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Wednesday, July 20,2011

Local filmmaker explores riddle of Macedonia

By Brian Grady
Photo Credits: John Shindler III
Photo Caption: The statue on the right known as "Warrior on a Horse," located in Macedonia.
An Athens video production guru and 2010 graduate of Ohio University has taken his skills to the Balkans of Eastern Europe to produce a feature-length documentary over 1,000 miles away from home.

The location of the movie, titled "After the Rain," is the Republic of Macedonia, in what was formerly Yugoslavia. The director of the documentary, John Schindler III, spoke with The Athens NEWS in a Skype video interview from Macedonia. He said the documentary seeks to answer one highly controversial question: "What does it truly mean to be Macedonian?"

Schindler is not Macedonian. He grew up in Ohio and has lived in Athens since he attended OU. He first decided he wanted to produce a documentary about the small landlocked country (about a quarter the size of Ohio) when his girlfriend, OU international student and accounting and finance major Elena Mihajlovska, invited him to visit her home in Bitola, Macedonia.

"My family forbid me to come here unless I was working," said Schindler, "so I was like all right, I'll make a movie. And everything rolled after that."

SCHINDLER AND MIHAJLOVSKA are not the first Athens residents to shoot a documentary abroad. Ruth Bradley, director of Athens Center for Film and Video and organizer of the Athens International Film and Video Festival, said OU students, international and domestic, take their video skills abroad every year to countries such as Israel, Montenegro, Mexico, Venezuela and Germany.

She said what sets apart a successful documentary from a flop is the amount of funds the filmmaker can raise. "That's going to equate into things like transportation, interpreters, better equipment and more time [in the country]," said Bradley.

At the end of OU's spring quarter, however, the Macedonia-bound couple claimed they were well prepared to succeed. They hopped on the plane to Europe in June with over $10,000 worth of video equipment they acquired after pitching the documentary to Nathaniel Berger. Berger, the operations coordinator at the Aesthetics Technologies Lab in OU's Putnam Hall, agreed to lend them the gear free of charge.

"An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost; I don't know how 'After the Rain' will turn out, but the exploration itself is, in my opinion, worth supporting," said Berger.

The documentarians said they are working with a Macedonian video production crew, friends of Mihajlovska, who are volunteering their time and equipment for the project. The crew's professionalism and previous successes came as a surprise to Schindler and Mihajlovska.

"I didn't know how huge they are now," said Mihajlovska. "They have their own studio and all the equipment we couldn't bring to Macedonia because it was too big."

In addition, Schindler said he has lined up video and audio production students in Athens to help with post-production. The team has also formed an agreement with Diverse Media Zone, Inc., giving "After the Rain" official nonprofit tax-deductable status. The agreement also gives them a fiscal agent to help with submitting applications for funding or grants.

Tom Hayes of Athens founded Diverse Media Zone, Inc. "I think the fact that they have this shoot rolling tells me they're not doing an 'if I get funded' but instead a 'when I get funded'," Hayes said. "These guys are out there showing their passion They're out there gathering footage and identifying subjects, doing the heavy lifting so that they can build some serious credible applications [for grants and funding]."

TO GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING of the magnitude of the project, The Athens NEWS met with T. David Curp, an OU professor who teaches Eastern European and Balkan history.

Before 1990, he recounted, Macedonia was a republic under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe. Yugoslavia collapsed during the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early '90s, and was divided along ethnic borders. Macedonia and four other countries claimed their independence from Yugoslavia.

"People had lived together in the time of Yugoslavia," recalled Mihajlovska's mother, Gordana Mihajlovska, who also spoke with The Athens NEWS on Skype. "There were mixed marriages, mixed families, but when Yugoslavia fell apart, that all fell apart. People withdrew into their own cultures. It was like self-preservation, and then they exerted their own cultures."

Even before the fall of Yugoslavia, border and cultural tensions had existed between Macedonia and its southern neighbors, Albania and Greece. Macedonia, home to Albanian Muslims, Greek Christians and Slavic Christians who all claimed to be true Macedonian, became, as Curp called it, "a powder-keg region."

Ethnic and border violence broke out in the early '90s, and soon after, Macedonian film director Milcho Manchevski produced "Before the Rain," an award-winning fictional film that revealed the political and ethnic tensions within Macedonia to the world.

"The thing that's striking about Manchevski's film," Curp said, "is that it's Albanians who kill Albanians and Macedonian Slavs who kill Macedonian Slavs, who are trying to relate to each other. So in other words, the communities are breaking down all the human bridges between them."

Bouts of violence, Albanian border encroachment and an illegal Greek blockade against Macedonia ended with European Union and United Nations intervention in the early 2000s.

Because the violence is mostly settled in 2011, Schindler and Mihajlovska said they decided to call their documentary "After the Rain."

