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Miroslav Savković

Cinematography in Serbia during the Second World War 1941-1945


Source: Miroslav Savković, Kinematografija u Srbiji tokom Drugog svetskog rata 1941-1945., publishers: Institut za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju Fakulteta dramskih umetnosti u Beogradu i "Ibis", Beograd, 1994



Cinematographic activities in Serbia during the Second World War has not been thoroughly researched and analyzed in spite of the fact that during the same period the process of organized development of Serbian and Yugoslav cinematography was initialized (the latter, in turn, continuously existed and functioned as a system for nearly half a century).

This research, based on the historical methodology, has the purpose of analyzing in detail the cinematographic activities on the territory of the state of Serbia, including the provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohia (Kosmet).

Following the breakup of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and as a consequence of occupier's partition, the Serbian territory was divided in the following way:

1. Bačka was occupied by Hungary

2. East Srem was annexed to the Independent State of Croatia

3. Banat was occupied by Germany – the civil government was organized by the members of the German national minority (Folksdeutschers)

4. Southeast territories were annexed to Bulgaria

5. The major part of Kosovo and Metohia was occupied by Italy

6. The rest of Serbia including Belgrade was under the German rule – on August 29, 1941 a civil government (Ministry Council) headed by the Army general Milan Nedić was organized under the German patronage. However such a territorial partition did not remain static as it experienced changes during the course of war, most frequently due to the activities either of the units of Draža Mihailović or the troops of the National Liberation Army as well as due to the border alterations instigated the German allied countries such as Bulgaria and Italy.

The chronology of events which this book encompasses is bounded by the following dates: March 27, 1941 – July 3, 1945 and it does not coincide with the beginning or the end of the Second World War in Serbia.

Cinematography in Serbia started its war life ten days before April 6,1941, when Belgrade was air bombed by the Germans. Namely, on March 27,1941 the film cameras filmed the demonstrations supporting the coup d'etat and disapproving the joining of the Trilateral Pact by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. On the other hand the Serbian cinematography lost its war character on July 3,1945 when two cinematographic war institutions were closed: the Film Section of the Superior Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan Units of Yugoslavia and the National Film Corporation of the Democratic Federative Yugoslavia.

The main characteristic of war cinematography in general, and the one in Serbia in particular, is the strongly accentuated propaganda in all forms of the cinematographic activity, resulting in all films, irrespective of the type, representing a powerful means of propaganda.

Status of Cinematography in Serbia before 1941

The first legal act related to cinematography in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was passed in December of 1931. Having only ten articles this short legal act established the protecting mechanism for the national film production on the cinematographic market of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The National Film Headquarters was established with the purpose of promoting the national film production whose protection was regulated in Articles 7 and 8:


For each 1000 meters of the entertainment film imported by the end of 1933 the importer is obligated to either supply or produce and distribute on the market at least 70 meters, and after that period at least 150 meters of locally produced film, provided that the film is of the silent type if the imported film is silent or of the sound type in case the sound film was imported.


The importers, stating that they can not meet the demands from the previous article, are obligated to pay to the National Film Headquarters 50 dinars for silent films and 100 dinars for sound films for each meter of unsupplied or unproduced film."

Avoiding to meet the demands of the Yugoslav Film Law articles 7 and 8 was punishable, so that already the next year, in 1932, the national film production was revived establishing an equilibrium between the Yugoslav and foreign films on the cinematographic market of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Consequently, the privileged status of foreign companies controlling the film market of Yugoslavia as well as of the local movie-theater owners and film distributors was endangered.

Just one year later following the strong pressure by the foreign companies accompanied by the local distributors and movie-theater owners, the articles 7 and 8 of the Yugoslav Film Law were removed, de facto making the protection of the national film production on its own market impossible. As a consequence the production rate dropped, the market equilibrium was disturbed giving the edge to foreign films. Just before the outbreak of the war the film production in Serbia, and in the other parts of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as well, was almost completely suppressed limiting the cinematographic activities to film screenings.

The movie repertoire consisted of imported foreign films among which, during 1939, there were 467 American, 139 German, 99 French and 64 from other countries.

Before the war started the number cinematographic professionals was small as was the number of private movie camera owners so that even amateur film production was undeveloped, except, to a certain extent in Vojvodina.

