Boris Mitić

The Serbian director on his film Goodbye, How Are You?, aphorisms, our absurd world, and Nothing.

//philip conklin

© 2015, Alphonso Cox, " Pleiades "

© 2015, Alphonso Cox, "Pleiades"

Goodbye, How Are You? is like nothing you’ve seen before. A Serbian experimental documentary-travelogue-essay film-political commentary-ode to the art of aphorisms, the movie has more to say about the conditions of contemporary society than any in recent memory. Director Boris Mitić, whose production company Dribbling Pictures produced the film, calls Goodbye, How Are You? a “satirical documentary fairy tale,” and part of the difficulty in categorizing it stems from its singular originality.

The film’s subject is aphorisms: terse, witty statements that contain a general truth or wisdom — “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “Truth never damages a cause that is just,” “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it,” etc. While they’re common across cultures, aphorisms in Serbia have exerted a huge influence on society, where these witty, satirical one- or two-liners are used to ridicule and elucidate every aspect of society. In the 1980s, aphorisms were such a popular and effective form of political protest that at least one writer of aphorisms was imprisoned for his writing.

Goodbye, How Are You? depicts a world that’s seen it all, a world of overstimulation and over-experience in which meaning is fixed just long enough to subvert itself. Assaulted by politics, culture, violence, media, and so on, our beleaguered narrator — our surrogate in this crazy world — can only sit back and comment in bemused apathy. The only valid response to this are aphorisms, the only line of defense against our powerlessness in the face of the oversaturation of the contemporary situation. “Why shouldn’t we be proud of our past, when each new day is worse than the previous one?” “They are applying a sticks and carrots policy on us. First they beat us with sticks … and then with carrots.” “The enemy surprised us again. We expected that he would attack first!” Aphorisms are an extremely condensed form of satire, a way of coping with a world that is out of your control.

The film’s masterstroke is that the images themselves function as aphorisms. Just as a train of thought begins to develop, as a theme emerges from a series of images, the next image disrupts the whole sequence, changing our perspective on what came before, and making us look at what follows in a new way. The film could be said to celebrate the art of juxtaposition: of different shots, of material within the same shot, of narration and image, of language within the narration. What emerges from this juxtaposition is a testament to the power of the filmed image. If Goodbye, How Are You? is primarily concerned with making us see differently, the film image is its best tool. Simply by being photographed, a thing becomes, more than just an object, an object-to-be-viewed, a process which brings out new meaning in it. Mitić’s film, in its dissociative aphoristic structure, in which what comes next is never certain, in which we constantly question our preconceptions and our understanding of what we’ve seen, restores this immanent power of the film image.

Above all, Goodbye, How Are You? is fun. The aphorisms, visual and verbal, are both hilarious and profound, and the primary feeling the movie evokes is unquestionably one of enjoyment. While we may be existentially powerless in this modern world, poking fun at it is at least an amusing, and admirable, form of protest. Last month The Periphery talked to Mr. Mitić about Goodbye, How Are You?, aphorisms, duels, and his next project, In Praise of Nothing.

The Periphery: Goodbye, How Are You? has a complex structure. The film is made up of 24 sections, each with a different theme, comprised of montages of variously interconnected and disruptive series of images. Over this, a narrator gives a running dialogue of aphorisms which comment on the images. And the end credits say the movie was filmed over a period of six years. Despite all this, the film makes total sense. Can you describe your filmmaking process — your initial conception, your filming and editing process, how the narration fit into all of that?

Boris Mitić: Goodbye, How Are You? is a hidden film about a literary movement, basically. After making two kind of accidentally successful films I wanted to keep on making films. And I wanted to keep on making films about topics that I really am and was passionate about, that could keep me glued to the project and motivated for a long time. So after having made this crazy story with gypsies turning old French cars into recycling vehicles, and after making this surreal one-building ghetto story in Kosovo …

Periphery: And that’s Pretty Dyana and Unmik Titanik.

