Having counted the number of viewers of Croatian feature films of the past year, we have reached a maximum of 260,000 cinema-goers. Specifically, according to the statistics we have received from the distributors, or rather those shared by the national box office (updated every Monday), the results for 2019 are as follows:
Antun Vrdoljak’s General (General) – 74.3 thousand viewers (grossed – 2.5 million HRK); Vinko Brešan’s What a Country! (Koja je ovo država) – 58.2 thousand viewers (1.75 million HRK); Dražen Žarković and Marina Andree Škop’s My Grandpa Is An Alien (Moj dida je pao s Marsa) – 29 thousand viewers (642,000 HRK); Predrag Ličina’s Last Serb in Croatia (Posljednji Srbin u Hrvatskoj) – 28 thousand viewers (835,000 HRK), Dana Budisavljević’s The Diary of Diana B. (Dnevnik Diane Budisavljević) – 26.6 thousand viewers (580,000 HRK), Ljubomir Kerekeš’s Keep Calm and Snap (Ufuraj se i pukni) – 17.4 thousand viewers (534,000 HRK); Ljubo Zdjelarević’s Go, Went, Gone (Ideš? Idem!) – 8.1 thousand viewers (259,000 HRK); Antonio Nuić’s Mali – 5.5 viewers (156,000 HRK); Ivan Goran Vitez’s Extracurricular (Dopunska nastava) – 5.4 thousand viewers (140,000 HRK); Eduard Galić’s For Good Old Times (Za ona dobra stara vremena) – 3.5 viewers (100,000 HRK); Bobo Jelčić’s All Alone (Sam samcat) – 1.5 thousand viewers (33,000 HRK); Filip Peruzović, Dubravka Turić and Filip Mojzeš’s omnibus Deep Cuts (Duboki rezovi) – 553 viewers (11,000 HRK); Dario Pleić’s Home (Dom)– 458 viewers (12,000 HRK); Anđelo Jurkas’ Till the End of Death (Do kraja smrti)– 207 viewers (6,000 HRK).
Alongside the titles listed above was Sara Hribar and Marko Šantić’s film Lada Kamenski, but the numbers for attendance and gross income are not available. The film did not appear on the box-office list (which encompasses the twenty most successful films of the past weekend). We’ve tried to contact the production in charge, Sekvenca, but there was no response.
We hope the reason is neither extremely low ratings, nor the fact that Lada Kamenski might have joined those Croatian films whose gross income (which also includes viewers with purchased tickets) is within two digits, like Goran Rušinović’s The World’s Greatest Monster (Svjetsko čudovište, 2003) or Kristijan Milić’s Dead Fish (Mrtve ribe, 2017).
Films like Zagreb Equinox (Zagrebački ekvinocij) by Svebor Mihael Jelić, Summerhouse (Ljetnikovac) by Damir Čučić and Last Days of Summer (Posljednji dani ljeta) by Damir Radić were screened mostly on specific occasions, which hardly classifies as limited distribution.
Contrary to many conclusions, eulogies and the imposed idea which is – based on such cinema numbers – perpetuated in the public sphere to be ‘a successful cinema year’, primarily in the state-owned media (HRT, Hina), and partly in the mainstream press, the number of 260,000 is disappointing. Thus, it can hardly anticipate a brighter future potential.
The cinema admissions potential of Croatian films in 2019 was far greater than the achieved numbers at box offices. In fact, maybe it had the biggest potential since Croatian independence.
We consider that The Diary of Diana B., Keep Calm and Snap, and General, should be satisfied with the gross-income at the box office, especially General in the context of the critical (and public) harakiri that the film has seen at the Pula Film Festival and afterward.
Others have failed miserably or more than miserably.
Personally, our expectations included at least half a million viewers, although the optimistic ones were wishing for a bigger number (it ought to be taken into consideration that new films by Ognjen Sviličić and Dalibor Matanić were also supposed to arrive in cinemas). That was supposed to make 2019 the “year when the audiences finally returned to the domestic film”, a turning point of sorts.
The foundation for such expectations comprised the following: the films themselves, the names and relevance of their directors, their genre eclecticism, which presumably addresses all the segments of the cinema-audience, the media support our cinema luckily enjoys, especially in the mainstream media, marketing, at least three certain hits (films that are certainly going to triumph in cinemas), the budgets the films and their producers had, and finally, there is the fact that these films, chosen by art advisors of Croatian Audiovisual Centre (‘HAVC’), were co-financed by HAVC with a budget of 400–600 thousand euros. At the same time, twenty to thirty other projects were rejected.
Without having the chance to see them, and led by a good insight of the projects, our expectations for the number of viewers were as follows: 120–150,000 viewers of General, at least 100,000 viewers of What a Country, 70–80,000 viewers of My Grandpa Is An Alien, 50–60,000 viewers of both The Last Serb in Croatia and Extracurricular and 25–30,000 viewers of Mali and For Good Old Times. Also, it was expected of the producers and directors to give their best regarding the promotion and distribution of art films like All Alone or Deep Cuts, and finally, yield 5000–10,000 viewers per film.
It is interesting to observe how our colleagues did not consider the total number of viewers in their annual reviews of the Croatian films, let alone with any comparison to other cinema markets. Rather, they have listed the number of viewers for certain films (and erred in calculations). They have compared the 2019 attendance with the 2018 box-office numbers (which was a catastrophic year), which was supposed to trigger the narrative about the “return of the audiences to Croatian film.”
The modest-sounding 260 thousand viewers is best understood if we take a look at our closest neighbour, whose market is more or less complementary to the Croatian one, though ours is infrastructure-wise far more advanced.
