‘Operation Sabre’ Creators On Revealing A “Bigger Truth” About The Post-Milošević Era & Why The Show’s Serbian Premiere Had To Be Pushed Back Six Months – Canneseries


EXCLUSIVE: The creative team behind Canneseries competition show Operation Sabre wanted to tell a “bigger truth” through their drama about the assassination of Serbia‘s first pro-democracy prime minister, an event that remains raw in the public psyche.

No undertaking to tell the story of the killing of Zoran Đinđić in 2003 had been taken via TV drama, they told Deadline in the week leading up to the Cannes confab, and so they wanted to use scripted narrative devices to go beyond just this single event for the show being distributed by German major Beta Films.

“Our main narrative device was creating these fictional characters and through them we told a story that is a bigger truth – not just the factual truth – of who we are as a society, why this was happening and the choices the characters were making,” said co-creator Goran Stankovic. “Having these characters helped us tell a point of view of a story that wasn’t enslaved within the facts. We had to let that part go and be more free with the characters, to make it dramatically potent.”

Đinđić was assassinated in 2003, one year after the opening of the trial against notorious former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and 14 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which completely reshaped the Balkans region.

Starring a wealth of well-known Serbian actors including Dragan Mićanović (Layer Cake) as Đinđić and Milica Gojkovic (Black Sun) as young journalist Danica, the series follows the aftermath of Đinđić’s death. So soon after feeling such hope, the nation is plunged into chaos and a state of emergency is declared. Danica tries to investigate the real story behind the assassination and even though it puts a crosshair on his back, police inspector Ljuba, who is tasked with finding Ðindic’s killer, is willing to help her. On the other side of the law, Uroš, a young petty criminal, is drawn into the deadly plot.

While the scripted nature of the series was integral to its creators’ quest for a “bigger truth,” many years of factual research still went into its creation.

Stankovic, co-creator Vladimir Tagic and producer Snezana van Houwelingen were approached by national broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) to make the show in 2019 and spent years speaking with police investigators, witnesses, politicians and journalists to “construct our own point of view of the story,” Stankovic said, which inspired them to create the fictional characters that comprise Operation Sabre’s central narrative.

“The consequences of [Đinđić’s assassination] are something we definitely still feel in our society,” added Stankovic. “We were 18 at the time so for us it was a shifting moment in our adult lives and we felt like we really had something to say about that concrete period.”

According to Tagic, the creators discovered plenty new information during the research period, helped by their main consultant – the man who ran the 2003 police investigation.

“The public have maybe heard rumors over the years so it was for us to gain people’s confidence, understand the people involved in the process and make the story complex,” he added. “This was not black and white or good guys versus bad guys – that would be dull. It would not resonate to the truth that our society was back then and still is today.”

With unwavering levels of support and protection from the Serbian national broadcaster, which was always keen to tell a story so raw in the public’s psyche, the team at This and That Productions made the show in secret.

“Surprised and a little scared”

“We never knew how sensitive this topic is today for politicians,” said producer van Houwelingen. “A lot of the politicians involved are still in power and on the other side a lot of the criminals that were convicted are now out of jail. So we kept it under the radar in order to keep our actors and crew comfortable.”

Those who they did tell were “surprised and a little scared” when informed that they were making a show about Đinđić, according to Tagic. “They asked us, ‘Why are you doing this now? Please think about it.’,” he added.

But the end result has reaped rewards with Beta jumping aboard to send the story global and Canneseries selecting in competition alongside the likes of European co-pro This is not Sweden, Newen-backed Moresnet and Brazil’s Living on a Razor’s Edge.

Being part of Canneseries did, however, delay the Serbian premiere of Operation Sabre for six months. This is because a show can only have aired in its home country before featuring at Canneseries, and RTS regularly launches its big shows across the Balkans region in order to boost ratings. Stankovic said he is happy with the decision and that the autumn is a better time to launch Serbian TV shows than February.

The trio are now hopeful that the world is being given a window into a piece of Serbian history that goes beyond Milošević, a tyrant who ruled throughout the 1990s during the Yugoslav Wars and subsequently became the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes.

“Since Đinđić was in power for less than two-and-a-half years it wasn’t enough time for the international community to get to know him really well,” added Stankovic. “We want people to know more about Đinđić and less about Milošević, because that is part of our history that we are not proud of.”

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