Kukuljica - The Good Spirit of Restoration

For Mato Kukuljica each saved film frame was an enormous success and each saved film a significant triumph and great joy

In the foreword of his valuable and unique book, as well as his doctoral dissertation, “Protection and Restoration of Film Matter” Mato Kukuljica (1941-2009) wrote on October 5, 2004: …At the end of the cycle of my social and professional career, it is my great pleasure to have devoted most of it to the creation of the Croatian Cinematheque as a national film archive and to have managed to, together with my colleagues, gather, preserve and restore Croatia’s film heritage…

Mato Kukuljica is a very important person for Croatian culture, cinema, archival, film history, and film scholarship as well as for professional and amateur film production. Moreover, he was a kind and helpful person, a great colleague and friend and above all a good man. For him each saved film frame was an enormous success and each saved film a significant triumph and great joy. It is hard to remember moments when he did not talk about Croatian culture and film.

The struggle to preserve Croatia’s film heritage, which was met with much understanding as well as a certain level of opposition, now, when Mato is no longer with us, remains the duty of his collaborators in the Croatian Cinematheque with whom he always closely worked on gathering, protection and restoration of the film treasures.

He was preparing a retrospective of Croatian films (documentaries, feature and animated films) with which he wanted to modestly celebrate his 40th anniversary of professional work. From talking to him and reading his notes we know for sure that Mato wanted for that occasion for each author whose films have been restored and protected by the Croatian Cinematheque in the last thirteen years to be represented by one title. While Mato was still alive this idea was accepted by the Ministry of Culture and used at the retrospectives of Croatian film worldwide (for example in Lincoln Center in New York in 2007). He was always interested in good Croatia films, whether directed by young or older directors, students, professional or amateur. He never favored anyone and was interested in the quality of film and its historical importance for Croatian cinema. He always felt sad not to have had the chance to restore more films, which caused him dilemmas regarding whether his modest selection was indeed the best. However, we have to bear in mind that very often his choice depended on the technical condition of the available copies or film negative.

In the program of films selected by Mato Kukuljica we will see documentaries by Babaja, Babić, Krelja, Marjanović, Papić, Sremec, Tadić and Žižić, all masterpieces of Croatian documentary film. The program of animated films consists of films by Bourek, Dovniković, Dragić, Gašparović, Kristl, Mimica, Vukotić and Zaninović. (I remember how Mato was worried about the catastrophic conditions of negatives and copies of some of the best animated film from the Zagreb School of Animation). Feature films in this program are directed by Bauer, Berković, Golik, Grlić, Ogresta, Schmidt, Vrdoljak and Zafranović. (Even though The Birch Tree and Vuk samotnjak are not included in this program, we have to remember their recent successful digitalization for which Mato Kukuljica also called for in his writings about new technologies of protection; he obviously forecasted well that the future of film preservation is in digitalization).

With this program of Croatian films we will have the chance to see the classics of Croatian film in a new and technically restored form so it will be a new adventure for which we first and foremost have to thank Mato whom we respectfully commemorate at this occasion. (Krešimir Mikić)