Vladimir Film Festival 2022: An Interview with Nikola Racan

Master emcee Nikola Racan. Ph. Will Harmon

It was late 2013 when Aymeric Nocus emailed me about a new skate film festival he had just went to in Croatia. It was in a small fishing village in Croatia’s Istria region and the festival was called Vladimir. After speaking to Aymeric a bit about it I decided to check this festival out myself the following year. In September 2014 myself and Jacob Harris were picked up from Pula airport from a tall, slender, dark-haired smiling gentleman named Nikola Racan. Nikola immediately took us swimming in the Adriatic Sea and introduced us to his friend Marco Zubak. It turns out I actually had met Marco years before when he was living in Barcelona. Small world… Anyways, the next week we skated, swam, Jake showed his 11th Hour film and we had a good time at our first Vladimir Film Festival along with about 50 other attendees. I promised to come back, and I did, many more times, and since that time in 2014 Vladimir has truly flourished. It’s gone from a 2-day festival to a 5-day one. Those 50 attendees have ballooned to 400 or so and skate filmmakers from all over the world have visited and premiered their films there. I interviewed Nikola about the festival way back then in 2014, but that was for a another now defunct magazine, so I was excited to interview him again, eight years later, for Free. Unfortunately Nikola got COVID the last two days of the festival, so Nikola, Marco and I all masked up and sat on Nikola’s porch where we chatted, drank coffee and reminisced about old times on my last morning before heading back to London. 

Interview by Will Harmon

So can you tell us how the festival started?
Nikola Racan: It started really spontaneously 2011. The same people that are running Vladimir today are the same as when it started. We just wanted to take a break from you know, working in the summer season jobs that are all based here in the festivals for music, theatre and film. So we wanted to have a night for ourselves.

Have your own festival?
Yeah, well it was not the idea for a festival at first; the festival came on maybe a few years later, but that year we just wanted to have the night for ourselves. You know, it was kinda like to not work. And thanks to Marco (Zubak) and Sergej Vutuc we managed to get three films back then. One from the Antiz guys, Rick (Charnoski) and Buddy’s (Coan Nichols) movie Bloodshed and Format Perspective by Phil Evans were the first three movies that were played at the old DIY skatepark in Fažana. It was one-day event: skate session, movies, and my father, he made the fish for like, 50 people. And it was really small, and we didn’t even know that it will last 12 years and that it will be as it is today.

Well, yeah, it’s really moved on since then, hasn’t it?

And then so each year, it gets bigger and bigger. Are you worried it’s going to get too big?
I think this year, it’s bigger than last year. Well I was out for two days but what I saw from the audience, there are a lot of younger people coming to the festival, but they’re still a part of the younger generation of independent scenes around the world and around Europe. So we got people who are not as visible as some other crews and that’s what we do at Vladimir, we want to attract people who are like-minded, think like us… You know, you have a small scene in Poland, and I think it will grow. But I’m really happy that this year was big, but pretty chilled, in terms of you know, we didn’t have superstars or whatever, we didn’t have big brands trying to come through the back door and stuff.

VFF, Fažana, 2022. Ph. Will Harmon

It’s more for independent films, right? It’s essentially an independent film fest mostly?
Yeah mostly. It’s the epic DIY and… For example I would rather give an opportunity to some crews that are not like on top of the game, that people don’t know much about. Because I think it’s really refreshing to see for somebody that there’s a scene going on in some small town in Bulgaria, rather than to bring, I don’t know, the Polar guys here with their movie. We are not against that, of course. But we are trying to like…

Shine a light on the underground scenes…
Yeah, exactly, because I think that it’s way more pure. We are not obligated by any brand or anything… We are still without any financial support from the skateboard industry. We didn’t even go searching for that. Somebody offered us something but we said, ‘thank you, but it will turn maybe another direction.’ So if you asked me last year, I was afraid for this year… But now I’m not afraid because it was big, but chill here. It was no excess. So I think that’s what we were all afraid of, for this year that it could get way too big. But it’s still under the bubble.