MitićYeah. And I thought, you know, with the first one it was kind of an homage to this bohemian exotic nature and to some filmmakers who use gypsies in their filmmaking careers in several ways. Basically it was an uplifting ode to alchemy and creativity, and human resilience. The second one was my reaction to five years of high-profile world news agency journalism, which I basically exorcised from myself with that film. You know, I’m more happy with one night of filming than with five years of writing for 10,000 global media at once. So my next film was to be about something I would like again. And I said, the thing that impresses the most, and that I enjoy the most, are these short, satirical writings that we have, it turned out, almost only in Serbia — or only in Serbia at this level of quality. And I said, well these writings are for me the top level of contemporary applied philosophy and humor.

Periphery: When did aphorisms start becoming popular in Serbia?

MitićBasically, you now, we have a long tradition of oral — let’s say — wit. You know, in my hometown, people never say “Hello” to each other twice the same way. Someone would approach you and in those five meters you would think of a way to outsmart him. You could tease him about his haircut, about his wife, about the weather, about last night’s football game, but you won’t say, “Hi, how was your weekend?” So that’s one example. But in general people like to be good with words. It’s always seen as something — not a status symbol, but as a sign of maturity, as a sign of self-confidence, as a sign of certain intellect. For example, when people are giving toasts, you know, at a table, they say a very elaborate toast. But also very simple people from the countryside who know nothing about popular culture or literature, and so on, they are good at this. And I saw this especially when I was a soldier — we have this mandatory military service — and, you know, you meet people from all over the country, and these people were so quick and sharp in their replies, you could not outsmart them.

So that’s the general background, that people love to play with words. And then, this specific movement started after World War II, in the ’50s and ’60s especially, as a reaction to the abuse of language that was performed by the Communist party in power. They were using all these slogans which were so enthusiastic, and optimistic, and idealistic, and anyone with a healthy touch of sarcasm would say, “Come on, give us a break,” or kind of deflate it a little bit. But of course in those times, you couldn’t fool around with power, you know, with the authorities, and especially with the image of the authorities, so easily. Today it’s the absolute opposite. Today you can catch the president with, you know, his hands in corruption, or have a recording of him cheating, but he would survive. They would find a way to ...

Periphery: To smooth it over.

MitićTo smooth it over, yeah. All the political trouble today is being ironed out by the sheer power of the media, and this impunity of the authorities. But back then one word, one comment, could literally make you disappear from the streets. And it’s incredible to think that this was just 40, 50 years ago. But that’s how it was. And so people were using literary games as a way to pass on these messages, but kind of hidden within literary exercise. So they would think up these half slogans, and they would include them in theater plays, and writings, and they would softly but surely start to subvert these official ideological slogans. This happened mostly in the former Yugoslavia, and especially in Serbia, but also in Poland, where this guy Stanislaw Jerzy Lec was kind of the most prominent author in this Polish aphoristic circle. But in Poland the situation over time, and especially in ’82 when they had their big political changes, it kind of waned. It dissipated and never turned out to be a phenomenon as it was in Serbia. So over the years more and more people picked up on this type of writing, and it really became not an elitist literary exercise, but really a popular way to devise simple sentences, simple one- or two-liners which would be a kind of social commentary, which is for me, again, the perfect way to answer something that you find wrong. You don’t believe that you can change things, because definitely you cannot, let’s be honest, especially not with words, and even with single acts of individuals there’s not much you can do against all this of power. But at least you don’t want to be quiet about it. So you choose to express yourself with something that we all have, which are words. And the power of language, the creative use of language.

Periphery: And it seems like at some point, the people writing aphorisms, it became politically dangerous. I know there was one guy who was arrested and put on trial just for writing a certain aphorism about the President.

MitićYeah, that’s how it was especially in the ’70s and the ’80s. In the ’80s when the Yugoslav president Tito died, in 1980, and for a few years later there was a big kind of political confusion. And so these political aphorists were making all kinds of writings in which they were alluding to this fake image or exaggerated image of power that this president had. And of course, you know, the commissions for censorship and for ideological correctness — which is very much the equivalent of something we have today on a much more veiled scale. When I say it now it sounds like it’s something out of a caricatural historical movie, but that’s still — I mean, me coming from a media analysis and a propaganda analysis background, and having worked for top media in the world — news agencies, and dailies, and TV, and radio — there is an absolute, and there has always been, a very strict sense of ideological and content control that’s been over not only the mainstream news, but also the general discourse that’s being presented in the media. So what was happening back in Yugoslavia in the ’80s was just a more clumsy, a more direct way of controlling.

