Late last month we spent a week in Croatia for the sixth annual Vladimir Film Festival, a small independent skateboard film and photography festival staged between Fažana and Pula in the Croatian region of Istria. Highlights of this year’s four-day programme included: an emotional world premiere of Nikola Racan’s video Solsticij, a photo show featuring work by Kuba Bączkowski, Alexey Lapin, Joel Peck and Richard West, a live performance by Sergej Vutuc and the Croatian premiere of Colin Read’s new video, Spirit Quest, which was held in the magical setting of Veliki Brijun Island. We caught up with festival organiser Nikola Racan to find out what makes this fast-growing, grassroots festival so special, and why people travel from all over the world to a small fishing village in Croatia be a part of it.
Interview and photography: Henry Kingsford.
How did the festival start, back in 2011?
The festival started spontaneously. Every year in Croatia there are a bunch of festivals and we were tired of working (for those festivals) and wanted to make one for ourselves. We didn’t even think about the word ‘festival’, we just talked about bringing a projector to a bar and screening a few films that we were going to download from the internet. That was basically it – that was how the idea started. When we started the festival, our event in May – which is a typical skate contest – was pretty popular in Croatia and across the region. Each May we had a bunch of skaters coming here – we still do – but we wanted to have a private event, a small one. So the first festival was held in the skatepark (in Fažana). I think Marko (Zubak) hooked us up with Phil Evans and he sent us Format Perspective. Then the guys from Antiz jumped in, and a couple of guys from the US… It was a just a small, one-day festival. We skated the skatepark all day then screened three films and when we put on the projector, I felt like it was a different thing. This was the first time I saw skate videos on a big screen in my hometown, so there was a huge impact.
Tell us about Fažana.
Fažana is my life, basically. It has been since I first opened my eyes. Fažana is the only thing that matters to me, it’s as simple as that. I just love the place where I live and that is the reason why I do the festival here. I’ve been doing stuff with skateboarding in Fažana my whole life. I’m in love with this town. It’s not always good, sometimes it’s bad, but it’s where I’m from, it’s what I have to work with.
Can you describe the place?
Fažana is a small municipality. That’s a relatively new thing – 10 years ago Fažana was still under a nearby city, Vodnjan. During all the Yugoslavia stuff, Fažana was a grey zone because it was a port for the Brijuni Islands – it still is today – and the Islands were Tito’s (Josep Broz Tito, President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1953-80) residence during WW2 and during the ’70s, so it was basically a military zone, a port to go to the islands. Other than that, it was a fisherman’s village. That was it, there was nothing. People either worked on the island or worked as a fisherman.
Now tourism is big here.
Now it has become a tourist spot because when Fažana did get divided from the city, things started to look a little bit more normal. We got street lights. Land was sold off to foreign investors, who developed with tourism in mind. When we were kids we didn’t have anything here. We didn’t have a skatepark – I mean we still don’t have a proper skatepark – we didn’t have places to play football, or lit streets, so we were basically forced to make something out of nothing. Other than fishing and the Islands, Fažana had two industries: the glass factory and liquor factory that later became our DIY spots. Those factories were my backyard as a kid. It was so interesting to go around them, even before I skated.
Tell us about the skate scene in Fažana and Pula.
Pula has a new skatepark now. That’s good, but it’s not the way we want to work in Fažana. We are one crew, Fažana and Pula, but there are always differences in the way people think in skateboarding. The skate scene is pretty small, there aren’t a lot of people who skate here. That’s actually what attracted me to doing stuff in Fažana. It was strange to make a platform here because there are no skate spots (Pula has nice skate spots) and there have always been under 20 people who actively skate in the area. Maybe if the scene was bigger, none of this stuff (Vladimir, the factory DIY spots) would have happened, because somebody else would have set the agenda. Fažana was pretty stingy back in the day. It didn’t give us much, so we had to plant our own seed.
People started skating in Pula around the early ’90s or late ’80s. In the ’90s it was a different type of skating than today – they mainly skated just a few spots. We are the first generation who went a bit further. We saw that guys from France and from the States skated a different way and we applied that to our scene here. But the scene is pretty small, we don’t have a skate shop. The skatepark in Pula means a lot for the new generation, so that’s nice. It’s the first skatepark in the city.
Tell us about the link with your crew and Magenta.
Yoan (Taillandier, Bordeaux-based filmer) is one of the most influential filmers from the last decade. Those guys are my good friends now. I’ve been to France a couple of times, they’ve been here a couple of times. They went to Japan first and saw what those guys were doing and then we saw what they were doing. I think generally, six or seven years ago, this new trend started to emerge that Yoan put on the map, even before Magenta. We didn’t know anything about Magenta, we just wanted to go and meet Yoan and maybe Leo (Valls), so we went to Bordeaux. Eight of us couch surfed there. We didn’t know anyone, just one kid from Facebook (that was a really strange story and it would be too long to tell it now), we just arrived there and met Aymeric (Nocus) and Leo in front of Riot skate shop. We didn’t know Vivien (Feil, Magenta co-founder) was living there, we just wanted to see the city, the streets. It was our first trip. Me and my crew were pretty influenced by all the stuff around Minuit (Yoan Taillandier’s 2011 video) that was going on.
