Before Silicon Valley, Apple and Google, before Microsoft and Bill Gates, there was Yugoslavia and ISKRA. Overlooked and underrated, the non-aligned Yugoslav tech giant allowed East to connect with West. It was pioneering and avant-garde. Then... it suddenly disappeared.
I have been a film sound recordist most of my life. I have listened to thousands of people’s voices recount their stories into my recorder, and touch audiences around the globe. After decades of recording other people’s voices, this is mine.
My father was an alchemist who turned transistors and cables into emotions and dreams. He worked at Iskra (‘spark’ in English), the legendary Yugoslav telecommunications company, the Apple of its day. Being different was baked into Iskra’s DNA and the country’s “non-alignment” was the defining signature of Iskra.
Our journey of discovery begins with my father but is cut short when he is diagnosed with dementia. I seek out others instead, from East and West.
Weaving in and out of past and present, with unique archive, our tale unfolds: in the 40s Iskra pledged to put their own 35mm projectors into every town in Yugoslavia. One of Iskra’s most celebrated engineers, now 105, was the first woman with an electro-technical degree and a film pioneer. In the 80s it boasted a computer department bigger than Microsoft. Through Iskra, the West could safely do business with the East. In 1988 Gorbachev visited it to understand this Yugoslav ‘cash cow and the recipe for success in doing business with the West.’
Do those that burn twice as bright do so for half as long?
Iskra was so intertwined with Yugoslavia that when the country descended into war, Iskra went with it. Born together in 1946, their fate was inextricably linked.
After decades of recording other people’s voices, this voice is mine. Welcome to all things Iskra!
Originally from Slovenia, of former non-aligned socialist Yugoslavia, this is the story that I know very well. The life of every member of my family changed because of what happened to ISKRA and Yugoslavia. It is an extraordinary story about a company that helped shape the trajectory of an entire nation, and in the process became a bridge between East and West.
As both technology and the geo-politics of the world continue to evolve at a high rate, understanding its beginnings presented in this film will question the clichés about the region, and the black and white perceptions of what we now can call a ‘Cold War One’ era. Life in Yugoslavia, positioned between the two dominating superpowers, was in itself colorful, meaningful and a highly inventive one. I think audiences will find it most fascinating that the company responsible for so many iconic designs was Yugoslavian.
In my current home, the US, Yugoslavia is now being remembered as ‘simply’ the Balkans. And many of the younger generation have never heard of it. With this film I will prove there’s much to learn from ISKRA and the place of my birth, once called Yugoslavia.
‘A story of how Marshal Tito’s cinephilia inadvertently gave birth to a company whose pathbreaking technology and design subtly shaped the 20th century. A history of Yugoslavia, a country lost to time, as seen through the rise and fall of Iskra, a company more familiar to many than the nation in which it originated. A Cold War story, replete with spies and sanction-skipping and international intrigue. A tale of plagiarism on a scale so sweeping it threatens to blot out the original work.’
- Errol Morris, executive producer
Director Alenka Pavlin
Alenka Pavlin (director/producer) was born in Slovenia, former Yugoslavia. Passionate about film from an early age - she majored in foreign trade at the University of Economics, her main thesis on ISKRA’s relations with Turkey. This was a brief change of course for her, as she immediately came back to film, while also dreaming of becoming a sound engineer. In 1984 she relocated to West Berlin, combining her two interests, that of sound and film, in what soon became her primary career strand of production sound. She moved to the US joining filmmaker Jon Jost for two years of filming across the U.S for UK’s Channel 4, and soon working on other independent films. Relocating to LA in 1995 she worked on larger narrative productions with filmmakers Alan Parker, Antonia Bird, Costa Gavras, Ben Stiller, D.O Russell, Sean Penn and others, while also working on commercials.
Jumping into the 21st century, Alenka became part of Errol Morris LA crew, first as boom operator, then as mixer, returning to documentary filmmaking.
Recently Alenka has recorded sound for Emmanuelle Nobécourt's Dr. Jack and Mr. Nicholson ; Errol Morris's Global Meltdown, Droz Tragos HBO’s “Abortion: Stories Women Tell”, Netflix documentary “Lorena”, Sophie Sartain & Roberta Grossman’s “Seeing Allred” and Sophie Sartain’s “Birddog Nation”. ISKRA (Spark!) is her feature-length documentary directing debut.
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