The Thursday night skate market in Fažana. Ph. Will Harmon

And so how does your hometown of Fažana feel about Vladimir?
So we run Vladimir through our NGO skateboard club, August Senoa, named after the Croatian writer. And how do we get the funds for Vladimir? So we fill out applications for funding, and Pula, Fažana, all the local communities give us small amounts of money. Each one gives us I don’t know, maybe 1000 euros, so that’s not a lot. ‘Cause it’s a skateboard film festival, it’s not like a serious, big film festival. But let’s say we have 300 or 400 people that are coming to Fažana that are from all around Europe and the world. I don’t think you can find any festival in Croatia that has such a diverse, international crowd. I think people still don’t realise how important this is. But in another sense if I make phone calls, because that’s obviously my job, people listen to me, because I represent my friends. Yeah, I represent the people behind the Vladimir. So this year, I can say that the local community really understood the importance of Vladimir specifically with the Swedish gymnasium (Bryggeriet’s students) coming here. So they helped us last night at the gymnasium in Fažana. For last night’s screening I called the mayor and he said, ‘okay, I will call the principal of school and we will get the location.’

Fažana is pretty good for swimming. Ph. Will Harmon

Yeah because the screening was originally supposed to be at Brijuni Island. (Editor’s note: The Brijuni Island venue was cancelled due to the rainy weather.)
Yeah, so the mayor really helped us here, because to get into the school it’s pretty hard. We also have partners like the Pula Film Festival. We are partners with them so we can use their gear, equipment and stuff. That’s what the key of all of this is: that we are really good friends with everybody there. The managers, the directors, we are all really close and that’s because we are living in a small community and we can get to the people. If we did Vladimir in a bigger city it would cost 20 times more because everything you need to do it is an expensive rental. Since we are still small and we present ourselves as independent, and we are, people see that we are doing good things, and the Pula Film Festival knows this, so they’re giving us the gear and stuff for a small rental fee. So yeah, this year the local community really helped us.

That’s great. So apart from yourself, do you want to shout out the other people behind Vladimir?
No, no, it’s just me. I’m joking… So it’s not just me, I’m just a part of the organisation. So it’s Marco Zubak here who started the festival, Elvis Butkovic too… Elvis was here this year…

Skate trivia quiz night at Kasarna hosted by Marco Zubak and Brett Nichols. Ph. Will Harmon

Yeah, it was good to see him! (He couldn’t make it last year.)
Yeah, he got married two weeks ago. I was his best man at the wedding. Yeah, so Elvis is the main technician, Marco, then Marina who helps with logistics and everything, accommodation this stuff. Iris my girl, she’s taking care of PR, finance and all the other stuff… There’s Oleg who’s really good at setting up all the art shows and exhibitions… Tibor driving the van and doing all the stuff necessary… Then Nick Kunz helped a lot setting up the exhibitions with Marco, he was here a month before the festival. Aymeric Nocus, he did all the web texts for this year. He’s not here this time, but he’s been helping us do the text for a while. We get raw text and then we send it to Aymeric then he like spices it up for the website. Filip Tensek did interviews with Patrik Wallner and Olly Todd and last year Filip was helping do the skate trivia quiz with Marco, but this year Bret (Nichols) stepped in. There were volunteers like Sara, Tomo, Martin… Everybody has a role.

So what about most of the year when you’re when you’re not planning the festival… What are you up to?
So we all work. I work in a company that distributes graphic material. I have a full time job. I work in a warehouse. We distribute paper, chemicals, everything that is involved with graphic industries such as wine labels, medical labels, cigarette paper, glue that gets in contact with food, everything that’s based on that. So that’s my full time job. Nobody is employed by our NGO still. And also there’s Sergej here. I forgot to mention before, he’s who played the movies. He is a cinema technician. Okay, so we pay him to show the movies, but everybody from our organisation doesn’t get any money for this. Just like some volunteers and Sergej, people like the photographer, they get paid a little money, but like core of us, that’s like eight people, we don’t take any money from the council’s funding. Mostly how we finance ourselves is through the money we get from the bar in Kasarna. Because with the funding we need to pay a lot of accommodations, we need to pay equipment rental, we need to pay the venues you know… It’s not small festival, but anyway, we all work. We all have full-time jobs. I have a family… But Vladimir isn’t about making money. Even now we have some ideas for next year…

