In late 2019, an interesting movie for Star Wars fans was released online.
Breaking Point: A Star Wars Story (“Tipping Point: A Star Wars Story”) is a 25-minute film made by a team of volunteers from the Serbian Star Wars fan community.
It has been written and directed by award-winning Serbian filmmaker Stevan Filipović.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ThsXKVbO90 (/ embed)
The film was shot at locations near the Serbian capital Belgrade.
The futuristic WWII Fallen Soldiers Monument of the Partisan Kosmaj Detachment atop Mount Kosmaj, and the WWII Unknown Hero Monument on Mount Avala underwent a successful transformation into Jedi landmarks.
The apocryphal story comes before the movie Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and describes the disappearance of the Jedi Order perpetrated by Kylo Ren.
Global Voices contacted Filipović to discuss the film.
Global Voices (GV): Your movie has received very positive reviews from the media, and has been praised by local Star Wars fans. It is rare for fan-made movies to reach this level of production. How did you get it?
Stevan Filipović (SF): I think one can easily underestimate how much Star Wars means to people around the globe. It's a crucial part of our identities, much more than some local cultural phenomena, at least for a lot of people of my generation. I think we could never do something like this – get a completely professional film crew, and such amazing actors, for a non-profit fan film – if we all didn't share a lot of love and respect for this fictional universe George Lucas has created.
But, the other key was the story. I didn't set out to make a fan film, I wanted to make this really personal story, that happens to be set in the Star Wars universe. I think people reacted to that, saw the raw emotions and the potential of it, very early on. Darko Ivić, who plays Nol in the film, was there with me from the very start when I started dreaming about this film.
And then Slaven Došlo went to Disneyland, and brought me a gift – Yoda's lightsaber, and I knew I wanted him to portray the younger brother, Kess. He has this mix of naïveté and pain that I thought was integral to the character.
Jana was selected through casting, but the moment she walked in, we thought – that's Mala.
The rest of the crew was something of a filmmaker's dream. We had great support from Hypnopolis, the company that has produced all of my films. Basically, everybody who volunteered to help was listed as a co-producer, since we didn't have a budget.
In the end, with almost no resources, with shared love for Star Wars, and connections from my previous three feature films, we got quite literally the top Serbian film crews in all fields: from stunts to world-class visual effects, professional color grading , award-winning sound designer, through amazing creatures and prosthetic make-up effects, insane music (available on our YouTube channel), and – of course – great help from the students of the Academy of Arts, where I teach.
Stevan Filipović (SF): I think it is easy to underestimate how much Star Wars means to many people around the world. It is a crucial part of our identities, much more so than some local cultural phenomena, at least for a good part of my generation. I think we could never do something like this – bringing together a team of film professionals and such wonderful actors for a nonprofit movie – if we didn't all share a lot of love and respect for this fictional universe that George Lucas created.
But the other key was history. I did not intend to make an amateur movie, but this personal story, which coincidentally takes place in the Star Wars universe. I think people reacted to that, from the beginning saw their raw emotions and their potential. Darko Ivić, who portrays Nol in the film, was with me from the beginning, when I started dreaming about this film.
And then Slaven Došlo went to Disneyland and brought me a gift, Yoda's lightsaber, and I knew I wanted him to play the younger brother, Kess. He had that mix of naivety and pain that I considered an integral part of the character.
Jana was chosen in a selection process, but the moment she entered, we all thought “she is bad.”
The rest of the team is a filmmaker's dream. We have strong support from Hypnopolis, the company that has produced all my films. Basically, all of those who voluntarily helped were added to the credits as co-producers, since we didn't have a budget.
In the end, with almost no resources, with the shared love for Star Wars and the contacts from my previous three films, we got literally the best Serbian film teams in all fields: from stunt doubles to first-class special effects, gradation Chromatic, an award-winning sound designer, special effects makeup and creature creation, crazy music (which can be heard on our YouTube channel) and – of course – the invaluable help of the students of the Academy of Arts, where I am a teacher.
GV: Some Balkan artists such as Zoran Cardula of North Macedonia have in the past explored visual similarities between Star Wars iconography and the brutalist architecture of the former Yugoslavia. Your film has taken this connection to a whole new level by an unusual means. How did you decide on those specific monuments?
SF: There is something very deeply ‘Star-Wars-esque’ in the stories and legends of former Yugoslavia, or, rather – vice versa. The epic exodus and rebirth of WWI, and then – chaos, civil war, Tito's rebel partisans from all nations who overcame their differences to fight a great evil (the Nazis), their victory, peace, the creation of this New Republic, which leads to another rise in nationalism and the fall of the Republic… It's hard to separate our actual history from a synopsis of the entire Skywalker saga!