Henceforth, such was the status of cinematography in the state of Serbia when historical events began to unfold on March 27,1941.

Filmings of March 27,1941 and the Breakdown of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

The demonstrations that took place on March 27,1941 were filmed by the local amateurs and professional cameramen and their filmings have been preserved until today. Some of the filmings of the same event and of the April breakdown of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia have been either destroyed or confiscated by the occupier. Considerable more film material was filmed by the members of the occupying German forces, while several filmings were made by the members of the occupying Hungarian army.

The disproportional relation of the local to foreign filmed material is the result of the superior equipment and advanced preparations undertaken by the aggressor countries, especially Germany. At present, several filmings filmed by the German and Hungarian cameramen have been preserved, however there are filmings which, at least for the time being are unknown and unattainable. They have probably been transported back to Germany either during the course of war or by the German military units retreating from the Serbian territory.

Cinematographic Activities in the occupied Serbia

Cinematographic activities in the occupied Serbia were intensive and diverse. The most intensive undertakings took place at the territories under German occupation while, on the other hand there were no activities in Kosovo and Metohia.

Film making developed in a continuous manner and numerous film materials intended mainly for the German newsreel were filmed. The aim of these propaganda films was to glorify the Nazi ideology and the practices of Hitler's Germany and her allies.

We also make a record of the national film making developing simultaneously with the foreign production among which dominates the name of Dragoljub Aleksić, who made the feature film "Innocence Without Protection".

Judging by the volume and diversity of film activities the experienced prewar film maker Stevan Miljković is the most prominent person in the occupied Serbia.

The occupier's administration completely controlled the film market and particularly the film imports.

Considering the circumstances the motion picture presentations were well organized and tightly controlled by the occupier's administration. The attendance was good in spite of the fact that the repertoire was dominated by German films.

A notable exception to this type of repertoire was Belgrade's Kolarac Peoples University, where films with much less propaganda content were shown, in contrast to the majority show rooms and movie theaters in the occupied Serbia.

Along with the major cinematographic activities (production, distribution and presentations), the additional and accompanying activities belonging to cinematography in the extended sense were organized in occupied Serbia such as the legal regulations in cinematography, organization of cinematographic professional education, cinematographic publishing etc.

In general, the cinematographic activities were well organized and developed in occupied Serbia during the Second World war. Cinematography served the aims of the occupation forces and according to the extension and efficiency as well as to the degree of organization, it reached a high level.

Cinematographic Activities in the Units of Dragoljub Draža Mihailović

In the units under the leadership of Draža Mihailović fighting on the Serbian soil during the Second World War there were no organized and continuously developed cinematographic activities.

If there are film materials about the military units of Draža Mihailović of which we have no existing records, then the plausible reasons may be twofold:

the film materials were either shoot on location by the members of the foreign military missions visiting the headquarters of Draža Mihailović: or the film makers were natives who sent the films abroad for processing or some other reason and due to the war circumstances remained there. Assuming such film materials exist in the archives of Great Britain and the United States of America, it is uncertain when they would become available to researchers and to the public.

The only known film material, shot among the military units of Draža Mihailović was shot in Boljevac and is kept nowadays in The Yugoslav Film Archives in Belgrade, represents more of an exception than the evidence of the organized cinematographic activities.

Filmings Made by the Allies

A number of cameramen from the Soviet Union and Great Britain resided in Serbia during the Second World War. Most of their work is kept nowadays in the three institutions: The Yugoslav Film Archives in Belgrade, The Newsreel Company in Belgrade and The Museum of the Revolution of Nations and Nationalities of Yugoslavia in Belgrade.

It is probable that the film archives of allied countries, especially of the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States, contain film materials shot in Serbia during the same period.

Cinematographic Activities in the National Liberation Army until the Formation of the Film Section of the General Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan Units of Serbia

The first organized cinematographic activities in the military units of the National Liberation Army (NLA) occurred as late as the summer of 1944 when the war circumstances were favorable. The organization of cinematographic activities demands technical and technological prerequisites, first of all the basic equipment (film cameras, film projectors and raw stock), end at least the indispensable cinematographic professionals (cameramen and film projector operators).

It was hard for the NLA units to provide even the most necessary means to execute the combat actions so that the use of photographic equipment, although being much easier to use from the technical and organizational aspect, was sporadic and until 1944 unorganized.

