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Wild Roses, Tender Roses

Emir Kusturica
Kusturica at the Guadalajara Film Festival (2009)
Born Emir Kusturica
(1954-11-24) 24 November 1954 (age 59)
Sarajevo, PR Bosnia-Herzegovina, FPR Yugoslavia
Nationality Serbian
Occupation Film director and screenwriter
Years active 1978–present
Spouse(s) Maja Mandić
Children Stribor Kusturica, Dunja Kusturica

Emir Kusturica (Serbian: Емир Кустурица, born 24 November 1954 in Sarajevo) is a Serbian filmmaker, actor and musician. He has been recognized for several internationally acclaimed feature films, as well as his projects in town-building. He has twice won the Palme d'Or at Cannes (for When Father Was Away on Business and Underground), as well as being named Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[1][2]

Since the mid-2000s, Kusturica's primary residence has been in Drvengrad, a town built for his film Life Is a Miracle, in the Mokra Gora region of Serbia. He had portions of the historic village reconstructed for the film. He is a member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of the Republika Srpska since 9 November 2011.[3]

Early life

Born to Murat Kusturica, a journalist employed at the Sarajevo's Secretariat of Information, and Senka Numankadić, a court secretary,[4] Emir grew up as the only child of a secular family in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then a constituent republic within Yugoslavia.[5]

A lively kid, young Emir was by his own admission a borderline delinquent while growing up in the Sarajevo neighbourhood of Gorica.[6] Through his father's friendship with the well-known director Hajrudin "Šiba" Krvavac, 17-year-old Emir got a small part in Krvavac's 1972 Walter Defends Sarajevo, a partisan film funded by the Yugoslav state.

Cinematic career

After graduating from the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) in 1978, Kusturica began directing made-for-TV television shorts in Yugoslavia.

He made his feature film debut in 1981 with Do You Remember Dolly Bell?, which won the prestigious Silver Lion for Best First Work at that year's Venice Film Festival. From 1981 to 1988, he was a lecturer at the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo (Akademija Scenskih Umjetnosti) and art director of Open Stage Obala (Otvorena scena Obala).

His second feature film, When Father Was Away on Business (1985), earned a Palme d'Or at Cannes and five Yugoslav movie awards, as well as a nomination for an American Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Kusturica wrote the screenplays for both Do You Remember Dolly Bell? and When Father Was Away on Business in collaboration with Abdulah Sidran. In 1989 Kusturica earned more accolades for Time of the Gypsies, a film about Romani culture and the exploitation of their youth. In 1989 he was a member of the jury at the 16th Moscow International Film Festival.[7]


Kusturica continued to make highly regarded films into the next decade, including his American debut, the absurdist comedy Arizona Dream (1993). He won the Palme d'Or for his black comedy epic, Underground (1995), based upon a scenario of Dušan Kovačević, a noted Serbian playwright.[8] He also taught Film Directing at Columbia University's Graduate Film Division.

In 1998, he won the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion for Best Direction for Black Cat, White Cat, a farcical comedy set in a Gypsy (Romany) settlement on the banks of the Danube. The music for the film was composed by the Belgrade-based band No Smoking Orchestra.


In 2001, Kusturica directed Super 8 Stories, a documentary road and concert movie about The No Smoking Orchestra, of which he is a band member. He was appointed President of the Jury of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. His film, Maradona, a documentary on Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, was released in Italy in May 2007. It premiered in France during the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. His film Promise Me This premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[9] In June 2007, Kusturica directed the music video to Manu Chao's single "Rainin in Paradize", from the latter's forthcoming album.

On 8 September 2007, Kusturica was appointed a UNICEF National Ambassador for Serbia, alongside Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Janković and Aleksandar Đorđević.

Since January 2008 he has organized the annual private Küstendorf Film Festival. Its first installment was held at Drvengrad, a village built for his film Life Is a Miracle, from 14 to 21 January 2008.[10] His next film, Cool Water, is a comedy set against the background of a Middle East conflict. Filming started in November 2010 in Germany. It is the first time Emir Kusturica directed a film which he did not write.


At the 64th Cannes Film Festival, held 11–22 May 2011, Kusturica presided over the jury of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival's official selection. On 14 May, in Cannes, he was invested with the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France.[11]

In September 2012 Emir Kusturica accepted the offer to become the head juror of the first Saint Petersburg International Film Festival. During the festival Kusturica also performed for the residents and guests of Saint Petersburg with his band "The No Smoking Orchestra"

Kusturica currently acts as the president of the Ski Association of Serbia.


After making many cameo appearances in films over the years, Kusturica's first sizable acting role took place in The Widow of St. Pierre, a 2000 movie by director Patrice Leconte, where he played a convict on the French island colony of Saint Pierre. In 2002, Kusturica appeared as an electric guitar player/security specialist in The Good Thief, directed by Neil Jordan. In the French movie L'affaire Farewell (2009), he played the role of a Russian KGB agent, Colonel Sergei Gregoriev.

