MIFF 68½ – Speak So I Can See You [Govori da bih te video] (2019)

Some documentaries set out to educate the audience about their subject, whether through an overarching narrative supported by accompanying footage or through the use of interviews. Speak So I Can See You is not that type of documentary.

Radio Belgrade has been in operation since 1924 (with a hiatus during the Second World War) and for much of that period has been a significant cultural centre for Serbia. My own awareness of Radio Belgrade stems largely from the reputation of its Elektronski Studio, which was established in 1972 and, while perhaps not as famous the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, has a significant role in the history of electroacoustic and radiophonic music. They commissioned the creation of the EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer, which is notable for its use in the creation of music such as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Sirius (1975-77) and Malcolm Clarke’s soundtrack for Doctor Who story “The Sea Devils” (1972).

Speak So I Can See You makes liberal use of Radio Belgrade’s archives and their use of the electronic studio is well represented, whether in purely “instrumental” pieces, atmospheric accompaniment to readings from novels and non-fiction texts, or sound design for radio drama. These archival sounds frequently accompany slow tracking shots or time-lapse photography of different sections of the Radio Belgrade building, anchoring the sounds in a physical space but simultaneously dislocating that space as it’s transformed by association with the sounds. Occasionally we are reminded of the medium by a sudden switch to hearing those same sounds coming from radios of various types situated in diverse locations, a reminder of the way these sounds filter into workplaces and homes across the country.

These sections are contrasted with observational footage of various day-to-day aspects of the running of the Radio Belgrade. More often that not, these daily activities are exceptionally mundane and focus on minutiae such as a microphone being slightly out of place or a cleaner complaining about the workmen who borrowed her broom but have not returned it. While I can see the value of documenting these aspects of the station, many of them felt to me as if they stretched on for far too long, sorely trying my patience. I found them all the more frustrating due to the absence of any direct coverage of Radio Belgrade’s history. None of the information mentioned above in the second paragraph came from the documentary. The use of extracts from the station’s broadcast history (stretching to back to at least 1959) provided some of the texture of a historical overview, and the documentation of the studio’s contemporary involvement with recording and transmitting experimental music provides some idea of their continuing relevance, but I was left grasping for a human perspective to place this in context.

It’s difficult to recommend this documentary as a way to learn more about Radio Belgrade or to gain a true sense of its cultural importance. But if you already have this context from growing up with the station, or if you’re interested in immersing yourself in some of the sounds they generated over the years (especially if you need subtitles to understand the spoken accompaniment to these sounds), it’s worth watching.

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