "Beton Mahala" that rocked the country.
"Beton Mahala," a show by eight nonprofessional artists, made some powerful people ban them to play it with some pretty lame excuses and accusations. It turned out that the show is the most sincere and best thing that happened in the year. The children endured both the strikes from the local media and the looks of neighbors, but they eventually won. Almost all of them enrolled in drama at the FDU and in Novi Sad. Can the children change the system? Bane Trifunović spoke about it for the Original in the peaceful Savamala, the first morning after the terrorist attack in Paris.
Do young people truly think they can change society, and some people stronger and more powerful than themselves? That was the idea, right?
I don't think they can, I think they have to change it. Nobody asks "Can you?" but "What exactly are you going to do?" I was fortunate to encounter eight young people who maybe didn't articulate their thinking before this show, but they filtered it through that show, as well as their identity. Those kids, who were 16 to 21 years old then, wholeheartedly wanted to speak about the things that bothered them. The premiere we had in Novi Pazar, one of those two played shows, is the most exciting thing they've ever seen, what I've seen, personally, regardless of the amount of shows and premieres behind me. I think that young people have to be more active in, not politics, but in changing conscience, primarily their own, and then their neighbors', friends', and to act according to the values they're fighting for.
You've given a chance to these young people, but not all "grownups" have the same consideration for new generations. How can a young person stand out if he or she doesn't get a chance?
People whom it doesn't suit are ruthless, and they see it as an attack on their positions. I think that I shouldn't be afraid of those people or think about them as persons who could destroy our lives, even if they could, maybe. By showing fear, we only make them bigger. They are officials who must do their job, the job we've elected them for. Every sphere of the corrective idea can only be good. The fact they're bothered with it should worry no one. Those people mention the young all the time in their campaigns, and when the young finally say something, they're considered dangerous. That speaks volumes of their hypocrisy, and I fight hypocrisy. These children have figured out that it can't go any other way.
When you look back on your student years, do you think that your generation lacked the chance? What do you think today's "kids" lack?
I think that nothing essential has changed since then. When I look at my Academy, what we were going to do was a matter of choice. It's not about grabbing a chance, it always exists, it's about your decision, how you'll seize it, and is that the chance you've been preparing and waiting for.
You're obviously proud of your young associates, now students, at the Academy in Belgrade and Novi Sad. When we talk about students and the things they should change, where do you see their chance of changing and the things they could change?
I'm most proud, maybe more proud than ever, of the fact that those kids' parents were thanking me for making decent people out of them. I didn't make them decent people - they were already that - but our ways of channeling it matter here. Three of them already enrolled in drama colleges and that's the first time ever that someone from Novi Pazar went to a drama college in Belgrade or Novi Sad. That's a very important step for that city. The things they could change... They started with themselves, so we'll see. The fact their society reacted very positively to the things we accomplished is significant. We've obtained a critical mass that can establish something in a part of the country that has always been used as a bargaining tool in political campaigning, and it probably remained as it is now because of that. That's, above all, a beautiful city with beautiful people who are so often abused for political purposes, which sickens me. What these kids can choose is not taking either side, but making a more normal and civil society instead, where hate is forbidden. And all of us can live in a better city, in a better country.
Would you understand when they would come to you and say: enough is enough, I'm leaving the country?
Of course. We've talked about it in the show. And when we decoded these most painful topics, one of the most shocking scenes we've seen is the very scene of leaving. Because they remembered all their friends who left, both for education and the things happening here. Leaving Pazar is still hard for them, they have the need to come back as soon as possible, and to gather and see each other. I don't judge anyone for leaving; I understand each and every one of them, just as I understand anybody who stayed. That's not a question of judging how much nerves you have to have in order to endure all those things around you.
You're a great activist. How much does the people's apathy bother you?
I generally have a problem with apathy, but that hand raising, that head turning, makes a person look like a vegetable. I can't say that it gets on my nerves, I'm more sorry when I see that life got a hold of them, and nothing happens. I don't think that humans are robots, I think that they're someone that should take use everything that's given to them to change the world around themselves, without any aggression, but to try to change something, if they already think they're on the right path.