Back to Vladimir, who else is involved in organising the festival?
Other than myself, Oleg (Morovic) does all the printing and he sets up the exhibitions. His father was one of the first successful graphic designers in this region, so when we were kids playing football, Oleg had to go and study CorelDraw or InDesign, whatever program it was. Without him, all this stuff would not look at good at is does. One of main ideas behind our skateboard club that organises the festival (Skateboard Klub August Senoa) was to involve a lot of people in Vladimir who are not skaters, people from Fažana who just want to help out. Marina (Jakulic) is queen of the internet, she’s crazy. I’m not a big fan of the internet. Sometimes people get confused and think that I post shit on the internet. I don’t do stuff like all the PR work on Facebook. Iris (Mosnja) helps out a lot with the tenders and stuff, she’s pretty experienced. Marta (Baradic) also, she’s from Fažana, she helps out as much as she can and also writes articles for the press. Elvis (Butković) is the main technician guy who works on all the stuff like lighting. Tibor (-Marko Jakulic) is also here helping out. And myself, I don’t want to be selfish, but I’m in touch with everything. It’s a really tiny organisation based on friendship. There are a lot of guys who help out, but maybe two or three people are working on it all year.
Where did the name ‘Vladimir’ come from?
The first year, we didn’t care. I didn’t think that I’d be talking to you right now, doing an interview for Grey and having guys from all around the world – not just Europe – coming to Fažana. It was my dream for sure, but with ‘Vladimir’ we didn’t think, it was just a funny name we chose. The second year, when I started to write emails to people requesting films, I didn’t feel very confident speaking about Vladimir Film Festival, but after the second or third festival, we knew that our name was becoming… it’s stable now.
How do you curate the festival? Are there specific criteria for films you show?
The type of skateboarding that interests me most is independent skating. It is still an independent, underground festival, whatever that word underground means. Basically it was always myself or Marko sending emails to people, then we got the films and we’d screen them. There was no public application. We don’t have awards. It’s a private thing, not an open festival. But this year a bunch of guys sent me emails and each time I said yes. I am saying to you right now: next year guys, this will be impossible because there would be too many films. We don’t want to look sharp and strict and so serious, but you must have selection, for sure. The primary selection of the festival is independent films, you know what I mean…
So more scene videos vs. bigger budget company videos?
Yes. This year we wanted to bring new guys. Marko specifically said to me: “We should invite Russians, Spanish people, expand…” The first few years we didn’t even care what the programme was. It was like: “Now we’re gonna get this film, nice”. We were stoked on small independent brands like Polar, Magenta, all those guys. If they did a film, we wanted to screen it. I saw the guys from Poland made Grey Area, there was Eleventh Hour… We follow the brands and things like us, people who think as skaters, independently. We are not doing the festival for marketing, for business. We don’t even bother that much about the programme, because it comes naturally…
You had a lot of last-minute submissions this year, right?
Yes we did. We didn’t even have time to announce Jim’s (Craven) film and Nicaragua also came almost last minute. We had to extend the festival to Day Zero. We even thought about making a Zero Week and beginning a few days earlier, because it’s hard to watch three our four skate videos in a row. People lose concentration, it’s not natural. Basically, if you watch a skate video, then you want to go skate. That’s the ultimate message. That is how it’s supposed to be. But we still have a few documentaries that will not hype you up that much to go skate, but to think maybe. We have at least one documentary each year, a full-length documentary that was released that year or the year before. It’s a good way to bring a different audience, not just having skaters watching skate videos, acting crazy and stuff.
They are more interesting to non-skaters in the city (Pula).
Yes, of course, particularly in that cinema (Kino Valli in Pula, where the documentaries are screened). It’s a fancy cinema where you can go and watch a film – you don’t have to be a skater… It would be hard for someone who didn’t skate who came to the festival and watched Vase or Eleventh Hour or something like that. They will see that it’s a nice film, it has nice transitions, nice skating, but they won’t understand like we do. So it’s good that there are filmmakers out there doing documentaries about skateboarding. That’s really nice.
When did photography become part of the festival?
We had a tiny exhibition at the second film festival, but the first real exhibition came in 2013. The idea came naturally, because the skate cinematography world is really in contact with photography also. When we finish one festival, we think about what we don’t have that we could include the following year. That is why we put photography in.
Tell us more about the DIY spots in the old factories in Fažana.