But then again, nobody got — there were people who were put in jail for a year, there were people whose books were removed from print — but these people were very smart. One guy was arrested and put to jail for one year because he allegedly made critical aphorisms about the president. But then when he got out of jail, he published the same book, but in negation. And then they arrested him again. And he said, “How can you arrest me twice? I wrote this once — you arrest me. I wrote the total opposite, and you arrest me again. It’s logically not possible!” So he would invite logicians, mathematicians, to the trial. And so these guys were really playing games with the authorities. And the authorities didn’t know what to do with them.

Periphery: And was this popular? Or was it just a small group of people?

MitićIt was never really a massive movement. It was something that — you know, many of these things stay as grafitti, they stay as lines in movies, they stay as lines in songs, but you really have to follow the movement to get it. It was just like a mental acting out. You would buy these books, or you would read them in newspapers, or in these samizdat self-print publications, and you would feel some sort of consolation. Like, somebody said it exactly how I feel it, some sort of general feeling that, we got it, the monster has been ridiculed. And when you ridicule the monster it loses its subjective sense of awe and of fear. So you deal with it in a much easier way.

But yeah, in a strange way — these people are very bad at marketing, at self-marketing. With a couple of emails I managed to include them in the world’s collections of best aphorists, in Playboy magazine, in the New York Times, in British academic circles. And these guys, they would stay forever in their, you know, 2,000 copy prints of books, and in their almost incestuous literary circle. But then when you share these with a wider audience, like the documentary, or when somebody goes — a politician or a rockstar throws out an aphorism like that, it’s an ecstatic feeling. It’s so condensed and so true. There’s one definition of an aphorism that says, “It’s a half-truth that reveals a truth and a half.”

Periphery: Well, clearly your movie is specific to the region, but a lot of the sentiments are universal, I think. There’s a lot of power to those for everyone, not just for that specific political situation.

MitićWell, I made a big effort to achieve this, being aware of readability issues of local stories on a universal level, from my journalistic job. Because basically I was writing stories and setting up stories which were meant to be local but publishable in 10,000 global media outlets, which were the clients of the news agency I was working for. So I had this in mind, in a way, and that’s the best thing I kept from journalism, which I ran away from, never to return to.

So yeah, I wanted to make it universal, and not a local story. So I removed all direct references to our history, to our culture, and I basically sacrificed dozens of brilliant aphorisms which couldn’t be translated. And also in terms of imagery, I really also sacrificed tons of great shots which had meaning locally but not internationally. So I tried to play it on a level of universal semantics, like symbols and archetypes that you can recognize pretty much everywhere. So when you say in your first question that there’s these 24 sections, basically in each of these sections I deal with one negative archetype in contemporary society that our main hero challenges to a duel, to an unrealized duel. You know, you have the corrupted doctor, you have the war criminal, the wife, the journalist, the judge, and so on. So the chapters were just an excuse to give the film some structure, and also to present different topics that the aphorists deal with.

PeripheryWhen did you first want to make a movie about aphorisms? What was your original conception and how did that change? Because it was filmed over six years, from 2003 to 2009, right?

MitićSo coming back after these long digressions of mine, I made these two films. I wanted to make a third one. The third one I said — you know, without any commercial considerations — I want to make a film about these guys who are writing these crazy things. So, you know, coming from a journalistic background much more than a cinema background, I started analyzing: I read all books about aphorists, all books of aphorisms — like, three or four hundred of them — underlined the aphorisms that could be translated in all languages, categorized them in certain ways, I befriend all these writers of aphorisms, filmed them, interviewed them in their very diverse and strange daily jobs. Then I started editing this in a standard way, and then in a more unusual way, in a more quirky way, but then I realized, shit, I can still write a better text about this topic than what this material looks like. And this is not even film material. There’s no film in this, there’s just material, it’s just information. Explaining humor is bullshit. Or just showing people talking about aphorisms has nothing to do with cinema. Why would I take these aphorisms from a medium which is natural for them, which is paper, to a medium which is unusual for them, and do it in such a banal way? So I said, “Okay, shit, throw everything away, two years of work, boom.” And I decided I had to do something equivalent, to try to make these images feel the same way as reading the aphorisms. I had to make a visual equivalent — what these people are doing with words, I should do it with images. So then I followed up on some images that I had from before, which are these strange, quirky — I call them satirical documentary images. Completely true, but containing an element of paradox, and strangeness, and double meaning in them.