Musical career

In mid-1986, Kusturica, already an accomplished film director at the time, started playing bass guitar in Zabranjeno Pušenje, a Sarajevan punk rock outfit that was the main driving force behind the New Primitivism movement. In addition to being on friendly terms with the guys and admiring their work, Kusturica's inclusion in the group had to do with the difficult situation Zabranjeno Pušenje found itself in following the political and media scandal caused by the verbal offence committed by their frontman Nele Karajlić. The so-called 'Marshal affair' that played out throughout late 1984 and early 1985 severely limited the band's access to media, causing its second album to sell poorly; additionally, three of the six members left the group in light of its bleak commercial prospects. Therefore, in 1986 as the band was still reeling from the scandal and devising strategy for the future, the thinking behind Kusturica's arrival on board was that having the famous and celebrated film director affiliated with Zabranjeno Pušenje will help it get over the media bans it faced. Kusturica played bass on three track on the band's third studio album Pozdrav iz zemlje Safari and also contributed by composing the music for the track "Probušeni dolar" on the same album. Furthermore, he directed the video for the track "Manijak", which was deemed controversial, receiving a television ban due to vague visual allusions to the Agrokomerc Affair, yet another political scandal brewing in Bosnia at the time. Still, with hit songs like "Balada o Pišonji i Žugi", "Hadžija il bos", and "Dan Republike", the band managed to regain its popularity and commercial success. Though never fully involved in the band's day-to-day life, Kusturica left Zabranjeno Pušenje in 1988.

Kusturica returned to the group following the Black Cat, White Cat film and the band's name changed to Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra. In 1999, the No Smoking Orchestra recorded a new album, Unza Unza Time, produced by the Universal record company, as well as a music video, directed by Emir Kusturica. The band has been touring internationally since 1999. The musician and composer Goran Bregović has composed music for three of Kusturica's films: Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream, which featured Iggy Pop; and Underground.


Smrt je neprovjerena glasina

Kusturica's autobiography, Smrt je neprovjerena glasina (Death is an Unverified Rumour), was published in October 2010 in Belgrade by Novosti AD. The launch took place on 26 October during Belgrade Book Fair and was attended by Nele Karajlić, Dušan Kovačević, foreign minister Vuk Jeremić, Vojislav Koštunica, etc.[12][13][14] Initially released only in Serbia, Montenegro, and Republika Srpska, the book was initially printed in 20,000 copies that sold quickly. Second printing in 32,000 copies was out in November and it too sold within weeks. On 8 December, the third printing in 40,000 copies was out[15] and promoted a day later at Belgrade's Dom Sindikata.[16] In February 2011, fourth printing with further 10,000 copies was out and soon the sale of 100,000th book was announced.[17] The final number of copies sold by the publisher was 114,000.[18]

Translations were published in Italy on 30 March 2011 under the title Dove sono in questa storia ("Where am I in this Story"),[19] in France by JC Lattès on 6 April 2011 as Où suis-je dans cette histoire ?,[20] and in Germany in September 2011 as Der Tod ist ein unbestätigtes Gerücht.[21] In 2012, the book was published in Bulgaria as Cмъpттa e нeпoтвъpдeн cлуx.

Sto jada

Kusturica's second book, a fictional novel Sto jada (Hundred Pains), got released in Serbia on 24 April 2013 by Novosti AD[22] in the initial printing of 35,000 copies. On 6 June, the second printing came out in the circulation of 25,000.[23]

Other endeavors


Drvengrad (meaning Wooden Town) is a traditional village that Kusturica built for his film Life Is a Miracle. It is located in the Zlatibor District near the city of Užice, two hundred kilometers southwest of Serbia's capital, Belgrade. It is located near Mokra Gora and Višegrad, best known for Yugoslav Ivo Andrić's Nobel-winning novel, The Bridge on the Drina.[24]

Time of the Gypsies punk opera

During 2007, Kusturica and Nele Karajlić prepared a punk opera, Time of the Gypsies. The initial idea came five years earlier in 2002 from Kusturica's collaborator Marc di Domenico while the support of the Paris Opera director Gérard Mortier got the project rolling. Basing the production on his eponymous 1988 film, Kusturica wrote the libretto by adapting the story of the Gypsy youth from the Balkans relocating to Italy in order to obtain money for his ill sister's surgery. The director cast young Serbian folk singers Stevan Anđelković and Milica Todorović in the roles of Perhan and Azra, respectively, while the experienced Karajlić took the role of Ahmed Đida. The music in the original movie had been composed by Goran Bregović, however since Kusturica and him are not on speaking terms since the late 1990s those songs couldn't be used.[25] The all new score was composed by Dejan Sparavalo of The No Smoking Orchestra.

