Ivan Medenica has announced his departure as artistic director of BITEF.
In an interview in Serbia’s Danas, Medenica said that he will not stay on in the role, which he has held for seven years, beyond his current mandate – which dame to an end in December – and cited an “incompetent and irresponsible” attitude towards the festival as one of his reasons for leaving the role, saying he was neither dismissed nor did he resign.
In the interview, Medenica explains that he and his team were already preparing the selection for this year’s edition of the festival which is due to take place in September and had begun negotiations with a number of theatres. This process ideally needs to begin at least a year in advance, he explained, but as a result of this sudden development this process has now been suspended.
A new artistic director has yet to be appointed, but as Medenica points out, it will be a very difficult task to begin the selection process in February. He names Nikita Milivojević as a potential successor.
In the interview, he also describes facing previous pressure to resign in 2017 because of his support from the Ne Davimo Beograd movement.
Founded in 1967 by Mira Trailović and Jovan Ćirilov, Belgrade International Theatre Festival (BITEF) has, over the years, showcased work from some of the most renowned theatre-makers in the world and had a reputation for staging avant garde and politically engaged work. It remains one of the most significant cultural festivals in the region.
Medenica, who is also a theatre critic and professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Dramatic Arts, has been artistic director since 2015. During his tenure the festival has presented work by Milo Rau, Thomas Ostermeier, Katie Mitchell, Oliver Frlijic, Olga Dimitrijević, Rimini Protokoll, Ultima Vez, Sebastijan Horvat. Jan Martens, and Nina Rajić Kranjac. He also steered the festival through the difficult Covid-19 period.
On hearing the news, theatre critic Andrej Čanji wrote “BITEF has suffered a great loss. I fear that many who contested the entire selection work of Ivan Medenica will only now understand this. Of course, there is always room for criticism, but the point is that only short-sightedness can erase the awareness of what a serious and excellent job he has done. There are very few people in Serbia who are so competent and educated, who know contemporary theatre trends so well, who have so many international contacts from the performing arts world, and who can create some kind of balance between audience taste and professional opinion, between finances, which depend on government decisions, and the high standards of the festival, and above all that they have a talent for marketing, intellectual breadth, a sense of the stylistic, thematic and formal diversity of the productions in the selection, as is the case with Ivan Medenica.”
Čanji continues: “BITEF is one of the few institutions that has resisted the incompetent and corrupt power of this regime for a very long time, thanks to a fantastic team led by Medenica, clever manoeuvres and necessary compromises. With his departure, that resistance seems to have come to an end. Still, I hope that BITEF will overcome this crisis.””
Photo: Jakov Simovic
Further reading: interview with Ivan Medenica (Danas)
Natasha Tripney is a writer, editor and critic based in London and Belgrade. She is the international editor for The Stage, the newspaper of the UK theatre industry. In 2011, she co-founded Exeunt, an online theatre magazine, which she edited until 2016. She is a contributor to the Guardian, Evening Standard, the BBC, Tortoise and Kosovo 2.0