However, by carefully organizing other means of propaganda activities the favorable circumstances were established within the military units starting July 1944.

The Film Section of the General Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan Units of Serbia

The Film Section of the General Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan units of Serbia (The Film Section of Serbia) started its activity in the summer of 1944. Under the war conditions it functioned on the temporarily liberated territories and for that reason it had to cease operating from time to time at certain locations.

The main field of activity of The Film Section of Serbia was the film distribution and organization of film projections. Great popularity was enjoyed by the Soviet films. Initially, the movie shows were free of charge followed by the period when the attendance fee was obligatory for all attendants except for the members of the Army and the Civil administrations employees.

The Film Section of Serbia did not succeed in acquiring the necessary shooting equipment so that, as far as the film production was concerned, its activities were limited to the efforts of the prewar Niš based photographer and cameraman Đorđe Vasiljević.

The Film Section of Serbia is the first organized institution, of the Serbian and Yugoslav cinematography established during the Second World War. According to its character The Film Section of Serbia represents a military, war cinematographic institution.

The person who holds merit for its organization is the founder, Radoš Novaković; who became its first head, and Koča Popović, the commander of the GH NLA and the PU of Serbia who approved its formation.

The date of the final cessation of activities of The Film Section of Serbia probably coincides with July 14,1945, the date of dismissal of the General Headquarters NLA and the PU of Serbia.

The Film Section of the Superior Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan Units of Yugoslavia

Immediately following the liberation of Belgrade, October 20th, 1944, the cinematographic activity of the first war military cinematographic institution on the Yugoslav level was initialized, namely The Film Section of the Superior Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and the Partisan Units of Yugoslavia (The Film Section of Yugoslavia) was founded. The head of this institution was also Radoš Novaković who following the liberation of Nig moved to Belgrade along with the GH NLA and the PU of Serbia. He enjoyed the help of his immediate associates from The Film Section of Serbia, who also moved to Belgrade at a somewhat later date.

The written order concerning the founding of The Film Section of Yugoslavia was signed by the General Commander of the NLA and the PU of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, on December 13,1944.

Initially, the main responsibility of The Film Section of Yugoslavia was the organization of the national film production consisting of the propaganda type newsreel and documentary films in the beginning and of the feature films later on. The organization of accompanying cinematographic activities, such as the education of future professionals, production and repair of technical equipment and materials was simultaneously developing. Along with these activities, the censorship and the acquisition and preservation of films was also organized which had an important impact on the later development of the film archives.

The aim of the founders of the postwar macroorganizational concept of the Yugoslav cinematographic development was the organization of the state owned, centralized cinematography.

The activities of The Film Section of Yugoslavia paved the way for the processes that took place during the following years and decades – the organized, self standing, centralized and state owned cinematographies were organized within each constitutive republic of Yugoslavia. The collaboration of the representatives of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States of America and The Film Section of Yugoslavia lead to the beginning of the film imports abroad during the Second World War.

The National Film Corporation

The National Film Corporation started its activity on November 20,1944.

This institution revived the film import activity interrupted by the war. The organization of film projections on the territory of liberated Yugoslavia would not have been possible without the British, Soviet and American films imported by the national Film Corporation, totaling slightly over 150 films during March of 1945.

Cooperation with Great Britain and the Soviet Union was precisely regulated by the mutually signed contracts and it was primarily founded on the protection of British and Soviet economic interests, while the National Film Corporation assumed a subordinate position. The cooperation with the United States was characterized by the lower volume of exchange.

The National Film Corporation was the first organized, civil form of Yugoslav cinematography founded in Serbia during the Second World War. It functioned along with the federal military cinematographic institution – The Film Section of Yugoslavia. A share of business activities existed between the National Film Corporation and The Film Section of Yugoslavia such that, briefly stated, the National Film Corporation organized reproductive cinematography and The Film Section of Yugoslavia was in charge of the film production. Although we here speak of the war cinematographic organizational forms, the National Film Corporation represented the civil counterbalance to the military cinematographic institution, The Film Section of Yugoslavia. In such manner the circumstances for demilitarization of our cinematography were established.


The fact that it is possible to exert powerful influence on people of different intellectual and cultural level by the use of the universal language of moving pictures contributed to the importance of film during the Second World War, which became more important than any other media as far as the propaganda influence is concerned.

