FREE ZONE Film Festival was founded in 2005 with the idea of finding physical and ideological space in Belgrade for discussion, re-thinking and understanding of current social phenomena and problems in Serbia, Balkans and in the world -- through popularization of art-house and human rights engaging cinematography rarely seen as part of a regular cinematic repertoire.
At the very first festival organized in November of 2005, 20 internationally awarded documentaries, feature and short films from around the globe were screened in only one theatre. Eleven years from then, Free Zone screens 30 to 40 feature fiction and documentary films during the five festival days in 3 biggest Serbian cities (Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Niš), 10 movie theatres and with big opening ceremony in famous Sava Centar in Belgrade.
Continuous and interactive relationship with the audience is something that characterizes the festival not only during the festival event, but throughout the year.
Namely, Documentary Thursday - monthly screenings of world best documentary films in Cultural Center Rex, have resulted in steady annual audience growth, thus reaching over 20.000 visitors at the 11th edition of the Festival in 2015.
In cooperation with first local women’s foundation in Serbia – Reconstruction Women’s Fund, a new program line – Women’s line was introduced and dedicated to affirmation of women’s rights.
In 2012, additional member to the festival’s program selectors team was added. Since then, Guest selector programme represents a film selection of an influential public personality whose activism and personal value system reflects values and objectives of Free Zone Festival itself. So far, Guest selectors of Free Zone Film Festival were post-Yugoslav writer Dubravka Ugrešić, art director of Dokufest Veton Nurkollari, writer and philosopher Boris Buden, and journalist and actress Olja Bećković.
Since the beginning, the Festival has also been organizing special Screenings for high-school students, screenings which have, over time, become an important part of the festival’s program. In 2015, high-school screenings inspired a new 14+ programme line opening.
14+ program line, gives high-school students a chance to take a jury role for the first time, select the movie they found to be the voice of their generation and award it with Best Film Award in 14+ category. This way, young people are given the opportunity to see movies that are part of Free Zone’s selection and which, at the same time, are dealing with their peer’s current issues worldwide.
Inspired both by Screenings for high-schools students and 14+ programme line, a separate project, called Free Zone Junior, has been created in cooperation with Association of civil education teachers. This project produced several DVD compilation editions, namely: Teacher and Student Manual for using Film as Supplementary Teaching Tool in Civic Education in Elementary and High-schools.
In addition, Documentary Film Camp was organized, with a great number of high-schools students from former Yugoslavian republics and the Balkans. During the camp, those cinephile teenegers have the opportunity to make their first short documentary films. Some of these student films received awards on several “senior” festivals, like Zagreb Dox, Liburnia, and Four river.
Free Zone cooperates with other European festivals showing documentary and feature films. The Festival travelled, with its best film selections, to various international festivals: Marseille's International Film Festival, Dokufest in Prizren, Tempo Documentary Festival in Stockholm, This Human World in Vienna, and CPH:DOX in Copenhagen.
Free Zone and CPH:DOX collaborated in the 25th Berlin Wall fall anniversary celebration, and special pan-European simultaneous world premiere of Erzsébet Rácz and Anders Østergaard’s documentary 1989. 20 European cities, including Belgrade, were also a part of the open social media discussion following the 1989 screening.
Program that strongly connects Free Zone with its Belgrade audience during the festival in November, is Late night conversations debate programme. Keeping in mind that the festival is mainly focused on human rights and engaging movies -- emphasizing social issues and phenomena -- numerous philosophers, sociopolitical theorists and those working in the field of arts, re-think and discuss issues covered in official programme movies.
Following the trends in contemporary film production, Free Zone has created a Cross Media Zone side program in 2014, and devoted it to engaged documentary and feature projects that combine activism and digital technology with film expression.
Since 2016, Free Zone jury consists experts awards The Best engaging film in Regional competition, Human Rights Award and award for The Best film in (youth) selection 14+ (awarded by high-school jury). Additionally, Audience award is given to Top Four films based on audience votes which results in buying TV rights for further national TV broadcasting.
Following the end of the festival in November, Free Zone organizes movie selection Tour in April, May and June. During the spring of Free Zone Tour, the audience from cities, towns and villages in Serbia other than Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš, have the opportunity to see The best of movies from the previous edition of the festival.
10th Free Zone Tour was organized in 2016, and more than 45 cities were visited. At the same time, Free Zone Tour represents par excellence example of cultural decentralization by presenting high quality film programme to the Serbian audience for free.
Project Free Zone Film Festival is a member of International Network of Film Festival on human rights – Human Rights Film Network, and a partner of Balkan Documentary Distribution Network together with organizations and festivals from the region: ReStart from Zagreb, Docufest from Prizren, Demiurg from Ljubljana, and Underhill from Podgorica.
So far, festival has officially been opened by Serbian actress Mirjana Karavnović, actor Miki Manojlović, screenwriter and activist Biljana Srbljanović, former director of B92 television and board member of Fond B92 Veran Matić, Croatian philosopher Boris Buden, post-Yugoslav and Dutch writer Dubravka Ugrešić and journalist and actress Olja Bećković.