Speaking of apathy, the Serbs have shown that they can be shaken, for example, the last year's solidarity during the floods. Or, your brother, Sergej, who calls people to help a sick child in a broadcast of "Big Brother".
The floods were a good example, but that came to a halt when it all was over, even though these people are still in need of help. Just as Sergej has done by entering the "Big Brother," I think that the people need a big push to do something. People have lost empathy, we've become numb, we react only to some horrifying images, especially us here, who've been through a lot - there are still dead people on the front pages - that's become normal. There's a book called The Notebook about two kids who try to get used to pain by hurting themselves every day. That being said, I think that we've stopped feeling pain, because our endurance threshold is very high.
Is the fact that we spend too much time trying to determine who the greatest Serb is, instead of dealing with ordinary people?
We generally like myths, great people, leaders. We're a people who's always tied to no, no matter how intangible it may be. In the 90s, people were tied to the Spanish telenovelas, because they didn't have a life of their own, so the telenovela life was a parallel one. We identically tie ourselves to Tesla or Novak Đoković, because we don't have an alternative. As soon as that same Novak or people who do something in their lives, they become topic of shaming. That speaks of our nation's frailty. Or how a friend of mine would say, we're not a people, we're a population. We haven't reached the level of being a people yet, because we don't know our limits or who we are, we cling to invisible vines just to survive. When we learn that, we'll become a real people.
Speaking of population and limits, and being "nowhere," what's your opinion on the story of our important geo-strategic location as the source of our constant problems?
About 15% of people in Serbia have a passport. That's a pretty interesting number. The people that had to go have already left. We've always pushed that story that everything is happening to us because of our location, but when you have to complete that highway passing through Serbia, you realize that the foreigners have easily decided to go through Bulgaria and to go around us, and that story instantly becomes invalid. We've obviously fouled ourselves so much, shot ourselves in the foot and looked for someone to blame it on. We have to be friends with ourselves first, and then being there or here, or standing in someone's way won't be a problem. That social conscience is very low, and when we make a consensus on any question - and we never can - when we make a deal with ourselves, then we won't have any problems.
We don't have a consensus on culture either, so we have different outbursts regarding reality shows. Can this country afford the fact that the creatures from reality shows create its general values?
That's up to the state. Three of five national emitters have reality shows. We have a convicted criminal who spent more than half of his life in prisons, and who's being made a star, and who even gets a prolonged freedom because he's on a contract with some house... even the Minister of Justice defends it. That's all closely tied. They need the realities, because, I don't know if you've noticed, they are used for sending various messages, mostly political. And just like the Spanish telenovelas of the 90s, they're a substitute for the real life. And having as much as three reality shows right now isn't a coincidence.
How do you respond to people who defend it by saying that realities exist everywhere?
I agree with them, but they exist on cable TVs. Not having an alternative is also a problem. It brings a much smaller profit and nobody cares about the fact that they'd need to raise a whole new audience in five years. We've brought ourselves to talking about how "Big Brother" is the most decent reality, what's insane - that's a reality show too. I think that's just a part of a bigger experiment, not just here, but we also live in some kind of an experiment globally, which tests our levels of endurance. Nobody wants to look the fact that we need to make a new audience in the eyes. When I remember the 90s and why rock and roll lost the battle, it's because folk music shows that looked glamorous emerged. And rock and roll had some ragged half-drunks who played in the murk.
Is there a book everyone should read at one point in their lifetime?
I think that every lifetime has its own book. I think that people need to find them themselves. I cared much about some books then, from Russian fairy tales, Vasilisa the Beautiful, to The Little Prince, or James Joyce. I can't stand people rambling and giving advice. Everybody should have their own way. I think that people should just read.
What's your opinion on how we treat migrants. Are we reacting civically?
I live in a neighborhood where I see them for some quite now, and I have to admit - they didn't make a single problem, I would know instantly, since I live here. Not a single problem. That's for immense respect. Some people still don't understand that we also came from somewhere. All the things happening in Paris, all that hatred towards that heinous act could channel to migrants. But those people are running away from the same people who did all that in Paris. We have to understand that to even be able to perceive those people. The citizens of Belgrade have generally been treating them fairly nice, because I know how much aid came there. We have to be proud of it.