Spoken word and book readings at Fort Forno. Ph. Mikey Patrick

It’s kind of weird, one or two people were telling me they thought this might be the last year, and I don’t know how this rumour started, but that’s not true, right?
I got an email from one guy from the UK, same thing… He was asking for a spot at the skate market for selling zines. So he emailed me saying, ‘I heard this is the last year of Vladimir, hopefully it’s not that’s not the case.’ Yeah, I don’t know…

Yeah someone’s starting rumours, but I think you guys will do it again.
Hopefully, yeah.

I guess you can never think about it right after it happens. It’s like too much to take in…
I mean I got COVID, so I was not present for half if it, but from what people told me it had this really good energy this year.

Olly Todd reads from his book of poems ‘Out For Air’. Ph. Will Harmon

Yeah. I thought it was good. Last year it felt a bit much but this year it was just perfect. And then so how do you typically go about choosing the schedule for the films? I really like the curating you guys do, like this film needs to go in the cinema, this one on the open-air screen in Fažana, etc.
So for this year the first thing that we started to work on was the students from Bryggeriet. So it was a logical idea to show the movie on Brijuni Island and take the kids for a bike ride, then show their film, but also this year we it was a bit specific with locations… We had a lot of different venues; some venues fell off… But how do we curate which movie goes in each place? I think when you get the movie you know from the intro or just from the bits that you see where it could go in. For example you have… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to insult anybody, but you know you got some like more ghetto video format and or some crew it’s not gonna get played on the last day you know, it’s probably gonna be first day somewhere in the middle. So you need to think, how do we do it? It’s like we make a rough set list I say. And then I talk to Marco, I talk to Oleg and he’s really good because Oleg has been a little lazy the last few years on the board, but he really has a film eye, you know?

Oleg’s like, ‘don’t do it there; do it here, because it doesn’t it doesn’t make sense.’ You know?

But I think it’s really important how you curate the movies, because then you build the hype, you know? I think we have a lot of experience. It’s 12 years we’ve been doing it so there’s no like, there’s no formula, it’s just the feeling that, ‘okay this could go there’. Like when Brett hit us up to say, ‘okay Pathways 2 is ready’ after seven years, t was like ‘okay, we need to close with this.’ We needed to close with it because that movie deserves the finale, you know?

Century-old natural transition at Fort Forno. Ph. Will Harmon

Also, if you look at the programme this year, not a single video was online already. Well okay Mike Mag’s was, but the guy was here, all the way from Brazil, so we decided to play his movie anyways. But 99% of the films that were in the programme, were not online… So I think that’s what we aim for not having the movie too blown out… Keep it as much as possible for the festival premiere. I think what’s maybe even more important than how the movies are placed is to have them premiere at Vladimir.

I know premiering your own video of Solsticij must have been quite a highlight, but besides this, what have been some of your favourite moments from the festivals years past?
It’s really hard question. Highlights… It’s so much stuff. I think that I can say this: the biggest highlight for me is when you go into another venue and make it happen somewhere new. That’s the best feeling.

Fort Forno screenings in Babariga. Ph. Will Harmon

I think maybe people need to realise that every year things change around it’s not the same venues every year. It’s like every year the festival, it’s gonna be a different place… You know maybe sometimes you get Tito’s Island and like the Kino Vali cinema, but even this year, we weren’t there. So it’s always changing.
Yeah, yeah. But as in highlights… I don’t know… Like maybe 7-8 years ago, when the festival was, kind of smaller, and when you get recognition from people who are here telling you, ‘yeah, man, this is like the good path, continue your work, it’s good.’ It really meant something special to me. Like in the beginning, when you guys first started to come, you know, it was like, ‘oh man, we managed to get somebody from all the way over there to come!’ Now we’re used to that, you know, we’re used to people saying it’s amazing. And yeah, it of course it means a lot. But now we don’t have that much time for hanging out with all the people.

