Departure of the Diligent Watcher of Croatian Film Heritage
If Croatian cinema has in any way been superior to its neighbors in the region during the last two decades - even during the “dark” nineties - it was in the area of film preservation. While national film gems in Slovenia and Serbia cried for restoration and protection, Croatian Cinematheque, part of the Croatian State Archive, did that job with a full head of steam.
The man to thank for doing so is the director of the Croatian Cinematheque at the time, Mato Kukuljica. He was born in Dubrovnik in 1941 and graduated from the University of Philosophy in Zagreb in 1965. He began his career in then agile company Filmoteka 16, which specialized in producing 16-mm films. In 1974 became its director and intensified the company’s publishing activities. The most important part of his career began in 1979 when he became the director of the newly established Croatian Cinematheque within the Croatian State Archive.
From the Yugoslav Cinematheque in Belgrade Kukuljica managed to get short films by the most important Croatian film director before WW II Oktavijan Miletić, as well as films from the legendary School of Public Health Andrija Štampar - had he not started the process of transferring these films to non-flammable tape and begun their restoration, we probably would not have the chance to see them today. During the 1980s Kukuljica was a crafty secretary of the self-governing interest group for culture and cinema (a model used for self-financing of film production as well as culture and education in general), which at the time controlled film production and distribution. When a movie theatre in Šibenik was in trouble, the interest group would step in and save it. We should be so lucky these days to have such a system and someone as Kukuljica who managed to withhold the attacks of domestic directors who demanded that their projects be favored. Until 1993, protection and preservation of national treasure was only an intermittent activity but since then it has become one of the main goals of the Croatian Cinematheque. About four to five feature films and ten documentaries and animated films get a “face-lift” each year. The results are really impressive: in 2004, when square Kukuljica presented his book “Protection and Restoration of Film Matter” at the former University Library on Marulić, the promotion was accompanied by excerpts from restored Croatian film classics. On that occasion Branko Belan’s Koncert and Nikola Tanhofer’s H-8 were presented in new light reminding us of films from the golden age of Hollywood.
What Kukuljica did for Croatian cinema is hugely important. Under his management, Croatian Cinematheque became member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) as well as the Association of European Filmarchives (ACE). In 2001, he got a master\'s degree and earned a doctorate with a thesis that reads like a detective story on the protection and restoration of film material, explaining in detail how some of the most important Croatian films, without which we would not have a distinct national film identity today, had been saved. During his retirement years and until his sudden death Kukuljica worked in the Croatian Cinematheque as an advisor for the area in which he had done so much. It is an immense shame that he is no longer with us. (Nenad Polimac, Jutarnji list)