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Prešeren laureate Robar Dorin: Director in service of the underdog

Ljubljana, 7 February - The oeuvre of director Filip Robar Dorin, who will receive one of this year's two Prešeren Prizes, is the legacy of a man rooting for the underdog. "A film does not mean much unless it makes a change. It must be a driver of societal change," he said in a recent interview.

Novo Mesto
Film director Filip Robar Dorin.
Photo: Rasto Božič/STA
File photo

A film should "literally shake up old soil to allow new plants to grow. New generations... are my biggest reward," he recently told Dnevnik in one of the very few interviews he has given in the past years.

Robar Dorin said that the effects his films have had on the Roma community near Novo Mesto meant much more to him than the awards he has won.

Providing an in-depth look into the lives of the village spanning three decades, the Opre Roma! trilogy had very concrete effects: it helped the community finally get running water and Slovenia observing International Roma Day.

The judging panel of the Prešeren Prize Fund said when announcing this year's laureates that Robar Dorin was an "activist author who manages to show the complexity of subject matter in its entirety and does not hide his own position".

When asked whether he liked his subjects, Robar Dorin told Dnevnik that he never started a project unless he liked his subjects.

"Interest is the initial motivation that propels you. When you look, you find, make contact and research details that might be significant... The process enriches you and you only start shooting when they trust you and you trust them."

"Without that there can be no truth and no reality," said Robar Dorin, who takes great pride in the fact that he is still welcomed warmly by the Roma in the village from his films.

"I'm a fool, I guess. If I did commercial projects, I might have been considered more important." Nonetheless, Robar Dorin has won a number of prizes.

Apart from winning several grand prix awards at festivals in Pula, Belgrade and Mannheim, he has received the Badjura and Štiglic lifetime achievement awards, the top peer recognitions given out to film makers in Slovenia. He also received the Prešeren Fund Prize.

The Prešeren Prize panel said that Robar Dorin excelled in re-enacted documentaries, a synthesis of documentary and feature film that wants to "extract the truth".

Apart from the Roma, he also documented the problems of other repressed minorities, including Bosnian workers in Slovenia (Ovni in Mamuti; 1985), and made a film about post-World War II summary killings (Rogenrol; 1991).

Robar Dorin himself attributed his selection of topics to a traumatic event from his childhood.

He said in the Dnevnik interview that the town of Bor, Serbia, where he was born in 1940, had a Jewish minority. "Three, four families lived in a wooden shed, including more than 12 children. Once the occupying forces arrived, they were driven out and the shed was set on fire. Scenes like this really affect you."

"I stood outside, crying, watching the children fleeing, half naked. This was traumatic, it is seared in my memory. I remember my parents having to drag me away. Even today, sometimes when I close my eyes, I can see it all again."

His family moved to Novo Mesto when he was still a child. He studied philosophy in Ljubljana and relocated to Chicago after meeting his first wife while hitch-hiking in Greece. There, he studied film at the Columbia College Chicago.

Upon his return from the US, Robar Dorin founded one of the first independent production firms in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s. He mostly worked with small crews of three people at most.

For a while, he also taught at the Ljubljana Film and Theatre Academy. "My approach was so radically different that older filmmakers would not tolerate me. They convinced the academy board not to extend my employment. That was the end of my teaching career," he told TV Slovenija.

"Something had to be done, there was this guy, an existentialist who lived in America, so he must be a capitalist, teaching our people about independent, low-budget film-making," Robar Dorin described the reasoning behind his dismissal in the Dnevnik interview.

Robar Dorin's oeuvre also includes translations of Slovenian and English poetry. He served as the head of the Slovenian Film Fund between 1998 and 2002.

© STA, 2019