It’s true. It was different in 2014. Back then we’d go skating around together a lot! You and Marco were our Istrian tour guides.
Yeah. But yeah, highlights… When we did the Rick and Buddy’s show up in the castle, yeah, that was pretty surreal. It’s strange how we managed to pull that off… And the fort this year went pretty smooth, but it’s so much work.

I’m sure it is.
But my personal highlight of all of the years I would have to think really hard to say like, what that was… Because what I think what guides us to do it more or to make it happen next year is the people coming back. That’s Marco’s thing you know? Yeah. If you were here one time and then I try to invite you five more years and you like say, ‘Oh, I cannot make it this year, maybe next year you know,’ that usually just doesn’t happen. It’s like even if we don’t do any promotion for it, people know where Vladimir is. And people are coming here. So yeah, yeah, I think the highlight for me is people wanting to come back.

Daryl Dominguez, Josh Nice, Jim Silver and many more at Kasarna. Ph. Will Harmon

Well like you said earlier just having it run smoothly and work out every year must feel great. But I must mention last year, it did get a bit out of hand. And certain people, probably for the first time, weren’t invited back this year. How did you handle the fallout from that last year?
So it was set of circumstances. It was really hard to organise last year because of COVID. I mean, we got a special permit for the locations and no after parties were really allowed. Yeah. I think we were kind of mad after last year. Because some stuff happened that really… I mean actually, it was not that bad, but it was how the rumours spread… Like Patrik Wallner told me he heard that people ran into a zebra on the island last year. Yeah. So I was just afraid that you know from a fly you can create an elephant. So we were really afraid that we were going to lose the island. I remember this, but we managed to get it back. The people from Brijuni, it’s really hard to work with them because there’s all this bureaucracy and stuff. There’s new ladies working there who are young and don’t have experience… I’m really happy that this year was big, but chill.

Yeah, it didn’t get out of hand.
But I think people realise that when you when you come to Vladimir that you need to respect the place and everyone. This is not a shitshow with drinking, being naked and stuff. We don’t like that you know, but you cannot say to certain persons you cannot come here. But to have a group of people who do it in their own way and respectfully, it’s really nice. I mean, we don’t look at Vladimir as a skate event, you know, like on the yearly skate event calendar type of stuff; it’s independent. We don’t make money out of it, we don’t have big sponsors; it’s just like what we managed to create.

Zack, Keegan, Nestor and Kirill presenting ‘First Push: The Blossoming Skateboarding Scene in Pakistan’. Ph. Will Harmon

You and your friends have been big advocates for skateboarding in Istria and there are a lot of newer skateparks around since the first time I came here in 2014. You guys are involved in a lot of these projects correct?
Yeah me and my friends and our club (August Senoa) helped with the logistics and stuff of the new park right near Fažana on the way to Pula.

The one down the beach a bit with the humps?
Yeah that’s the one. The proposed skateboard park right in Fažana, it’s not moving because of problems with the land. So we kind of got over it, because it’s been going on for seven years from when we started to work on the project. We were really ambitious, but now we are mostly focused on smaller villages around Istria. There’s a few skateparks that are going to be built around Istria that our club helped out with. We go to talk to the mayors and the politicians to ensure them that this is a good project. Then we invite our company from Zagreb to come in and make the park. So our club is also working that way. Still we don’t get paid and don’t get money out of it, but we are doing it because we don’t have like a licensed company for I don’t know, advising people, but it’s the skate mentality.

Patrik Wallner exhibition in Pula. Ph. Will Harmon

DIY yeah…
Yeah because let’s say a city nearby Fažana wants to build a skatepark and they ordered some shitty park from catalogue. And so I would go to speak with the mayor the say like, ‘please don’t take this. I will bring you guys who can build you a great concrete skatepark for the same amount of money.’ So respond to us, because we are recognisable, people know what we’re doing and we have the power to say, ‘okay, this is our thing and we know how it’s supposed to be done.’ So people listen to us. So that’s good. So we have an impact to get more skateparks made in Istria because we are doing Vladimir, obviously.

