As of Thursday, February 8, Serbia has another Knight, a highly esteemed movie director Emir Kusturica. French Minister of Culture Rennaud Donnadieu de Vabres has awarded world renowned Serbian director with France’s Order of the Knight of Arts and Literature of the first degree — Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
This is the highest French recognition for achievements in arts and culture, honoring those who have “significantly contributed to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance.” The medal was given to Kusturica as an acknowledgement of his professional achievements in France.
Minister De Vabres said that with this recognition France wanted to express its affection and admiration to Kusturica and appreciation of his entire artistic opus that, along with movies, includes his music band Zabranjeno pusenje, documentary films and the magnificent ethno village he has built in Serbia.
Kusturica is a great artist who carries within all that Europe represents today — positive values, drama, tragedy. He is the artist of exquisite power and ingenious mind, the French Minister of Culture pointed out.
The ceremony was attended by representatives of culture and foreign ministries of France and Serbia as well as Serbian Ambassador to France Predrag Simic and Director of the Serbian Cultural Centre in Paris Zivadin Mitrovic.
Kusturica and Coppola Only
Born in Sarajevo, capital of former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1954, Emir Kusturica graduated from the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in 1978. Extravagantly brilliant, Kusturica almost immediately became one of the most creative cinema directors during the 1980s and 1990s, and the only director other than Francis Ford Coppola to have won the Cannes Palme d’Or twice.
Among his numerous awards is also the Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival in 1989 for Time of Gypsies, Golden Lion in Venice Film Festival in 1981 for his first movie Do You Remember Dolly Bell?, a Silver Bear at Berlin Film Festival in 1993 for Arizona Dream, and a Best European Union Film at César Awards in 2005 for Life is a Miracle.
From Emir to Nemanja
Although born of nominally Muslim parents, on Đurđevdan (St. George’s Day) 2005 Emir decided to correct the historical anomaly and return to his roots and the faith of his ancestors by being baptized into the Serbian Orthodox Church under the christened Serbian name of Nemanja, in Dormition Monastery near Herceg Novi.
While for Kusturica this represented an act of reclaiming his true origins and reaffirming his identity, among his critics and opponents it was equated with the final betrayal. Bosnian Croat Mile Stojic commented: “… it shall be written that Kusta was the first Orthodox Christian in modern history whose father’s name was Murat.”
“My father was an atheist and he always described himself as a Serb. OK, maybe we were Muslim for 250 years, but we were Orthodox before that and deep down we were always Serbs, religion cannot change that. We only became Muslims to survive the Turks.”
Ethno village Serbian most imaginative director has built
on Tara Mountain, in the heart of Serbia.
From Paris and New York to Serbia’s Mecavnik
While filming a movie Life is a Miracle in Serbia, Emir noticed the beauty of the Mecavnik hill three thousand feet up on Tara Mountain, and decided to build a village there. Fiachra Gibbons of Guardian describes the visit to this unique place:
What started as a couple of salvaged traditional wooden houses 18 months ago, on a bluff above the spectacularly beautiful Mokra Gora valley in western Serbia, has mushroomed into a modern take on the great monastery-universities of the middle ages. The village is equipped with a library, Serbia’s most advanced cinema and, most incongruously of all, an underground basketball arena — a tribute to the three world championships won by the former Yugoslavia. For Küstendorf, as he calls the place, is also a hymn to Serbian cultural achievement and traditional living […]
The focal point of Küstendorf, which is every bit as rustic, poetic and miraculous as his films, is Serbian Orthodox church dedicated to the first Serbian Archbishop and the father of Serbian nation, St. Sava. The church Kusturica built in the center of his village has been consecrated on St. Archangel’s Day in 2003 and dedicated to the great Serbian saint in January 2004, by the Bishop of Zica of Serbian Uzice Diocese, His Grace Hrizostom.