Periphery: And how did you find those?

MitićWell, you know, in a country like Serbia they show up every once in a while. But of course not in sufficient numbers to sustain a whole film. So in the beginning I looked in my old recordings and I found, like, a dozen, and I said, “Maybe this is some kind of a solution for the film.” And then I tried, I tested it, and I came up with this crazy idea that I would have only images like this. No interviews, no background, no explaining what the aphorisms are, no localizing the story to Serbia or anywhere else, just trying to film this equivalent, a film version of aphorisms. So for this I invented this main character, which is, you know, half me, half my favorite characters from literature and cinema, and I invented this dramaturgical device of the failed duels — we can get into that later. But, to answer your question about images, I did this intensive and incredible search trying to anticipate where I could find these shots. Because none of these shots are set up. They’re all filmed as they are. So I would go and analyze all the two or three years backwards of four dailies that we had, in the section Feature Stories, these strange and unusual feature stories. And then I would make lists and notes where I could maybe find shots. Some of these events are recurring every year. Some of them happen once but you can still find them. Some of them you hope that by going there you’ll find something.

Periphery: Well, there’s some things that seems like it would happen every year, but then there’s other things like the dead black cat on the road which I don’t imagine could have been planned.

MitićYeah, that’s just something you find on the road, and that’s it. But it just happened to have been run over, like, two streets away from where I live, and I just happened to pass there. So I took my camera and I filmed it. And you can see that’s the only shot that you can see was filmed from many different angles. And I kept it like this in the film because it explains one important thing about aphorisms. But all the shots I took were taken like this, from many different angles, because you never know in editing, how you are going to use them. So this shot shows what I was doing, you know. Either discovering footage accidentally, or going for it.

Basically I went — for two years I was traveling every possible side road on the map, I would paint the map, and all the blood vessels on the map were painted as I passed through them. And I would divide the country into area codes, city area codes, and I would go, like, one trip would be one area code, and I would take as long as needed. I would have a landing point, but before getting there I would get completely lost, and then find my way again, all the while being open to such images. And it’s really a state of mind thing. When you’re in a state of mind — I mean, any city — I could go in Switzerland and make similar material. It doesn’t have to be in a chaotic place to find such images, but you really have to be as a filmmaker in that state of mind. So I was filming things that I pre-planned, some that I discovered, and also I was using strange archives — 15 to 20 percent of the film is archival footage from these small, strange, obscure, local TV stations that you really can’t see elsewhere.

Periphery: I remember one scene that looks like stock footage where someone pulls a car up in front of a moving tank and the tank just runs over the car.

MitićWell that’s the most classical one, it’s from the 1991 war, and now there’s a monument with that car, which is a classic Fiat 500, which was the pride of the Yugoslav car industry — now in that city they made a monument where the tank is crashed, and the car is on top of it.

But that shot is the most recognizable one of them all, in terms of archives. It’s so strange and quirky that people have seen it quite a few times. But others are much less — for example my favorite archive shot is the goat that’s eating a rose. I mean, that I got from the TV news weather section of an obscure, local, very far out country village station. When they talk about the weather they use this kind of footage of flowers and landscapes and so on. But for me it was so brilliant, a goat, you know, going between these thorns and eating the most beautiful flower there is, just mashing it to bits. And so these discoveries can happen in the most unusual and unexpected places.

But yeah, I would drive from dawn ’til dusk, and at dusk I would pick up these tons of DVDs, like, chaotic DVDs and watch them at 16 times speed from these local TV stations, and try to catch a few shots here and there.

