'Cinema is Music': Renowned Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica talks about his passion for music at CIFF

May Selim, Wednesday 8 Dec 2021

In a panel discussion at the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), filmmaker and musician Emir Kusturica shared his views on the factors that create the crucial link between film and music.

Emir Kusturica

Kusturica, an extraordinary director and member of the musical group The Non Smoking Orchestra, presided over the jury of the 43rd CIFF’s international competition.

During one of the panel discussions held at the CIFF, which closed on 5 December, the renowned Serbian filmmaker spoke about his work in cinema, revealing his thoughts about how an audience can connect to the film they are watching. He also tackled an issue that he refers to as "obsession with cinema verité," where directors remain faithful to a specific style of documentary filmmaking, which according to Kusturica, is more applicable to reality TV shows. 

While walking the listeners through his views on cinema, Kusturica dedicated a big portion of the discussion to his unique passion for music and the close link that he sees between filmmaking and music, a link seen prominently in many of his films including Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream, and Black Cat, White Cat. 

“I have been playing music for 24 years. My relationship with music has changed over the years though. In my first two films, I used music just to follow the unfolding of events. From my third film Le Temps des Gitans (1988), music has been fully integrated into the fabric of the characters' lives. This was also the case with my film Underground (1995)," stressed the director.

He went on to explain that music, often very much linked to his Balkan origins, has always been his lifeline. This was the case, for example, with his Hollywood film Arizona Dream (1993), where he faced the rules of the US film industry, or the "American game" as he puts it, and the music no doubt helped him meet the challenge.

"Cinema is music. Music is much closer to cinema than literature or the theatre. Whether the film industry today turns all good and even half-good novels into movies is a question of market functionality. Producers are focusing on what could potentially generate the greatest income and attract the greatest number of young people,” he said.

With his group The Non Smoking Orchestra Kusturica plays the music for his films, drawing on rock and Balkan heritage, which is predominant in many his films’ soundtracks. In his documentary Super 8 Stories (2000), he also recounts a triumphant tour of the group in Western Europe.

“Unfortunately, over the past few decades, music has often been used as a prop to embellish the film, and not as an essential part of the work. Music and musicality are the major criteria that allow us to differentiate between good and bad directors,” said Kusturica adding that, "if you need music to match the tempo of your movie, you're in trouble.”

“You need to have your streaks, one after the other, measured by your heartbeat. If you're a director and an editor, your heartbeat is what determines where your cut should be. The issue is that today, cinema has adopted the language of advertisements, you have to be fast, you have to be in tune. This is the biggest mistake in movies today."

This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 8 December 2021 issue. Additional editing: Ahram Online

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