I remember the first time I heard of Ekran was also the first time I heard of Slovenia and the first time I heard of Nika Bohinc and was introduced to her. The year was 2008 and I was co-editing the .MOV programme and helping moderate some of the workshops, not the one Nika was giving, no, but she was there for the others as well, in the audience with Alexis Tioseco. Nika was editor-in-chief of Ekran, the youngest to land the gig it turns out, and it was in prepping her profile that the name caught my eye. It’s Russian for “screen”. And I remember thinking how it was almost too obvious a word to name a film magazine with. But it also had that evocative roll off the tongue that Russian words tend to have, this arcane hum, if only phonetically. I nurse a mild fetish for Russian words and names so that added exotic weight is semi-automatic and a signal no one else is likely to receive. It nailed the same arcane hum that other cinema had, though, that other cinema the magazine pursued, that other cinema I pursued - - - the non-Hollywood, non-commercial, non-conformist, non-mainstream sort. Call it the inflated and enthusiastic wont to (over)romanticize that is my quirk as a so-called film buff and maybe as a person, too, but in my head, there was a clicking into place, parts matching.
Ekran was/is the sovereign film magazine of Slovenia, born in 1962, reborn in 1997. It was the Slovenian Cahiers Du Cinema, no less. That there was a country called Slovenia was not what threw me the most. That they had their own robust version of Cahiers Du Cinema, and with it their own robust history of film writing and film theory, was what did. Here was a country of roughly 3 million with a cinema proportionate to that population (that is, tiny) as opposed to our 92 million with a proprietorship to a film culture and industry that was, at one point, among the largest on the planet, and we don’t even have a recurring column in a newspaper, let alone a film magazine that has made it whole through an entire year. It was like a calling out. I remember this brief prickle of embarrassment tinged with not a little melancholy run through me. Oh, Ekran did temporarily close shop. The aftermath of some editorial crisis apparently, as it always is. But it didn’t stay in limbo for long. The Slovenian Cinematheque took it under its wing eventually. Yes, Slovenia cared enough to have its own Cinematheque,too.
More than the aesthetic rethink that did transpire, though, the thrust of Nika’s mission as editor, picking up where Simon Popek and contributing editor Jurij Meden, her predecessors, left off, was really to throw its arms around the world. There was cinema outside of Slovenia, cinema outside of Hollywood, cinema thriving in the festival circuit, cinema made for no money, cinema no one’s heard of. Nika was curious about all of it and Ekran fed that curiosity with vigor. Up until then, Ekran had been written in Slovene except for that one issue that had a piece on Lav Diaz in English. But Nika started to rope in film critics and film writers and film programmers and even filmmakers from all over, John Gianvito and Neel Chaudhuri and Ben Slater and Benjamin McKay and Olaf Möller and Albert Serra, among others, as if they were field agents, phoning in dispatches from the frontlines, to fill the magazine’s regular columns Cinema Postcards and Mirror in their native tongues.
This is where I came to Ekran, as everyone outside of Slovenia most likely did. Its international online iteration, Eklan Untranslated, curated those multiracial, multilingual column pieces, among others, in one place. Those of us who fancy ourselves film buffs habitually look under the skirts of the rigid canons for cause to blaspheme and it comes with a benign greed for more. Ekran Untranslated was one more rabbit hole that led to places where we could find more of that more. As a resource to that other cinema I was talking about back there, it was invaluable. And is its own embarrassment of riches if we go by film writing alone.
Film writing is something I tend to approach with a measure of caution. I find most of it arid, didactic, scholarly. I find most of it hard to qualify as writing,too. Alexis was the one who said that the first impulse of a film critic is love and his approach to film writing was to come to it the way one would a love letter. It was an approach after my own heart. And there was something to the writing dynamic on Ekran Untranslated - - -be it discourse or theory or diary - - - that dovetailed into that, given over as it was to language and tone, shot through with subjectivity and possessed of a peculiar intimacy and warmth but never at the expense of the dialectic urge and of genuine insight. It felt wet and alive. And above all that, belying its polyglot diversity, it exuded this sense of community. And that may be its most crucial attribute and its most lasting gift. In wanting to bring a vast new other world of cinema to light, Ekran, under Nika, showed us how small that world really is. And how everything and everyone in it is more connected than it seems.
*first published in UNO September 2010