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The making of Plitvice Magic

Credit card saying "filmed in Croatia by John Dean."

Why on earth did you want to go to Croatia?

Somebody asked me that at the Kent Film Festival.  I think it was probably self evident why, when you consider the scenery in the film is just one iota of what we saw there.

As you may have guessed this was filmed on a two week holiday in Croatia. Plitvice National Park is a world heritage site in the heart of Croatia. It is a massive area, near enough the size of Wales and has sixteen lakes and innumerable waterfalls surrounded by ancient forests, in some areas very densely.

Splashing stream. A shot of lakes and forest from high above. Another waterfall.

The Croatian government have the park maintained so that it is as natural as possible, trees are allowed to stay where they have fallen naturally, and the balance of nature is upheld in all areas. There are no motorised vehicles allowed, apart from the forest rangers, no boating, no fishing or swimming allowed in the lakes.

There are wild boar, wolves, and brown bear in the far reaches of the forest and although we saw the evidence of bear, i.e., scratched tree trunks, we did not actually see one face to face thank goodness!

A ruined house.
Familiar images of war ruins...

Tank tracks on road fading away into the distance.
but the tanks have gone...

Barriers moved aside to leave road clear.
and the barriers cleared aside.

Preparation was nil!

We, (my partner and I) spent every day in the forests, but off the beaten tourist track. I had been there twice previously and knew that just a few feet away from the 'madding crowd' was like being in another world.

It really is a most magical place, with a very strange and ancient feeling which is what I tried to convey in the film. I wanted to get away from the "This Lake has umpteen gallons of water in it, which fails into sixteen water falls and then flows into xyz etc etc." type of travelogue. I wanted people to see the things that the tourists usually rush past, like the faces in the rocks, and the very weird shapes of some of the trees.

I just filmed things that I liked or that fascinated me, and in all had three and a half hours of tape to choose from.

Close-up of an insect. A snake crawling over a branch above a stream. Close-up of a butterfly.

The difficulty was in deciding what to leave out.

We obviously had shots of interesting Croatian people and events, but I decided that it was best to stay with one theme. The format then seemed to fall into place, being the three areas of forest, fields and water.

One of the suggestions from the IAC 2002 Competition judges, was that there should have been more commentary to explain the different types of wild-life, but basically, in a short film like this there is not room for this without taking the attention away from the visual effect which I felt was more important. After all, we all know a frog or a snake when we see it!

I have seen documentaries where the consistent gabble over beautiful scenery has been totally distracting, and did not want this for my film.

A cave in the forest. Waterfall. Close-up of a frog.

As we all know music is very important in helping with the feeling and atmosphere in films, and my partner, Val  Weller, chose the music, after sitting and going over many CD's for many hours, (much more fun than ironing!).  She picked some 'new age' music some from the BBC, and a small piece of copyright-free, which I blended together.

The trouble with copyright free music, is that it is often very bland 'wallpaper' music, so I don't use this very much, and as we belong to the IAC we are luckily covered for Film Festivals. I usually only use copyright-free music for things like Free Screen, where I have had some success with films being shown over the last few years.

I use a Sony digi-eight, and have so far been very pleased with the results, and use Windows Media Studio for editing. I try to use transitions and effects minimally, as I feel that these are often overdone these days as people become more obsessed with the technical side and leave the aesthetics to fend for themselves!

Close-up of a snail. Attractive fungi. Nightfall and moonrise over the forest.

So far Plitvice Magic has been well received gaining Best Film at Kent Film Festival, Best use of sound, and Best Film in the South East Region, Silver Seal at IAC Movie 2002 and two sections being shown on Freescreen. It has now been chosen as part of the UK's entry for the UNICA 2002 Festival.

- John Dean


The striking choral music is in the Croatian klapa style by Klapa Navalia. John and Val met them performing locally.  They became friends, were given a special performance and were granted use of their music. The film's closing shots of the moon were taken as that musical night ended about 4a.m.

John is evangelical in encouraging everyone to visit that beautiful part of Croatia. He advises: take the land-train to any point in the park, step off the beaten track and settle down for a few minutes to enjoy the peace and wildlife. The insect close-ups come easily, he insists: set camera on table-top tripod or rock and wait! Trips on the lakes are in silent electric boats, if you are lucky accompanied by a class of youngsters singing local songs.

The LCD screen on his camera was extensively used to show local people his recordings of them and their country.  He even brought tapes taken fifteen years earlier before the war which so shattered that part of the world. For this film some 3½ hours of tape were edited down to 10 minutes.

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Page updated on 09 October 2011
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