During the Second World War various diverse and active cinematographic undertakings took place. The forms of such activities were different: from amateur endeavors of filming the important historic moments using the small format film cameras and sporadic cinematographic activities, all the way to the complete and well organized cinematographic ventures. The degree of the use of cinema in Serbia during the Second World War was conditioned and limited by the organizational and technical equipment, and capabilities, so that cinematography was not equally used in all geographical regions, military units and organizations.

Quantitatively, the largest number of films shot on location in Serbia during the Second World War represent the reports intended for the newsreel presentations, mainly of German production. These films, as far as their present importance and role is concerned, represent priceless historical documents about the time and the participants in the events that shaped the present, a characteristic shared by the superbly professionally produced films and the films made by the enthusiastic amateurs.

On the Serbian territory under the German rule a complete cinematographic activities were organized; both the fundamental, activities such as the production, distribution and projections as well as the additional ones such as the legislation, publishing, education etc. Cinematography was controlled by actively involved German administrative officials, however similar activities were undertaken by the local institutions and individuals.

Among the natives involved in cinematography in the occupied Serbia the most prominent person is the cameraman Stevan Mišković.

From the organizational and technical aspect, the full length feature film by Dragoljub Aleksić "Innocence Without Protection" is the most important cinematographic project released in the occupied Serbia, and successfully realized by local film makers in spite of the fact that the film must be characterized as naive and technically unsophisticated although it tried to approach the art form in the honest manner.

Among the numerous film materials made in Serbia during the Second World War, the majority were made by the Germans. Some of them still remain preserved in our archives although there are probably many more in the German film archives as well as in the archives of German allies and the archives of the Yugoslav allied countries.

The film distribution on the Serbian territory under the German occupation was tightly controlled by the German occupation administration so that the Belgrade film import companies, like Tesla-film or Jugoistok-film, were the censors at the same time since the imported films were of exclusively German production.

The movie theaters repertoire in the occupied Belgrade was dominated by German films and newsreels serving the propaganda aims of Hitler's Germany.

Kolarac Peoples University was the sole institution whose film repertoire consisted of educational and documentary films with moral themes, making a strong contrast to the repertoire of other cinemas in the occupied Belgrade and Serbia.

On the other Serbian territories occupied by Hungary, the Independent State of Croatia, Bulgaria and Italy, cinematographic activities were differently developed although film as a medium had an important role mainly as a powerful propaganda means.

The large amount of film material on the Serbian territory was shot by the war reporters of allied countries, from the Soviet Union and Great Britain. These film materials are being kept in our film archives and the archives of the allied countries, where, regretfully, they are beyond our reach along with the materials filmed by the occupier's troops.

The successful beginning of the organizational shaping of an important professional, artistic, cultural and economic activity on Serbian territory – the national cinematography was the outcome of the activities of three war cinematographic institutions: The Film Section of Serbia, The Film Section of Yugoslavia and the National Film Corporation. This process ended on July 3, 1945 when the war cinematographic institutions were dismissed and their place resumed by the Film Corporation of the Democratic Federative Yugoslavia, the first civil cinematographic institution founded in Serbia (and Yugoslavia) after the Second World War, in the just liberated country.

About the Author

Miroslav Savković was born in Belgrade in 1948. He graduated in 1977 at the University of Belgrade's Faculty of Dramatic Arts, Department of Film and Television Production Management.

As an experienced amateur film maker he acquired the reputation of a successful Yugoslav film maker during the seventies.

During 1978 he worked as a producer at The Radio Television Ljubljana - Slovenia.

During 1979 he was employed at The Newsreel Company in Belgrade as a production manager.

His publications in the area of cinematography appeared in the magazines Filmograf, Ju film danas > Yu film danas and Sineast. He is also the author of several short experimental films and television films.

He received his M. A. degree in 1990 at the University of Belgrade's Faculty of Dramatic Arts with a thesis Informative Film Activity with a Special Review of the Yugoslav 'Newsreel'. He acquired his Ph.D. degree at the same institution in 1992 with a dissertation Cinematographic Activity in Serbia during the Second World War.

He has been employed in the Department of Film and Television Production Management of the Faculty of Dramatic Arts since 1986 where he currently holds the position of the assistant professor.

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