Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hot Docs 2014 Film Review - The Agreement

Yugoslavia broke up into several smaller countries in the mid to late 1990'. Border disputes have long been settled amongst most of the countries except for territory between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia was the heart of the former Yugoslavia united Baltic States and includes the former capital Belgrade.  Kosovo is the last state trying to formally distance themselves from the old regime. Kosovo's northern territory features 4 areas that are mainly Serbian. The dispute between the two has some similarities to the current dispute in the Ukraine that mainly centres around Crimea a part of the Ukraine that has a mainly Russian population.

The task to reach an Agreement between the two sides falls to Chief U.N.  negotiator Robert Cooper. Cooper a history junkie full of timely antidotes from the past and a habit of multiple tie changes per day knows the relationship between the two factions is so volatile that recognizing Kosovo's independence is not even on the table.  Instead if they can agree on a border and establish an independent voice for Kosovo in local affairs Serbia can begin the process of joining he European Union.

Director Karen Stokkendal brings the viewer directly to the negotiation table. The proceedings are  tense, dry, procedural, sarcastic and surprisingly funny The action is driven by the two delegation leaders Edita Tahiri for Kosovo and Borko Stefanovic for Serbia. The camera follows each to their home base. Stokkendal camera explores the building where former teach Tahir hid during the Balkan War when the Serbs were hunting her. Stefanovic speaks of his former days in a rock band and gets his former mates back together for a song for the production.

The tedious nature of back and forth negotiations are keenly followed in the piece. Leaving the table, the room, the building and the country is used as a tactic. Shutting off communications all together is another tool used as well. How discussing actions of the past easily open old wounds or the inclusion of one word in the final draft can almost derail the negotiations entirely. All the while Cooper plays the role of Mediator keeping the negotiations somewhat on track browbeating a side when needed but also realizing that letting people vent is required to get to the next point.

The Agreement is a captivating presentation that appears at times to be a cross between high stakes poker and a game of chicken. Then on other occasions appears to feature adults acting like 4 year olds that can't play together in a sand box. It's history unfolding before Stokkendal's lens. With the current events in the Ukraine one wonders if a companion piece featuring Cooper may be in the offering for that conflict in the near future.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

The Agreement |Karen Stokkendal |Denmark/Serbia & Montenegro/UK/Serbia/Belgium| 2013|58 Minutes.

Tags: Negotiations, Diplomacy, Balkan Wars, European Union, United Nations, Brussels, Serbia, Kosovo.

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