Periphery: You said after you had this, sort of, what sounded more like a talking heads, traditional documentary, you wanted to make the images more like aphorisms. And that’s the amazing thing about the movie. There’s something dissociative about the images — sometimes specific images, or sometimes the way one image follows another — that’s hard even to put your finger on, what makes it unfamiliar, or why it looks different. How did you do that?

MitićWell, again, I would say it’s a state-of-mind thing. And then comes the advantage of not going to film school. This film has nothing to do with anything they would teach you in film schools, but when you feel it’s right it’s right. I hate these people who mystify their workflow. In my case, on that level, I can tell you exactly how I came to these shots, and how I selected them, and how I came to the narration, and why it looks like that, but when you ask me, you know, why this shot and then that one? I would say it’s pure intuition. And also a lot of shuffling in the editing. It was a long editing period. I was working with an editor colleague who really understood the film very much as I did. So the narrator, him, and I were kind of three alter egos of the same person, so it really worked out well. So for each shot we would have several possibilities, and then we would kind of cancel them out, and say this one must go there, and then you have to find some sort of unity and meaning and tempo, and not make the film total kaleidoscope, totally random. You choose one chapter with strange plaster monuments of lions, and strange plaster kitsch garden monuments. And then you save all the strange bus stops at the end for the countdown. And then you have these strange cemeteries that you use sparsely — you know, one at the beginning, one in the middle — because people make crazy shit in cemeteries. So I could make, like, an entire movie from strange cemeteries. And another from strange buildings, another from strange cars, and another from — and you know, that’s how I edited. I had these bins. I had a bin called Real Estate, which was all kind of strange buildings. There was one with landscapes, there was one with people, and riots.

And then with so much footage it would be almost impossible to analyze it analytically. To make keywords. It would take forever, and that’s why it’s so important to allow yourself as much time as needed to edit it. I would sit with my editor friend and then we would do what’s the most beautiful thing in creation, which is we would allow for the solutions to spark out of our heads. You know, like, we would look at each other, and you allow your back memory, which is always working, to fire out ideas. The other alternative to this would be to look in the files, and then look in the keywords, and do something more mathematical. No, in a strange way we managed to fit in our heads 2,500 images, and we would kind of shoot them from the back of our heads at each other, and put them up for debate. And that was the creative highlight, not only of that film, but of my career in general. To allow this strange, you know, thinking back process mechanisms in your head, to give it the space and the potential that it deserves.

Periphery: And I think you can see that in the movie because there are sections where it seems more themed, where you see the same types of images. The bus stops for example. Or you’ll see a series of faces on billboards, or something. But it never settles into anything. It always stays surprising, what’s gonna come after the previous shot.

MitićThat’s also part of the nature of the aphorisms. They start like proverbs, but then there’s a twist. Not only is there one twist, but there’s usually several twists. One is linguistical, one is philosophical, and the third one is ideological. So that was also the appeal with the editing.

Periphery: I’d like to come back to the duels. Was that just something you just came up with to structure the movie, or did it come from somewhere else?

MitićWell, at some point we need to have some sort of conflict in the film. And it’s always nice to make this conflict filtered through a recognizable device. Duels are a thing of the past. They’re romantic and crazy at the same time. They show a lot of character but a lot of madness. And it’s a way to show that we’re losing this moral criteria, moral purity, and this moral character. But also it refers to a literary device because in the romantic literature of the 19th century, for a lot of the characters, it was the easiest way — if you get into a fight, you solve it in a duel. Many of the famous writers themselves died in duels, from Pushkin to Lermontov, for example. Mikhail Lermontov wrote a book at the age of 25 which is very much a strong basis of my story. It’s called A Hero of Our Time. It was written in 1842 about a young man who has lived so much, that he thinks he’s experienced everything, and nothing excites him anymore. So he starts turning friends into enemies, just to befriend them again.

Periphery: That does sound similar to the character in Goodbye, How Are You?

