Photography by Susan Lee
By Allison Ridgway
Ryerson University student Nina Platiša fondly remembers learning traditional Yugoslavian folk-dance as a child, particularly the beautiful costumes that whirled around the dance floor. Yet when she traveled to Stockholm last summer, she realized the extent to which her country – now broken up into six independent nations – has seen its culture change and segregate between those nations.
“Ultimately, I believe the cultures have become more and more segregated throughout the years,” says Platiša. “I decided I wanted to create something to bind together all of these different cultures and try to find the unity within them.”
So she decided to stitch her country back together – by making a folk dress.
Platiša’s folk-dancing costume will feature cultural elements from each of the nations that once made up Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. She plans to travel to each nation next year to receive a piece of the costume from six mentors, who will also teach her about their culture and history.
Her travels will be documented in her film A Dress for Yugoslavia.
“My parents kept us a bit distant from some of the history of Yugoslavia, especially the war,” Platiša says. Born in Belgrade, the former capital of Yugoslavia and now capital of independent Serbia, her and her family immigrated to Canada in 1994 when ethnic tensions were at a breaking point and thousands died in Bosnia’s civil war. “I found even in reading history books when I was older it was hard for me to really connect with the truth of the conflict. So I decided to focus on individual stories instead, and that’s what I’ll do with this film.”
Platiša, a fourth year student studying theater production, began the project as her thesis. She saw it expand from that, however, into an documentary that examines how different cultures can be both celebrated and unified.
“I find the best documentaries have an emotional element,” she says. “I find women filmmakers are sometimes more likely to really open up to the audience. You get an amazing feeling and atmosphere from that.”
The up-and-coming filmmaker has experienced difficulties in organizing the production of the documentary, however. Money for travel and filming equipment has been tight despite their campaign on Indiegogo, and she was faced with pessimism and even aggression when trying to find mentors from each nation.
One folk-dance group refused to support the film or offer a mentor, telling them that the film would ultimately fail because of ethnic tensions still prevalent among the nations. Platiša believes she received such a response because of her own ethnicity.
“You have to have strong self-esteem,” she says simply when asked how she dealt with this.
You also have to believe in your message. As well as educating Canadians about Yugoslavia’s often tumultuous history, Platiša hopes the film will encourage cultural unity and acceptance within our own diverse country.
“I think our film will resonate with all Canadians through the ideas of seeking unity while also holding onto your identity,” she says.
Platiša plans to begin filming as soon as they can raise enough money for the project, which she hopes will be by sometime next year. For now she plans to spend this summer visiting each of the six nations of former Yugoslavia and gathering each cultural element of the folk costume.
“I hope our film unifies people rather than pushing them apart,” she says. “I hope it will help convince people to go out and listen to the individual experiences of others rather than simply stereotyping them.” M