The premiere took place in June 2007, at the Opéra Bastille in Paris to positive reviews.[25][26][27] Following the vast open stage of Bastille, the show was performed in smaller arenas. In March 2008, the production was staged in Paris' Palais des congrès.[28]

In fall 2010, the production was staged in Belgrade at Sava Center.

On 29 June 2012, the opera was staged in Banja Luka at the City Stadium, for the very first time under the open skies, with 10,000 people in attendance.[29] This was followed with the July staging in Cartagena, Spain as part of La Mar de Músicas de Cartagena.[30]

Future staging of the punk opera is scheduled for August 2013 in Krasnodar, Russia during Kubana Festival.[31]

Küstendorf Film and Music Festival

Since 2008, Drvengrad hosts the annual Küstendorf Film and Music Festival,[32] which showcases films and music from all around the world as well as a competition programme for student short films. The festival is known for not having a red carpet as well as none of the popular Hollywood festival artifacts.

The reverence Kusturica enjoys in the film circles along with his professional and personal contacts ensure the arrival of top guests from the European and world cinema every year. The festival hosted global stars Johnny Depp and Monica Bellucci along with Nikita Mikhalkov, Gael García Bernal, Abel Ferrara, Kim Ki-duk, Audrey Tautou, etc.


On 28 June 2011 Kusturica started the construction project of Andrićgrad (also known as Kamengrad, meaning Stone Town), located in Višegrad, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is scheduled to be completed by 2014.[33] Andrićgrad is located several kilometers from Kusturica's first town Drvengrad, in Serbia. Andrićgrad will be used as a filming location for the Emir's new film "Na Drini ćuprija", based on the book The Bridge on the Drina, by Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Ivo Andrić. His last name is used as town name Andrićgrad, meanings "Town of Andrić" in Serbian language.



Kusturica is married to Maja Mandić; the couple has two children: Stribor and Dunja.[34]

He currently lives in Drvengrad, Serbia, the village which he had built for his film Life Is a Miracle. Kusturica holds dual Serbian and French citizenship.

Ethnic and religious identity

On Đurđevdan (St. George's Day) in 2005, he was baptised into the Serbian Orthodox Church as Nemanja Kusturica (Немања Кустурица) at the Savina monastery near Herceg Novi, Montenegro.[35][36] To his critics who considered this the final betrayal of his Bosniak roots, he replied that:

Despite the aforementioned conflict of religion, Kusturica refused to see himself as either a Bosniak or Serb. Instead, he had continued to insist that he was simply a Yugoslav.[34]

Kusturica has said that when his mother was on deathbed, he wanted to find out his ancestry; he found out from books that the origin of the Kusturica family stem from two Orthodox Christian lines.

Political views

At the 2007 parliamentary elections, he gave indirect support to Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica and his center-right Democratic Party of Serbia.[40] In 2007, he also supported the Serbian campaign Solidarity - Kosovo is Serbia, a campaign against the unilateral separation of the Serbian province of Kosovo.[41]

Kusturica publicly supported Vladimir Putin. In 2012 he said: "If I was English I would be very much against Putin. If I was American I would even fight with him, but if I was Russian I would vote for him".[42] Kusturica was present at the Kremlin for Putin's third inauguration as president in May 2012.[43]

Kusturica received the Order of St. Sava, First Class, for his selfless care and presentation of the Serbian nation in the world, on 12 May 2012.[44]



Kusturica and his work have provoked controversy at home and abroad.[45] Underground, scripted by Dušan Kovačević, was partly financed by state-owned Yugoslav television. It recounted the history of Yugoslavia from World War II until the conflict in the 1990s. Some Bosnian and French critics claimed the film contained pro-Serb propaganda.[46][47]

French philosopher and writer Alain Finkielkraut, a supporter of the Croatian nationalist leader Franjo Tuđman,[48] denounced the Cannes Film Festival's jury award, saying:
"In recognizing 'Underground', the Cannes jury thought it was honouring a creator with a thriving imagination. In fact, it has honoured a servile and flashy illustrator of criminal clichés. The Cannes jury ... praised a version of the most hackneyed and deceitful Serb propaganda. The devil himself could not have conceived so cruel an outrage against Bosnia, nor such a grotesque epilogue to Western incompetence and frivolity."[47]
It was later revealed that Finkielkraut had not seen the film before writing his criticism.[49][50][51][52] French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made a film criticizing Underground.[46] In a discussion with Levy, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek said:
"I hope we share another point, which is – to be brutal – hatred of [director] Emir Kusturica. Underground is one of the most horrible films that I've seen. What kind of Yugoslav society do you see in Kusturica's Underground? A society where people fornicate, drink, fight – a kind of eternal orgy."[53]

Sarajevo-born novelist Aleksandar Hemon, who emigrated to the United States before the war, said Underground downplayed Serbian atrocities by presenting "the Balkan war as a product of collective, innate, savage madness."[54]

Libel cases

Andrej Nikolaidis

Andrej Nikolaidis, a Montenegrin writer and columnist, criticized Kusturica for appearing to agree with Slobodan Milošević's propaganda during the Bosnian War.