I know sadly you got COVID here midway through the festival, but then I mean, this one went really well like you said earlier. Marco took the reins emceeing and so here on the last day are you pretty happy with how everything went?
Somewhere in my mind I was prepared that I could catch something because I was so tired. The festival is so big, with so many authors, so many emails, so many people… Between my family obligations, my full time work and Vladimir it was just too much for me and I cracked: I got COVID. I’m not depressed and stuff just like ‘okay, it is what it is’ but I’m happy that we had really good crew this year. A lot of us worked really well: Elvis, Oleg, Marco, Tibor, Iris, Marina; everybody really, really did a good job and Vladimir can go on without me guys. So maybe this is this was my last year…

Marco Zubak: Nooo!

(Everyone laughs)

Raw punk hc Cagliari played. Ph. Will Harmon

Nikola: No, no, no, I’m joking. I never got this feeling you know, because it’s so strange… Friday lying down with the fever and Sunday I wasn’t there. So I’m still feeling a bit sick, but I’m really happy for my friends. You know?

Yeah, well we had a good Facetime with you on Sunday night…
Yes! I think this year shows that the spirit is still alive.

Yeah for sure…
And the momentum is still going up, ascending, which is crazy.

So we’ll be seeing you next year?
Yeah, yeah, of course.

There was moshing too. Ph. Mikey Patrick

Is there anything you want people to know that maybe haven’t been? Or is there any help you need? Or do you need volunteers or anything? Or like, I don’t know, is there anything you could use more of?
It would be really amazing to have more time to prepare everything. I mean Vladimir seems like a really organised event, it is, but it’s really, really hard making it. This year was really free jazz: we improvised almost every night.

Marco: It’s because we depend on others. Yeah we don’t own a place with land where we can do it, so we have to ask permission. The people say, ‘yeah’, and then at the last minute the say, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do it.’

Nikola Racan FaceTiming in from quarantine to Marco and Marina. Ph. Will Harmon

So you’re left scrambling…

Marco: So this is the problem when you have others to depend on. Vladimir is too big to do it in one place, so we have to have it all around.

Nikola: Because how it all started with the locations was when we lost our DIY factories… So we thought: ‘okay, it’s gonna be too boring to sit in Fažana for two days staring at the same wall watching films’, so we had to expand, you know? We don’t even have to invite people like, ‘come to Vladimir, please come.’ I think people said it themselves: they just come. I think we made something that’s… I don’t know, it’s really hard to describe it… For now we still have the passion and love and that’s what we will need if this stuff wants to continue going. So far we are having it and we didn’t crack. Nobody has.

Marco: We’re still functioning together. Yeah no fights… And I think it needs to be like this to stay like this. I think if money gets in or something else, then the motivation changes, but it hasn’t, so I think this is why it works.

Brett Nichols introduces Pathways 2. Ph. Mikey Patrick

Yeah I see.
Nikola: I think what’s maybe interesting to say is, okay last year, and this is my personal experience, but I felt that in our organisation something was not going super well. And I think we all realised what was going on was something that was not so good, which is normal. And this year, if I could show you a picture how Vladimir looked two weeks ago we were on the edge; it was not going good. A lot of us had our own shit to do, we were tired, exhausted, Oleg did the 100 projects, Filip was fucked up, Marco was away; it was not functioning. Iris was saying to me. ‘Nikola this is not good.’ And suddenly, when the festival started, it changed. Really that’s the highlight of the year that we managed the to make it blossom, you know? Two weeks ago was fucked up and it was all that stuff that was not clear between us from last year. You could feel the pressure and tempers from last year, but this year it all worked out and it went super smooth. I don’t know if it was a sign from God, but it went really well.

Yeah, I think everyone had a great time and no smashed golf carts this year.
Yeah, the zebras are alive, ha ha.

Did I mention Fažana has the best sunsets? Ph. Will Harmon