We had two DIY spots, one in the liquor factory and one in the glass factory. In 2012 and 2013 we had parts of the festival in the old liquor factory. 2013 was the key year because we started to get exposure. Then the DIY got shut down. It got torn down and we had some difficulties with each other as a crew. The place was gone. We were like: “What the fuck now? The festival will die. There’s no point, we don’t have a place”. We were all depressed. That was the reason we started to think differently. We kept the two-day program, but the first day was in Fažana and the second in Pula. That year I was working as a driver for the big film festival in Pula and I got to know some of the guys who worked there. They hooked me up with the managers and directors and we managed to get the movie cinema and the gallery (Cvajner Gallery in Pula). That year we made a poster on one of the walls of the old liquor factory, which you can still see (see photo above). It’s like a monument to the place.
What happened to the DIY spots?
We were building there for maybe ten years, then it was torn down because the land was being sold. Basically as the festival was growing, Fažana was growing too. More and more tourists came and from the outside, they saw the DIY spots as ugly places. They sold out the location, that is true, but they did not tear down the place because of the investors, they tore it down for this tourism bullshit.
The spaces haven’t been developed since the spots were taken down.
The place will be empty, maybe forever. Who knows? It just looks ugly now. I knew that we were really on thin ice – that it would be gone – since I started building there, but it was a message to show people that we created something from nothing, that they should give us a chance to work on something that is legit you know, legal.
Back to this year’s festival. The Spirit Quest premiere on Veliki Brijun Island was a magical experience. Tell us a little about the island and the cinema.
We knew that a lot of people would come this year and I’ve been in contact with Colin (Read) since we had the Tengu premiere in the old liquor factory in 2013. He already knew about the festival and when I saw the trailer, I immediately sent him the link for Brijuni. There was nothing in the mail, just a link: “Man, check this. We should have a premiere”. The national park is definitely the biggest step that we took this year. Brijuni Islands are 14 virgin islands located 3.5km from Fažana. It was, well it still is the summer residence of the president the country. It’s a really beautiful, preserved place with animals and it definitely did suit the Spirit Quest video. Last year I really wanted to screen Vase there, but it wasn’t done yet. The Spirit Quest premiere on the island was really magical, as you said. The place is pretty unique. It’s an old cinema from Yugoslavia.
Some of the animals in the safari park are in the video too, so that was a really special link.
During WW2 and after, when Tito was there, there was a museum of taxidermy on the island with animals from all around the world – they had everything – and Spirit Quest also has almost everything. It was a struggle to get permission for the premiere because we needed to open the eyes of the guys who work there – they don’t know what skateboarding really is. I don’t know if anybody has screened a skate video in a national park and on an island elsewhere, I’m not sure…
I don’t think so.
We had 120 people at the premiere, which was crazy. We had to arrange a big boat to bring us back.
How do you see the festival growing and developing in future years?
It will definitely be a challenge, because after this year more people will come here. I’m psyched about that, but the organisation will probably change. There will be a lot more people involved in the festival. The festival is what keeps me going here. We put so much effort in and now that effort is coming back, not financially, but on other levels. Fažana is still a good place to live because I can plan the festival all year.
How do you fund the festival?
That’s the magic question. If I told you in numbers how much money we get from the city, it would be so funny. We fund 50 percent of the festival ourselves and 50 percent is money we get from other institutions. The budget is really small. We are lucky that myself and a few other guys know some people here who helped out, out of good will.
So you’ve worked for Pula Film Festival and also on Brijuni Islands.
Yes. I worked for Brijuni Islands for three years and I worked for a few years at the film festival. I worked in a theatre for almost five years too. So I know the cultural scene and they can see that we are just becoming something, that we are something small, but those guys were also small once, so they help us out.
What do the people of Fažana think about the annual influx of skateboarders?
The first few years, even last year, it was alright, but this year we booked a few apartments, so people earned some money there, the guys ate at that restaurant, we used that guy’s shop (for beer and cigarettes), so it’s becoming a post-tourism event.
At the end of the season?
Yes, because it’s the first day of autumn and you have 100, maybe 200 people arriving in Fažana. That’s a lot for this small place. So I think people should realise this is important for the town, for the community.
What were some of your favourite moments from this year’s festival?
I finished one job straight into another job and then this festival was just non-stop. I still need some time to get this…
Yes. But I mostly remember this technical stuff that wasn’t 100 per cent right. That bugs me a little bit. But it’s really hard to say what the highlight was. Man, last year I picked you and Will (Harmon, editor of Free) up from the airport and this year we picked up like 15 people from the UK. That says a lot. Then next day ten Russians arrived, afterwards a few guys from the States landed, Photo Jesus (James Ahern) came out (from Australia). It’s crazy. People even planned their holidays to come here.