MitićI kind of picked up on this idea of how saturated we all are by existence. Especially in Serbia — by the age of 20 I went through 10 years of street riots, civil wars, international NATO bombing, hyperinflations, embargoes, sanctions, all kinds of shit. I think we are accelerating our experiences of life. I was just hosting — today I was renting out the roof of the building that I live in, in this AirBnB kind of travelling site, and this kid came who just graduated college from Maryland, and he says, “Oh, I’m travelling for two months,” and I said, “Where from?” “Well, I’ve been travelling throughout Europe, and then yesterday I was in Venice, and now I’m here, and then I’m moving on to Vienna, and then I’ll go to Dubai, and then to Egypt, and then …. ” And it’s like, what the fuck, you know? I mean, it’s great for him, but that’s how it goes. You indulge in so many things so fast, and there is a saturation point.

This saturation point exists, and in my film I took it as this state my character is in now. But he’s very cool with it. He doesn’t regret it, he’s not proud of it, he’s not excited about it. He just, in a way, laments that really nothing can surprise him anymore. So he says, “Okay, well, since there’s no more motivations let’s try to figure out a way to end this show,” and by analogy to his favorite literary idols he wants to challenge some stupid opponent in a duel. Not to challenge somebody who pisses him off, because nothing really pisses him off. There’s nobody really worth fighting against, but he would like to die an absurd death. In an absurd world, you die an absurd death. What’s an absurd death? It’s an absurd duel. You know, over a little thing you challenge somebody, you die accidentally, and that’s it. That’s his attitude.

But in fact the duel story is not just anecdotal. In fact, in this duel he’s basically challenging all the bad guys in society. But what happens is he has this assistant. You know, in every duel you have a helper — a second, it’s called — who’s supposed to be your friend, and who’s supposed to either help you through the duel properly or try to discourage you from the duel. That variously happens in the history of literature. But in our case this guy, the assistant, is representing the aphorists. So the main hero, which represents you and me and all of us — this archetypical 21st century saturated pseudo-intellectual — wants an absurd end to this absurd life in an absurd way. So he challenges the bad guys to duels. But his friend, his assistant, is basically whispering to him — he’s trying to ridicule the opponents before the duels start, in order to make them so ridiculous that they’re not even worthy of the duel. And that’s exactly how aphorisms function in real life. Basically you ridicule the opponent to such an extent that it’s like, “You’re completely out of my life, I’m not afraid of you, I don’t care about you, you’ve been destroyed by this grotesque description. You’re knocked out.” And then you move on to the next chapter, and another, and another, and another bad guy, until in the end he basically starts to face himself.

Periphery: And he duels his friend at the end.

MitićWell, his friend turns out to be himself, this voice in his head that’s been whispering these things to him. Yeah, the end scene is a special case, but basically it starts with this anti-paraphrase of Casablanca, “I looked at my friend in the mirror, and I told him, ‘Louie, this is the end of a terrible animosity.’” So even there it’s a total opposite. You totally anti-quote a film classic to achieve a higher truth that you wanted. So you would think that he’s at peace with himself, but then he says to the audience, “And you? You must imagine that I am a happy person.” Which is a direct paraphrase this time from the archetypical philosophical essay of 20th century existential philosophy, which is “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus, in which Sisyphus is pushing a stone up a hill, and as soon as he reaches the top, instead of staying at the top it rolls down again. So he tries again. It’s basically an allegory of how you can never reach your goal. And this essay, which is written in the 1940s, ends with, “But we must at least imagine that he’s a happy man.” In this 20th century French existentialist reading of the myth of Sisyphus, we must at least imagine that he’s happy trying to get there.

So my hero says, “Okay, I became friends with my satirical provocative voice, my friend who stopped me from all these duels, but I forgive him. You guys, you must imagine that I’m a happy man.” So it’s kind of ironically quoting this myth of Sisyphus. And just as you think that’s all, he says, “If you don’t agree, let’s take it outside.” So he’s still in this fighting mood. Which is a little bit like the end scene of A Clockwork Orange, where you think they would have cured him by showing him these images of violence, but in fact not.

It’s strange also, I like to tease the viewers, I say “Do you think there’s a happy ending? Raise your hand whoever thinks there’s a happy ending.” And people get confused. And I say, “Good, thank you.” They don’t know if it’s a happy ending, and I’m happy about that.