So, these relics from our past were perfect to create the atmosphere of Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy – built after the wars, on the ruins of the bygone era – they represent the history which Nol and Dust never had a chance to learn from, yet which shaped their destinies. So, Ivan Meštrović's masterpiece, the Mount Avala Monument to the Unknown Hero became a Jedi shrine, and the Mount Kosmaj WWII monument became ancient Jedi ruins.From a filmmaker's perspective, the Brutalist ex-Yugoslavia architecture was very modern, created in an age where we were looking to the stars, to the future, for inspiration. That makes it stand out today. Both of these locations had mystery and majesty, and I really feel they add something unique to the film. We were very fortunate to get permissions to film there.
SF: There is something deeply stylish about “StarWars” in the stories and legends of the former Yugoslavia, or even the opposite. The epic exodus and rebirth in World War I, and then the chaos, the civil war, Tito's rebel partisans of all nations who overcame their differences to fight the great demon (the Nazis), his victory, peace , the creation of this new Republic, which led to a new revival of nationalisms and the fall of the Republic… It is difficult to separate our real story from the synopsis of the entire Skywalker release!
Thus, these relics from our past were perfect for creating the ambience of the Luke Skywalker Jedi Academy, built after the wars on the ruins of times past: they represent the history from which Nol and Dust never had the opportunity to learn, and did not However, it shaped their destinies. Thus, Ivan Meštrović's work of art, the Mount Avala monument to the Unknown Hero, became a Jedi shrine, and the WWII monument on Mount Kosmaj became ancient Jedi ruins.
From a filmmaker's perspective, the brutalist architecture of the former Yugoslavia was very modern, created at a time when we were looking for inspiration from the stars, in the future. That is what makes them stand out today. Both places have mystery and majesty, and I think they really add a unique point to the film. We were very lucky to get permits to shoot there.
GV: The main characters of Breaking Point they are commoners. In the official Star Wars movies, members of two “genetically superior royal families” (to paraphrase David Brin) and their environments take center stage, perhaps with the exception of Rogue One (2016). Do you think that your short film is part of a trend that anticipates the “democratization” of that universe, with stories that explore themes of a greater social scope through the experiences of people from all walks of life?
SF: Yes, well, there's that famous quote from Clerks, about all the workers who built the Death Star and their untold stories. But, seriously, I think Star Wars mythology is now so rich and detailed that it can be compared to many of the existing, historical, myths around the globe, at least in scope and sheer level of detail. The place of the pop-culture in our modern societies is yet to be analyzed by historians and social anthropologists, but, I think it's safe to say that these modern pop-cultural myths occupy a very important place in our lives. In that respect, I feel Star Wars is now more than just another franchise, it's an integral part of global cultural heritage.
So, it was interesting to me to try to find a local angle, to try to add to this mythology from our own point of view. We could never make something like The Crown here, but that doesn't mean we don't have amazing stories of our own to tell, and we sure as hell can make films like Dirty Dozen or Rogue One. And class is an important part of that. So we made the entire backstory of Breaking Point about class, in a way. It was interesting for me to imagine – could a poor kid, with no education, and no family, who grew up in the mean streets of Serbia in the 90s become a Jedi Knight, this zen warrior-monk? Or do the wounds that we all have, from the wars, the politics, crime, make us emotionally unstable, unfit? How can we escape that?
The protagonists of our film had really tough childhoods. They were separated, the older one became a drug dealer to survive. The younger one was sold to slavery to the same Dickensian crime boss who once owned Han Solo – Lady Proxima. Mala, the Twi'lek girl, was a sex worker from her early teens.
They were then rescued by Luke Skywalker, and now they are training to be Jedi, but they have these gaping wounds in their hearts, all of them. These wounds are the weaknesses that the Dark Side exploits through Ben Solo, the future Kylo Ren.
But, it's not Ben Solo who turns them against each other – it's their own fears and weaknesses and old wounds that make the brothers go for each other's throats. In short, they represent the history of the conflicts that led to the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
Brothers, killing each other, over past wounds and revived nationalism. That rise of toxic nationalism in the former Yugoslav countries has a striking resemblance to the revival of the Empire that Ben Solo was rooting for, and that is a major political point in the sequel trilogy. I'm sorry they didn't elaborate on this backstory as seriously as George Lucas did when he was creating Star Wars films. Especially in the contemporary world, where we see the reemergence of politics that we all thought defeated so many years ago, and that have caused so much pain and suffering.
SFYes, there is that famous Clerks quote about the workers who built the Death Star and their untold stories. But seriously, I think the Star Wars mythology is already so rich and detailed that it can be compared to many of the existing historical myths around the world, at least in scope and level of detail. Sociologists and social anthropologists have yet to analyze the place of pop culture in our modern societies, but I think we can safely say that these modern myths of pop culture hold a very important place in our lives. In that regard, I have the impression that Star Wars, more than just another franchise, is already an integral part of the global cultural heritage.
