The Labudović Reels
The Labudović Reels (Dosije Labudović)
In an unexplored vault in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia, lies a collection of film reels known as the Stevan Labudović files. On them are images of African and Asian liberation movements and revolutionary leaders that defined the era of the 60s and 70s, from guerrilla actions of Mozambique’s FRELIMO to footage of PLO training camps. How is it that the archive of these revolutions lies on another continent, forgotten in a film archive in Belgrade?
The answer to this question takes us into the story behind the images, on an intimate voyage with the man who filmed them. Virtually unknown in Serbia, where he lives today at the age of 90 in a small apartment on the outskirts of Belgrade, Stevan Labudović is a hero in Algeria, where he is celebrated as ‘the cinematic eye of the Algerian revolution’, and his camera is on display in the national museum. As I ask him to reflect on a lifetime spent using his camera as a weapon of solidarity, he begins to mentor me, and the film evolves into a dialogue between two filmmakers. From Burma to Mali, from Indonesia to the halls of the United Nations, Labudović’s camera captured an era of politics, personality and promise. Can his images reveal where it all went wrong?
Assigned at the age of 27 to be the cameraman of Yugoslav president Tito, Stevan had a unique position from which to observe the leaders who came together during the Cold War to create the Non-Aligned Movement. He claims that when he filmed people through a 50mm lens, he could read their soul. But was this the case when he was filming Ho Chi Minh, Nehru, Nasser, Sukharno, Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel Castro, JFK, Emperor Haile Selassie, Kim Jong II, Saddam Hussein, Shah Reza Pahlavi, and Colonel Qaddafi?
As archival road-trip meets behind-the-scenes documentary, Stevan’s images retrace the story of a political awakening, of a global struggle for a more just international order, while we question the role the camera can play in defining a political moment.