Šemsudin Radončić • Director of Conspiracy
"The majority of Montenegrin citizens still believes that all this is fabricated"
by Ana Stanic
- Journalist and filmmaker Šemsudin Radončić talked to us about his Sarajevo-premiered documentary Conspiracy, which investigates the attempted coup d’état in Montenegro in 2016
In his latest film Conspiracy [+see also:
interview: Šemsudin Radončić
film profile], which world-premiered in the documentary competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival, Montenegrin investigative journalist and filmmaker Šemsudin Radončić follows two political insiders as they try to shed light on an attempted coup d’état that happened in Montenegro in 2016.
Cineuropa: Conspiracy is just one link in the chain of films you did to bring to light specific political and economic anomalies in Montenegro and the Balkans. What was the timeline of making the film?
Šemsudin Radončić: I couldn’t ignore the historic events that started in 2015 and are having an effect on the present day: Montenegro being torn between the interests of great powers, but aspiring to take a pro-Western and pro-European direction, where Russia immediately tried to knock Montenegro off this course and subdue it as if it was its colony.
I started to follow those events, which peaked in 2016 with the coup attempt. As an investigative journalist I was observing it carefully, trying to grasp what happens behind the scenes. This was the beginning. After the coup failed, I started to make a documentary.
I was focused on interviews with direct or indirect protagonists such as public prosecutors, politicians, journalists, even the president of Montenegro, but my main goal was to reach the conspirators.
I managed to get the two main Serbian conspirators to talk: Saša Sinđelić and Pajo Velimirović. They were witnesses in the legal process dealing with the coup, and were crucified throughout the lawsuit by the pro-Russian media in Montenegro and the nationalist, right-wing media in Serbia. I wrote several articles on how witnesses were persecuted by the media, and that's how I won their trust.
The majority of Montenegrin citizens still believes that all this is fabricated. But my movie will be released on public broadcast when its festival life is done and I really hope it’s going to change something in this public perception.
Addressing such a topic in the film must have brought various challenges and perhaps even some risks?
I had to finance the film by myself. None of the state institutions or production companies dared to participate, fearing Serbian or Russian retaliation. I sold my private property to finance it. One of the biggest problems was also finding a filming crew, since everybody was too afraid to work on the film.
The other problem concerned the protagonists and filming in Serbia. I managed to shoot the interview with Velimirović only on a second attempt. The first time, a car followed us and almost ran us off the road. During the shoot, the Serbians authorities didn’t allow me to enter Serbia.
You have a very wide range of interviewees in the film, even the Russian side is represented by a Russian journalist.
It’s well known that Russian institutions don't like sharing information. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was aggressively denying any participation of Russian agents in the coup.
I managed to reach a Russian journalist, the Balkan expert Gennady Sisoev who gave me a fantastic statement about Russian GRU agents and their involvement in the coup, saying that they made amateur mistakes, but also that Putin didn’t necessarily have to know about it. It’s a very diplomatic comment, but it still exposes the involvement and incompetence of the GRU intelligence.
You must have had a ton of footage to work with. How did the editing process go? What is your artistic modus operandi?
Yes, the lawsuit process alone resulted in over 800 hours of footage and around 40 hours of interviews. Documentation is always difficult to control and it was very challenging. It wasn’t easy to systemise it, but I used my method that I call “cutting the fig tree:” You have to carefully cut the small branches in autumn to have a good harvest the next season. The editing took four years of my life and I have to admit that, in this case, the pandemic was very helpful. I couldn’t go out so I focused on editing.
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