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Houston, we have a problem !

Friday 29 July 2016, by SIGNIS

Houston, Imamo problem ! by Ziga Virc, Rep Slovenia, 2016

Karlovy Vary, July 29th 2016 (Guido Convents). The title of this film Houston we have a problem! seems familiar because it comes from the remark "Houston, we’ve had a problem here", said by James Lovell of the Apollo 13 moon flight in 1970 to inform the base in Houston that they had a technical fault. Those words echoed all over the world. What has to be said is that the film has nothing to do with Apollo 13 and the prediction that a disaster could happen. Now it is used to attract the attention of the public to a story based on something else that went wrong in connection with the US space programme.

What makes this story special is that it is about the American space programme in which Yugoslavia was said to have been involved. It tells us about the Yugoslavia’s President Tito, the Cold War, secrecy and space programmes in the sixties. The film recounts how Yugoslavs started working on their own space programme after the Second World War and how the Americans became involved.

They believed Yugoslav technicians could help the US space programme and they decided to buy their technology and to bring secretly 26 Yugoslav engineers to the USA. To do so, accidents were staged for the engineers in such a way that even their families wouldn’t know of the existence of the project. The film was said to be based on recently declassified CIA documents.

The story allegedly covers the period from the 1930s to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The first scene shows how before the war, people in Yugoslavia were experimenting with fireworks and small missiles. In the war, the Nazis had a rocket programme and Tito had also begun to develop one.

Then came the Cold War, Tito loosened ties with the Russians and made contact with the Americans. They paid Tito, in the early 1960s, 2.5 million dollars for Yugoslav technology. But then the Americans wanted their money back. Tito did not want to come to terms with them. It gives the impression that Yugoslavia was linked to the American moon missions, that there was a link with the assassination of Kennedy, that the debts of the Yugoslav space programme brought about the break up the country and that the Cold War history we know today is not the whole truth. The film ends with the “homecoming” in 2010 of one of the engineers who had been sold to the US. He came back to see his daughter who was not yet born when he disappeared. Emotional scenes, but for some it was humorous!

For someone who does not know anything about the history of space programmes, the Cold War and Yugoslavia, the film seems to be uncovering a forgotten interesting side of the past. Documents are used, people who are indicated as witnesses testify in front of the camera, archival films are used in abundance.

It is told in a very convincing way. But it is a mockumentary. Nothing that is told is true, although archival footage was used. This makes the film very interesting. A fiction story can be told in such a way, using historical sources that one believes it is true, although it is completely invented. This is the heart of the matter.

How can one believe or trust documentaries, after seeing this one! Some will say: “you see with images and words” everything can be stated and proven. In fact it is a pure fiction. One can have three attitudes towards it: the first is to say that such films are dangerous if taken seriously, the second is that it is incredible how images can be manipulated, in putting them in other contexts and with other connotations, and the third is that it is a fine fiction film with a good story which is highly entertaining.

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