The country is Serbia. In their cinemas in 2019, a single Serbian film entitled Taxi Blues (Taxi bluz) by the director Miroslav Stamatov, was seen by more people than all of the listed Croatian films cumulatively. Over 272,000 paying viewers saw Taxi Blues! The second Serbian film on the list is The Balkan Line (Balkanska međa)—a Russian-Serbian, or rather Serbian-Russian co-production which is regarded as a domestic film—directed by Andrej Volgin, which was seen by 257,000 cinema-goers.
The top five viewed Serbian cinema films counted as much as 750,000 viewers. It should be noted that we have exclusively considered the titles whose distribution had started in 2019. As a side note, the two most-viewed Serbian 2018 films together count over 820,000 viewers – South Wind (Južni vetar) by Miroslav Avramović was viewed by 618,000 people, whereas King Petar of Serbia (Kralj Petar I) by Petar Ristovski was seen by 202,000 people.
Alongside Taxi Blues and The Balkan Line, the remainder of the top five most viewed 2019 domestic films in Serbia are Military Academy 5 (Vojna akademija 5), The Team (Ekipa) by Marko Sopić (73,300), and The Common Story (Realna priča) by Gordan Kičić (54,000).
It should also be noted that Goran Marković’s art-house film Delirium Tremens (Delirijum tremens) was seen by 12,400 people, Mladen Matičević’s documentary film Heavenly Theme (Nebeska tema) was seen by 10,300 people, while Stitches (Šavovi) (a film which the author of this text finds to be the best Serbian film of 2019) by Miroslav Terzić was seen by 12,600 cinema-goers.
It does not hurt to mention three Croatian films (Serbia was a minor co-producer in all three) which had their distribution in the Serbian cinemas, with unimaginably different results. Per aspera ad astra (read as: from dark to light, or through hardships to the stars): Brešan’s What A Country had an incredibly low attendance: 576 viewers (grossed 1,500 euros). Last Serb in Croatia was more modest than expected, but still not embarrassing 8011 viewers (grossed 22,000 euros). The turnout for The Diary of Diana B. (still being screened) has surpassed even the most optimistic expectations with 22,990 viewers and grossed over 67,000 euros!
Furthermore, should we place the Croatian cinema-attendance results within the context of the overall Croatian feature cinema (which has recently turned 75 years of age)—which started in 1944 with Oktavijan Miletić’s Lisinski—the results would look even more modest.
We could detect dozens of films with excellent, very good or merely good turnouts, especially those filmed before 1990. For example, Master of His Own Body (Svoga tela gospodar, 1957) by Fedor Hanžeković was seen by 1.4 million viewers of the former Yugoslav cinema. Veljko Bulajić’s Train Without a Timetable (Vlak bez voznog reda, 1959) was seen by 1.1 million viewers, whereas Kota 905 by Mate Relja was seen by a million. Television was surely not as widespread, but the viewers considered the film an important and valuable medium, so we should not even tackle the embarrassing admissions of contemporary films made in Croatia. It would be pointless.
The best proof of a giant step back of the Croatian cinema in terms of production and distribution, without any unnecessary philosophizing or traveling back in the deep past, is an ad hoc datum about Bogdan Žižić’s 1977 film Don’t Lean out the Window (Ne naginji se van). The Pula laureate was seen by 37,000 viewers only in Zagreb!
Compare the opening weekend of Žižić’s film with the overall admissions of the 2018 Pula Film Festival winner Mali by Antonio Nuić. The numbers are inexorable. There was no PR (what Croatian cinema of today depends on). Objectively, nothing can be done here to help it. In addition to the stated, Nuić’s film was exploited to the extreme at the Europa cinema before the venue had to shut its doors in June of 2019.
We should remind ourselves and document it at the end of this year’s review that the HAVC art advisors had predicted what is colloquially known as the future of approved cinema films when it comes to certain titles we wrote about.
Dean Šoša and Dalibor Matanić said the following about The Last Serb in Croatia: “It won’t lose the status of a great cinema hit.” They said an almost identical thing about General: “The film should be a big cinema hit in Croatia.”
Jelena Paljan and Dean Šoša had the following hopes for What A Country: “We hope it will become the funniest comedy of the independent state. In the pre-production stage of Extracurricular, they assumed that “it could become the first contemporary Croatian cinema blockbuster among those films which are neither children’s films nor comedies.” They were unambiguous about Mali: “The film is halfway between being a festival and cinema film, so it could do well on both battlefields of the Croatian cinema.”
Our attitude is, as any other serious cinema business critic’s attitude would be, that in the current situation a cinema hit is a film that is seen by at least 60 thousand, but realistically 80 thousand viewers. A big hit is the one seen by at least 100,000 viewers, while a blockbuster film should not be seen by less than 120-130 thousand people.
Naturally, it is HAVC’s and its art advisors’ legitimate right (who, lest we forget, have the pharaonic authority, as their decisions are definitive and binding) to view the terms hit or cinema-success assumes – let’s caricature the situation a bit – attendance of more than 5, 10 or 15,000 people, whereas a big hit would be considered a film that was seen by more than 20 or 25,000 cinema-goers.
Matanić and Šoša said the following about Deep Cuts to approve its co-financing: “A well-thought-of thriller or horror that could yield a lot of success at festivals and in cinemas.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to cinema success, the esteemed advisors missed the whole point. Not only did Deep Cuts not succeed in cinemas, but they’ve come to witness what is considered to be a flop in theatrical distribution and screening. It was seen by only 553 people who would pay 20 HRK (3 EUR) per ticket on average.