2024-05-22 04:23:36
Oscar contenders? Saw them all in the Balkans.. economics/movies/news

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Rada Banjanin plans to stay up late on Sunday, fingers crossed that “Babel” will take the best picture Oscar at the 79th Academy Awards.

Not that she watched the inter-continental saga on the big screen. Rada hasn’t been to the cinema for over a year, but has seen nearly all this year’s Oscar nominees for 2.5 euros ($1.3) a copy in the comfort of her Belgrade living room.

“I like to see the latest hits, and I get them all on DVD,” she said ahead of the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles on February 25.

Belgrade’s “King Aleksandar” boulevard is packed with vendors selling the latest movies from cardboard crates on wooden stands, often before they open in European cinemas.

“The Last King of Scotland” and “Rocky Balboa” were available this week. “The Departed” went on sale months ago.

This year, the Motown musical “Dreamgirls” is in big demand in Serbia. “Everyone wants ‘Dreamgirls’. But we’ve run out of copies,” said one street vendor, who asked not to be named.

It’s a poke in the eye for Serbian authorities, who say they have cracked down on the film piracy that gave Serbs one up on the rest of the world while their country sank under war, sanctions and isolation in the 1990s.


Things have improved since then, says Zoran Savic, Serbia’s anti-piracy chief. But according to some estimates, he says, “pirate copies arrive in Belgrade between five and seven days after the movie premieres in the United State”.

“The main problem here is the copies are so easy to get hold of on the streets, and sometimes via Internet,” Savic said.

Video clubs offer under-the-counter lists of pirate offers to loyal customers, sometimes including screening copies sent out for review only and marked “not for public viewing”.

In the United Nations-administered Serbian province of Kosovo, the bootleg trade is wide open.

At the gates of NATO headquarters, aptly named ‘Film City’, brightly colored four-storey shops sell thousands of pirated films and music CDs, as well as fake Breitling wristwatches.

The customers are international police officers in an array of uniforms and gun-toting NATO peace troops in camouflage.

And it’s not only Serbia.

“It’s the same here in Sarajevo. It’s easy and everyone is doing it,” said Reuters Bosnia correspondent Daria Sito-Sucic.

In the Macedonian capital, Skopje, correspondent Kole Casule says films such as the James Bond hit “Casino Royale” and Scorsese’s “Departed” sell for 80 denars (1.5 euros).

Albania correspondent Benet Koleka bought “The Queen” and “Next President” from a Tirana shop loaded with bootlegs.

Officially, the sales are illegal in all four countries. Of the former Yugoslav republics, only Croatia has clamped down with success on the suitcase DVD trade, says correspondent Zoran Radosalvjevic. “It’s mostly illegal downloads now,” he said.


The fact pirates still thrive in the Balkans will hardly dampen spirits at the Oscar ceremonies.

But piracy undermines the home-grown movie industry, which is unable to offer good financial rewards because so few people go the cinema. Research shows under 20 percent of the 7.5 million people in Serbia went to the movies in 2006.

“People don’t have the feeling they are doing anything wrong by buying pirate DVDs and watching them at home,” says Danijela Milosevic of Taramount, which distributes Disney movies here.

In 2005, Serbian ‘blockbuster’ “Mi Nismo Andjeli” (We’re No Angels) lost an estimated 400,000 cinema-goers when pirate copies hit the stalls just days after the film premiered in Belgrade, according to its director, Srdjan Dragojevic.

Director Miroslav Momcilovic said his 2006 movie “Sedam i po” (Seven-and-a-half), a bitter-sweet take on the sinking of postwar Serbian society, suffered a similar fate.

But he didn’t have the heart to put up a fight when he saw fake copies of his own movie being sold on the streets.

“Pirates have given me such pleasure over the years. I can’t just forget a dozen years of watching those films and turn around and be radically against piracy.”

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