The two filmmakers said they are now skeptical of the Macedonian government, as it builds new monuments in the capital city of Skopje (including a statue called "A Warrior on A Horse," which Greece has criticized, saying it resembles Alexander the Great, a legendary historical figure whom both Greece and Macedonia claim as their own). Curp theorized that these monuments are a government attempt at constructing a common Macedonian history.

"My idea when I came here was not to come with, 'This is Macedonia,' because I have no clue," admitted Schindler. "The point is to come and listen to what every single person has to say and then try to figure it out from an objective point of view as a complete outsider."

With a Macedonian production team, one Macedonian perspective will not be left out. "I'll be his guide," said Mihajlovska. "I'll show him around. I'll introduce him to people, and I'll say my opinion and say what I think we should capture."

Back in the United States, another Slavic Macedonian, Ana Gicova, has been working to make sure "After the Rain" has an audience upon completion.

"I contacted the United Macedonia Diaspora, an organization that represents Macedonians who live in the United States and Canada, as well as the Macedonian Patriotic Organization," said Gicova, who has an MBA from OU.

Schindler said he hopes "After the Rain" will premiere at the Athens' International Film Festival in 2012 or 2013, and thereafter be presented to the European Union.

Manchevski's assistant, Erika Piger, wrote in an email to The Athens NEWS that Manchevski is "very honored and pleased to see his work ('Before the Rain') inspiring other people."

To track recent progress for the documentary, visit


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"We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.' -  FYROM'S Ambassador Ljubica Acevshka, speech to US representatives in Washington on January 22 1999

 'We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.' - FYROM´s Ambassador to Canada Gyordan Veselinov, Ottawa Citizen Newspaper, February 24 1999

 "We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century ... We are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians" -  Kiro Gligorov, FYROM's first President, Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992

"The whole story about Ancient Macedonia sounds undoubtedly very nice. However, there is a great problem, a huge hole%uFEFF of about 2,000 years during which we have neither oral nor written tradition, nor a single scientific argument” - former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, FOCUS, 31 March 2008

"We are not stating by accident that Josip Broz Tito is Jesus Christ for Macedonia, a father and a mother for Macedonia. Because we have, in that time, after NOB, for the first time created a Macedonian alphabet, a Macedonian television, a Macedonian state, a language, a passport, an identity card, a university for the first time, a Macedonian academy for the first time. We, communists, have created the Macedonian Orthodox church." -  Slobodan Ugrinovski, FYROM politician - "Tito is Jesus Christ for Macedonia" - A1 TV, FYROM May 04 2009



"The creation of the Macedonian nation, for almost half of a century, was done in a condition of single-party dictatorship. In those times, there was no difference between science and ideology, so the “Macedonian” historiography, unopposed by anybody, comfortably performed a selection of the historic material from which the “Macedonian” identity was created. There is nothing atypical here for the process of the creation of any modern nation, except when falsification from the type of substitution of the word “Bulgarian” with the word “Macedonian” were made." (Denko Maleski, former Minister of foreign affairs of FYROM from 1991 to 1993)

"This (US) Government considers talk of Macedonian "nation", Macedonian "Fatherland", or Macedonia "national consciousness" to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic nor political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive intentions against Greece." - US State Department 1944




On behalf of the crew of 'After The Rain' we wanted to correct an ommission that has occured.

Our sound department was overlooked somehow, and we would like to take this opportunity to recognize them.

Corey Poindexter, co-owner of Take 19 productions, is the head of Audio and the Director of Sound for the project. We are very excited to be working with such a talented individual and the whole team at Take 19.

Without their support, we would not have been able to carry out the making of this movie in full confidence. We want to thank them and pubicly recognize their contributions to 'After The Rain.'



If Mr. Schindler wants to make a film about Macedonia, then he shouldn't visit the F.Y.R.O.M, but Northern Greece, where the true Macedonia lies through the millenia. It's a shame to see film makers fall for the worst kind of propaganda, as well as university newspapers
presenting half truths.



Bravo to Schindler for taking on this project. It's a subject that needs to be better explored. The Macedonian people are being victimized by the extreme xenophobia and nationalistic propaganda of the FOPOG (Former Ottoman Possession of Greece), and it is the filmmakers, the artists, the authors, who can lead the way in promoting more understanding and peace in the region.



Nonsense. Peace in the region can never be promoted as long as the FYROM government keeps stealing other countries' history. See Bulgaria, Albania and Greece. I can understand the need of an identity, the need of belonging somewhere, but it is a totally different thing to promote a lying pseudo-ethnicity.

Unfortunately, Mr Schindler is walking a road without return by aiding the rampant FYROM Slav ethno-cultural nationalism transform to the dangerous national chauvinism (see Pan-Slavism, anti-Semitism and Pan-Germanism).