In May 2004, Nikolaidis wrote in the Monitor magazine:

"Considering he proclaimed his dead father a Serb, and himself, Emir, an Orthodox Christian, he easily chose his own in the Bosnian War. He recognized them in Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. He wasn't there to fire cannon barrages, but whenever he could, with his artistic and media get-up he provided them an alibi for every killed Muslim who didn't want to admit that he was originally an 'Orthodox Christian'."[this quote needs a citation]

Kusturica sued Nikolaidis and the Monitor newspaper for civil damages at the Supreme Court of Montenegro. In the end, Nikolaidis was ordered to pay $6,490 to Kusturica for calling the famed director a "media star of Milosevic's war machinery".[55] The judge ruled that the evidence was not credible enough.[56] In the end Nikolaidis and the paper were fined 12,000 euros for breaking the code of journalism by calling Kusturica "stupid, ugly and corrupt" in the article.[57]

2010 Antalya festival

In October 2010 Kusturica withdrew from the jury of Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival after being publicly criticized and accused by Turkish director Semih Kaplanoğlu and Turkey's minister of culture Ertuğrul Günay over his alleged remarks and opinions about the Bosnian War.[58]

The criticism of Kusturica was started by an organization called the Turkish-Bosnian Cultural Federation as soon as Kusturica was announced as a jury member.[59] Turkish media reported that Kusturica repeatedly downplayed the number of killed people and the rape of Muslim women during the war.[58] It was not clear when Kusturica was supposed to have made those comments, but the daily Milliyet said Kusturica denied the allegations.[58]

Public sentiment in Turkey was whipped up against Kusturica to the point that a couple of days after Kusturica left Turkey, there were news reports about a mob of Turkish youths in Antalya physically assaulting Swiss actor Michael Neuenschwander (in town to promote his movie 180° – Wenn deine Welt plötzlich Kopf steht) because they mistook him for Kusturica due to apparent physical resemblance between the two.[60] Later, Neuenschwander's press agent said there was no physical assault and that Neuenschwander was verbally abused by a small group.[61]

Kusturica later commented on the incident:


As director
As actor


  • 1st prize on Student's Film Festival in Karlovy Vary, (1978) for Guernica
  • Golden Lion for "Best First Work" in Venice Film Festival, (1981) for Do You Remember Dolly Bell?
  • Golden palm Cannes Film Festival, (1985) for When Father Was Away on Business
  • FIPRESCI prize Cannes Film Festival, (1985) for When Father Was Away on Business
  • Best Foreign Language Academy Award Nomination, (1985) for When Father Was Away on Business
  • Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival, (1989) for Time of Gypsies[62]
  • Silver Bear – Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, (1993) for Arizona Dream[63]
  • Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival, (1995) for Underground[64]
  • Silver Plate of best documentary at Chicago International Film Festival, (2001) for Super 8 Stories
  • Cinema Prize of the French Education System at Cannes Festival (2004) for Life is a Miracle
  • Best European Union Film at César Awards, (2005) for Life is a Miracle
  • Philippe Rotthier European Architecture Award, (2005) for Küstendorf village in Serbia
  • On 10 February 2007, Kusturica received Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest order in recognition of significant contribution to the arts.
  • Philippe Rotthier European Architecture Award for his ethnic village project Brussels Foundation for Architecture.
  • In 2004, The Prix de l'Education nationale (National Education Prize) honored Emir Kusturica and his film Život je čudo (Life is a Miracle).
  • 2004 - Lifetime Achievement Award at the 26th Moscow International Film Festival[65]
  • On 8 April 2011, Kusturica was the first person ever to receive "Momo Kapor award", for his book Death is an Unverified Rumour
  • In 2011, Kusturica won "Tipar award" for satire, awarded in the city of Pljevlja
  • Order of St. Sava, Serbian Orthodox Church's highest decoration, on 12 May 2012.




  • Irodanova, Dina: Emir Kusturica. London. British Film Institute 2002.
  • Imsirevic, Almir: "Based on a Truth Story", Sarajevo, 2007.

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • No Smoking Orchestra – Band official site
  • Komuna Belgrade
  • Indie Wire, Interview with Kusturica on Black Cat, White Cat
  • RTS interview, 26 April 2006 (Serbian)
  • Etno selo Nemanje Kusturice na Mećavniku, May, 2007 – (Serbian)

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