So I found it interesting to try to find a local angle to try to contribute to this mythology from our own point of view. We could never do something like The Crown here, but that doesn't mean we don't have amazing stories of our own to tell, and we certainly can make movies like Dirty Dozen or Rogue One. And class is an important part. So somehow we made the whole background of Breaking Point It will be about classes. It was interesting to me to imagine the possibility that a poor boy, with no education or family, who grew up on the hard streets of Serbia in the 1990s, could become a Jedi Knight, one of those Zen warrior monks. Or perhaps the wounds that we all have from wars, politics, crime, make us emotionally unstable, incapacitate us. How can we escape from that?
The protagonists of our movie had really tough childhoods. They were separated, and the oldest became a drug dealer to survive. The minor was sold as a slave to the same Dickensian criminal who owned Han Solo – Lady Proxima. Mala, the Twi'lek girl, had been a sex worker since her teens.
They were later rescued by Luke Skywalker, and now they train to be Jedi, but they all have deep heart wounds. Those wounds are the weak point that the Dark Side exploits through Ben Solo, the future Kylo Ren.
But it is not Ben Solo who confronts each other, it is their own fears, weaknesses and old wounds that make the brothers launch into the jugular. In short, they represent the history of the conflicts that led to the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.
Brothers killing each other because of past wounds and resurrected nationalisms. That surge of toxic nationalisms in the countries of the former Yugoslavia bears a striking resemblance to the revival of the Empire that Ben Solo was expecting, and this is a major political point in the sequel trilogy. I am sorry they did not elaborate on this background as seriously as George Lucas did when he was creating the Star Wars movies. Especially in the contemporary world, in which we see the return of policies that we believed expired years ago, and that have caused so much pain and suffering.
GV: Criticism of Breaking Point have focused on the length of the film. People wanted more. Have you thought about making a sequel?
SF: The ending was supposed to be mysterious, poetic, kind of elusive, like a dream. Kess dies, finding his faith again, because of the only pure thing in his life – his love for Mala. So, it's a completed story for us, and we don't plan to make a sequel. But making a prequel would be really interesting – Nol, Kess and Mala living on Corellia, before Luke Skywalker rescued them. On the other hand, perhaps it would be too dark for Star Wars. I don't know … We'll see. Difficult to see, the future, as Yoda once said.
SF: The ending was supposed to be mysterious, poetic, somewhat elusive, like a dream. Kess dies rediscovering his faith, for the only pure thing in his life: his love for Mala. So for us it is a complete story, and we have no intention of making a sequel. But making a prequel would be really interesting: Nol, Kess, and Mala live in Corellia, before they are rescued by Luke Skywalker. On the other hand, perhaps it would be too dark for Star Wars, I don't know … We will see, it is difficult to see the future, as Yoda said
GV: Science fiction and fantasy were an integral part of the popular culture of the former Yugoslavia, but currently, few authors in the region work those genres. In that sense, as director of feature films, you have been an outlier with the successful 2006 fantasy film Shaitan's Warrior. In Next to Me (2015) you discussed the intersection between new technologies and society. Do you see potential for more science fiction production in Serbia, or in the Balkan region in general?
SF: I don't care much about “genre” or “sci-fi” or other labels. I think the obsession with “genre vs. arthouse ”is a very weird European phenomenon (much like the formulaic obsession with genres is a weird American phenomenon), and it kinda makes us lose focus on what really matters – telling good stories, writing from the heart, creating compelling characters that matter to the audiences.
I think we have here the potential to dream about anything we want, but we often choose not to dream, and rather to create films made to fit European financing strategies and schemes. This results in movies that feel more like a product than your average Hollywood fare, minus the virtue of being watchable. And this is the reason people are more inspired by quality TV and games than movies these days. So, in short, yes – I think we can do pretty much whatever we want, but we need to fight for a different financing system to enable it and different standards to realize the potential of thinking “outside the box”.
SF: I don't care much about “genre”, “science fiction” or other labels. I think the obsession of “genre versus author cinema” is a rare European phenomenon (largely, just as the formulaic obsession with genres is a rare American phenomenon) and in a way makes us lose focus on what really matters : Telling good stories, writing from the heart, creating compelling characters that matter to the public.
I think we have the potential here to dream of anything we want, but we often choose not to dream and instead create films made to fit European financial schemes and strategies. This results in movies that seem more like an average Hollywood product, which detract from the virtue of being viewable. And that's the reason why people today are inspired more by quality television and games than by movies. So, in short, yes, I think we can basically do what we want, but we have to fight for a different financing system to implement different parameters that realize the potential of thinking “outside the herd.”