What's happening with "Beton Mahala" now, after it being banned in Novi Pazar?
We play all around Serbia, we've won at a great festival in Macedonia, we've played in Kotor, in Sarajevo... We've played over 20 shows in those seven months, which is great, and wherever we play - Dimitrovgrad, Paraćin... it always ends the same. With standing ovations. The number of people encourages me.
And the children who rocked the "Mahala?"
They're so sincere... Every time you see sincerity, it has to "go over the top". The fact they say that religion divides them and brings them closer, and speak about love, education, leaving, where they're going to live, those are the things that seem trivial, but they are of utmost importance. Those are the universal truths you can't fight against. And when they say it all in an hour-long show, you begin to wonder how you've let it all happen. That's the main moral of the show.
You won't give up on children?
We can't afford to give up on them. When you have a child who thinks, you should help it think. What upset me the most about that Novi Pazar, regardless of all the threats and intents of stopping the show, is that I went to the Tourism Fair in Belgrade, after two and a half months of trying to get the show back, because I knew some people I tried to reach were at the stands, and I approached them and saw their children singing on god-knows-what shows on the big screens, and that that was advertised. I was further infuriated by it, that I'm now certain we should play that show even more now, in spite of everything and everyone. Those children who sing are more important to them than the ones who think. Novi Pazar is just a part of the specimen,that has nothing to do with the city, but with us. We'll smother every child who thinks, and it will eventually leave the country, because it won't be able to find a job.
That's maybe the spirit of the Mahala, being shamed for being different than the neighborhood.
These people don't understand that this show glorifies Novi Pazar. We go to Dimitrovgrad, which is also a multinational environment, and people tell us that it's the best show they've seen in 11 years of the festival and that they now want to go to Novi Pazar. They won't get it, ever. That is in honor of Novi Pazar. When you have such a city with so much history, diversity in a small environment, that's historically more important...
You often play in these different shows. Are you used to it?
That's not a problem for me anymore. The time we live in, especially for the theater that's built on shaming the politicians, I think that it's necessary that it starts speaking of anomalies. It shouldn't just entertain. I'm much happier when I play shows that are active, that call for some changes. Especially when we're in shambles,that can only help. I would feel bad playing comedies. I would be really uncomfortable, I rather play shows that are hard-hitting and in your face, that make politicians play, retreat and react... Because that means they're hurt.
What do you hold against your profession? Do you have the right to hold anything against it?
I have the right to hold things against it, it's mine, they hold things against me too. I think that it's anemic, and so barren; we're old-fashioned. We were much braver in the 60s and the 70s, even though it was during different times. The Bitef festival, theaters - we were braver, we were ahead of our time, and now we're centuries behind the things happening in the world and we're determined in refusing all things new, without even trying them. The theater became duller than it was to me, and I hope that's not the case with the audience, after all, the theaters are full, but I would love to see different and braver shows.
The students had a surprise this year by going out to the streets. If we exclude the protests and the fights, and compare it to different times, with the 68-ers and the 90s, what does it all look like?
I remember when I was a student, we wore "Otpor" T-shirts and stopped classes at the universities and walked the streets. We believed in it so much, we weren't afraid of anything. As Svetislav Basara would say, I'm not paranoid, I'm right. It seems to me that, whenever those protests are the case, since we grew up with different services, it gets turned to where it suits them best. Just as with gay pride, they threaten: "We'll kill," and suddenly, nobody shows up. Somebody takes care of it all and says: yes or no. I firmly believe it. When those things are the case, those things are channeled to where it suits them. I call for students to react on bigger things, not on whether the GPA is this or that, that's OK, but it's pointless. They should demand something for the greater good.
Everything is imported here, even being apolitical and apathetic.
It is, but as Brecht once wrote an article about politics, about how he hated people who were apolitical, because he thought that they were the dumbest people alive. Because they don't understand that politics determine the price of potatoes and that it's a very important thing. I hate politics, I don't pursue it, but I think that it affects me so much that I have to react and defend myself. To me, the best politics is common sense. I don't have anything else, it's somehow all about some companies working just for their benefit, not ours, I'm not a person looking at it like that at all. All my political statements in fact aim to improve the society, not to make a candidate out of me. God forbid.