BELGRADE INTERNATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL – BITEF is one of the oldest, most relevant, most prestigious events and a rarity in the family of major world festivals. It was founded by a decision of the Assembly of the City of Belgrade as a regular annual event of particular importance for the City of Belgrade on 26 December 1967. With outstanding promoters of culture, its founders and artistic directors (and selectors) Mira Trailović (Kraljevo, 22-1-1924 – Belgrade 07-08-1989), Jovan Ćirilov (Kikinda, 30- 8 1931 – Belgrade, 16-11-2014) and as of 2006 theatre director Anja Suša as another festival selector at its head, the festival has ever since its foundation supported and played a significant role in the promotion of novel and new artistic and cultural tendencies and ultimate theatre values.
It acquaints the spectator, indirect analyst and beneficiary with the world’s latest theatre achievements expressed through experimental and traditional form. For almost half a century it has been building our intellectual ties with the world and the world’s ties with us. Ever-advocating new and open cultural spaces, it has established remarkable contacts, undone fixed artistic hierarchies, encouraged the development of performing arts in Serbia and contributed to its affirmation in a broader context. It has also helped to form domestic theatre critique in the struggle against the parochial spirit and spiritual emptiness. BITEF is an epochal anti-traditional phenomenon of the supreme category in the Yugoslav and world culture.
The festival with its long-standing subtitle New Theatre Tendencies is a set of values, an artistic project which does not communicate definitive truths about the theatre and does not represent; instead, it opens and raises questions about some of the most sensitive issues of the modern public sphere, produced, presented or concealed in special worlds of differences and schisms in arts.
It overpowers modernist dogmas, media boundaries and disciplines and aspires to study, analyse, offer new readings and advances in artistic performance, diverse forms of representational structures and story-telling mechanisms – from prose narratives, i.e. dramatic texts in the literal sense where the literary text precedes the theatrical event to the deconstruction of its autonomy and its interdisciplinary application in other communicational systems (dance, music, pictorial, video, poetic, film, techno, physical, cyber etc. “telling of a story”). Addressing not only the production of a piece or interpretation of the performing act but also their social, political and cultural contexts and effects, BITEF cultivates the power of questioning, criticism, negation and split and does it dynamically, productively and explicitly. Political and cultural barriers notwithstanding, BITEF draws maps, responds critically to new social challenges and problems, opens social and political issues, actively re-examines its own and general artistic and theatre strategies and the ways in which they produce new theatre realities.
Its boundaries are both permeable and soft and highly confronted and tense. This is a festival with a dynamic, sharp, penetrating and comprehensive thematic focus challenged by modern understanding of theatre, performing and visual arts, study of their drift, assertion of different theatre spaces and directions, articulation of different theoretical and critical interpretations, flying in the face of hackneyed, clichéd and often boring patterns of expression and representation on stage…
Throughout the decades of its existence in complex and contradictory social processes BITEF has always kept pace with the exciting evolution of the theatre art, researching how much and in what way philosophy and other scientific disciplines such as theatrology, anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis, linguistics, theories of culture, gender, media etc make the theatre and, vice versa, which fragments of the theatre they affect.
The concept and programme of every BITEF reflect the zeitgeist, a particular spiritual and artistic cross-section of theatrical research and avant-garde trends aiming to promote new theatre tendencies.
It is often seen as a Belgrade September phenomenon whose annual thematic subtitle emits an orderly and distinctive, purposeful and meaningful content setting in motion and changing the behaviour of generations: equally those who “produce” and those who “use” arts and culture.
From its inception until 1989 BITEF has been in charge of Atelje 212 and then, after the foundation of Bitef Theatre, in its charge. Both theatres are important cultural institutions in Belgrade. Bitef Theatre is unique as, at the initiative of Mira Trailović, it rose out of BITEF achievements as BITEF’s theatre and the youngest and only Belgrade project theatre without a standing company. Bitef Theatre has a broad range of programmes, divergent concepts of performance (with no prevailing paradigm) and vertical multicultural contents. Now in its thirties, it remains dedicated to the aesthetic vertical which brought it about – the BITEF Festival.
BITEF is managed by its BOARD consisting of a chairman and four members. The Board and the artistic director are appointed by the Assembly of the City of Belgrade for a term of four years.
The Festival programme is made of the Main and Accompanying Programmes
The Main Programme offers officially selected productions; their number varies from one year to another but of late it has steadied around ten.
Meetings with authors are traditionally organised after the performance
The festival takes place at different venues around the city, in theatres and other alternative spaces.
The accompanying programmes have been a part of the festival ever since its foundation. Some of them are a constant feature such as BITEF on Film (since 1976) as the oldest accompanying programme and BITEF Polyphony (since 2000). Other programmes present annual or longer projects.
BITEF organises workshops, presentations, round tables, theoretical symposia, multimedia exhibitions and exhibitions displaying performing arts and its traditional cultural and entertainment programme called After Ten Parties.
JURY AND AWARDS
BITEF is a competitive event. Its five-member jury is selected at the proposal of the festival management. During the first twenty-five years it involved domestic artists and after that prominent figures in international culture.
BITEF has two awards for productions presented within the official selection of the Main Programme:
Grand prix Mira Trailović – for the best production. Until 1990 it was called BITEF Grand Prix.
BITEF Special Award – for the outstanding/exceptional contribution to theatre art in terms of genre, style or means of expression.
On the basis of the poll conducted among the BITEF spectators after each performance the festival also bestows the Audience Award.
As of the 11th BITEF in 1977 the jury of Politika (daily newspaper and other publications) theatre critics awards thebest director of BITEF.
BITEF is the first international festival awarded PREMIO EUROPA PER IL TEATRO (Taormina arte, Special Prize for 1999) in recognition of its particular contribution and crucial significance in the theatre art.
On 21 November 2014 Belgrade International Theatre Festival – BITEF – was voted by the users of portal Teater.hr as the best theatre festival in former Yugoslavia
Every year BITEF publishes its catalogue and its bulletin covering the festival in progress. The catalogue offers a critical review of the festival and can be bought on the eve of the festival opening. The bulletin is a short publication following current events, published every festival day. Since the 43rd BITEF 2009 it is also published as a blog and can be found at http://www.bitef-blog.rs
Of a large number of texts and publications about BITEF we should like to single out a monograph BITEF, 40 godina novih pozorišnih tendencija, dokumenta Beogradskog internacionalnog teatarskog festivala (BITEF, 40 Years of new theatre tendencies, Documents of the Belgrade International Theatre Festival) /1967-2006/ published by Historical Archives of Belgrade (2007) and Natalya Vagapova’s book Bitef: Theatre, Festival, Life (Official Gazette, Belgrade, 2010)