The Making of Balkanexpress / Return to Europe
The research for Balkanexpress/Return to Europe consisted of more than 1,000 interviews made and transcribed in 10 countries of the Balkans, Brussels, Vienna and Rome by ESI. The filming was done by 6 directors and 6 cameramen, who during 190 days of shooting and after taping 140 interviews within 12 months brought home more than 400 hours of footage. The results can be seen on television - and some of them on this website.
ORF head of culture Martin Traxl - ERSTE Stiftung, Knut Neumayer
Before this large project started it first had to be imagined.
Balkanexpress started as a series of conversations in cafés in Vienna. The participants: Gerald Knaus (ESI), Knut Neumayer (ERSTE Stiftung) and Martin Traxl (ORF/3SAT). A decisive step was taken at a brainstorming in July 2006 in the garden of Bosphorus University in Istanbul, where Gerald, Knut and Martin agreed on the format of the series: an ambitious journey with 10 stops, starting in Rome, crossing the Adriatic to Montenegro, passing through all of South Eastern Europe, ending in Istanbul on the shores of the Bosphorus. As Gerald and Martin wrote in the initial project description:
"Europe is discovering its fascination for the Balkans. After years of bloody conflict, this region has become again a region of hope. Romania and Bulgaria have joined the European Union. There is peace. A new generation desires change. The magic word that echoes from Tirana to Belgrade, from Sarajevo to Istanbul is "Europeanisation". But there are also ongoing tensions in some parts of the region.
The expression "Balkan conditions" describes a world of tribal feuds and of vendettas, of political insecurity and of mafia structures. But there are also other things to be found across the region today: the ability to forgive, the return of displaced people, entrepreneurship and creativity. There is fanaticism but also tolerance, animosity but also co-existence of different cultures. Throughout the region there are activists trying to tap dormant potentials.
To present the changing Balkans to a wider public we have embarked on a journey of discovery. Like many European stories, our trip starts in Rome, the eternal city. From there it leads across South Eastern Europe as far as Istanbul, the region's largest city since the 4th century. In between we stop in Kotor on the Adriatic Sea, Novi Sad on the Danube, Tirana in the Albanian coastal plains, and in Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea. The journey ends near the Ottoman "Fortress of Europe" (Rumeli Hisari) in Istanbul, city of patriarchs and caliphs. We visit Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.
It is a journey of colours: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus."
ERSTE Stiftung Director Boris Marte - ERSTE Stiftung Chairman Andreas Treichl
However, having an ambitious plan and a vision is one thing; mobilising the necessary resources to implement it is another. Here the steady (inspirational and financial) support of ERSTE Foundation from Vienna proved decisive. ERSTE Foundation, pushed by Knut Neumayer and its managing director Boris Marte, moved the initial idea from the realm of conversation into that of action plans. By early 2007, with the support of ERSTE Chairman Andreas Treichl, it was clear that there would be Balkanexpress.
The next step was finding the team to turn the vision into products. For this a crucial partnership had to be developed between the ESI team of researchers and analysts on the one hand and the creative team of film directors, camera-men, sound engineers and cutters, put together by the production company Pre-TV and its manager Nikolaus Wisiak, on the other.
Together ESI and Pre-tv began to turn the original vision into drafts, scripts, rough cuts and finally products to be broadcast on television in different countries in Europe. Finally, in June 2007, one year after the initial meeting on the shores of the Bosphorus, script writer Wolfgang Stickler, director Peter Behringer and ESI's Gerald Knaus went to Macedonia to begin to work on the ground. After that, different teams of directors, cameramen and ESI analysts went to Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Work could begin.
Bosnia Director Robert Neumueller - Cameraman Walter Reichl
Filming in Doboj: Eggert Hardten, Gerald Knaus, Alida Vracic, Wolfgang Stickler (author), Robert Neumüller director)
Claudia Pöchlauer (Director, Albania & Montenegro) and Peter Behringer (Director, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey)
Franz Leopold Schmelzer (Director Serbia) - Gernot Stadler (Director Kosovo)