Periphery: Well, something that seems hopeful to me at the end is the line in the narration that says, “If you can’t change things, you can at least change the way you look at things. If you can manage to do that it means you’re doing fine.” Which seems to be what the movie is trying to do, to make you look at things differently.

MitićYeah, that’s the line on the poster. I don’t know if you’ve seen the poster, it says “If you can’t change things, you can always change,” and then I flipped the last line, “your point of view.” Yeah, I mean, that’s the most direct way of saying what these things do to you. You can’t change reality, but you can — if you can shift your perspective, you’re doing fine. You focus on important things, you put things to scale, you understand with a lot of inner peace that everything is impermanent and passing. So it’s a way to deflate things, to cool things down, and to reduce your sense of entitlement, let’s say, to much more human levels.

Periphery: So your next film, In Praise of Nothing, which you describe as a “feelgood documentary/a whistleblowing documentary parody/a satirical documentary parable” is being shot, not by you, but by different cinematographers who you’ve asked to send you footage, is that right?

MitićWell, it’s being shot by me and a hundred others, yeah. So let’s say it’s a sequel to Goodbye, How Are You? in which Nothing is speaking to us for the first time. So this time the narrator is Nothing itself, running away from home and coming to see us, and basically discovering our world as it is and making all kinds of comments about it. What would Nothing tell us if it could speak to us for the first time? And how? You know, how much sympathy, how much disgust, how much support, how much pity? So it’s a very strange premise. And once again the film is incredibly researched by, you know, almost 80 to 100 books of completely eclectic disciplines, just to distill this into very cool sentences that Nothing would speak. So Nothing will not speak in aphorisms, Nothing will speak in its own way, and in a strange and really crazy way. I started writing this text and it started popping out in verse, so the full text of this film is written in verse.

Periphery: Where did this idea to make a film about Nothing come from?

MitićI don’t remember; I think it started as a joke. I would say, “Well, I said everything in Goodbye, How Are You?, everything I wanted to say in exactly the way I wanted it, so what left to be explored?” And so I said, “Well, nothing.” Almost as a rhetorical, cheap joke. But then over time I thought, you know, Nothing is such an important element in our lives. It changes everything, it quantifies and qualifies and modifies every single thing that we do and think to such an extent. It’s the most important documentary film topic ever, in a way. You just have to make this effort of understanding it, of understanding that it’s important, but I think people will get it very quickly. You know, if you want to take it as a game, take it as a game. If you want to take it as the most essential question of our civilization, then I’ll give you both. That’s my bet.

Periphery: So are you editing footage now, or is it still being filmed?

MitićWell, it’s still being filmed, and it will be filmed for another year to come, but, yeah, I’m editing. I’m trying to see how it works, how the images relate to each other, how does it relate to the text. It still looks like an impossible film to make. With 1,000 shots on my desk, with almost fully written narration, it still needs time. But I’m very good — obviously, from all of my answers — I’m very good at bluffing myself into thinking that everything is fine, and trusting this very general intuition that I have. But this time I’m risking my three kids, all my money, my career, and if I fail this I’m fucked for good.

But yeah, it’s one of those things. Some people climb big mountains, you know, everyone has this crazy idea in their life; this turned out to be mine. Quite unexpectedly, but I like it. Once again, it fits my general mood, my general feeling. I like to say it’s a feelgood film because it puts everything in check. You know, when facing nothing, all your big personal dramas, all your dreams, all your fears, it all kind of falls apart. And it falls apart in a cool way, in a kind of chill, laidback way, if you deal with it properly. If you don’t, you go into the psychiatric ward; if you do it can be quite cool. So I’m just trying to present this Nothing as a good guy, as a misunderstood force that’s there kind of being in mass in front of us. Just as we stand, let’s say in front of the ocean or in front of a big mountain, and you say, “Fuck, this is strong, and look how small I am.” But you feel okay with it. You kind of feed on its energy and then go back to your real life.

Read more about Goodbye, How Are You?, and Mitić's other films, at

//Philip Conklin is a co-founder of The Periphery.


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