Proposal for “Motel Trogir: The East is west of the West”

Motel Trogir (2006/2016, 12:20 min)
Research documentation for proposal ‘East is Western from the West’
Produced on location 2006, edited 2016
(Password: Trogir2016)

This proposal is based on German Indians in the Balkans, an unfinished film project initiated by me in 2006, dealing with a historical investigation of the extremely popular German -Yugoslavian Western movies that were co-produced in former Yugoslavia 1960-1970. Utilising the original films as a cinematic map, my mission was to research the complex web of historical and narrative threads tied to these locations. During my research I discovered the abandoned site of what I now know was Motel Trogir, Your call provides a rich opportunity to develop the subject as a continuation, actualisation and activation of its present context.

Post-war Germany’s own Arizona was located in Yugoslavia. Between 1962 and 1968 some of former Yugoslavia’s most scenic national parks and places were used as locations for German Western movies, all based on the adventure novels by Karl May (1842–1912), and set in a highly idealised Wild West and Middle East topography. The Indian Winnetou and his white blood brother Old Shatterhand became cinematic role models for Germany’s first TV-generation.

Cinematic nostalgia has created its own kind of tourism: adult Karl-May-fans of today travel to the original locations, reporting and photo-blogging the change of each scenery, even staging minor Winnetou re-enactments in character. When Yugoslavia collapsed, many of the locations were devastated in the civil war, not without a sense of historical irony. Utilising the original films as a cinematic map, my mission was to research the complex web of historical and narrative threads tied to these locations, dealing with the Wild West on screen and the Wild East on set, with Yugoslavia as a playground for a German Western Utopia (see work in progress I tried to make contact with local history, geography and people, giving landscape and landmarks priority as a (film)-historical ground.

During my research I discovered the abandoned Ghost Motel Trogir in July 2006. With a growing meta-historical awareness for places with cinematic quality I was excited about the site, but wasn’t able to find out anything behind its purpose. No one was interested in questions, so I was left alone recoding footage I knew was significant to me, yet beyond my Western movie project (see work in progress The Wild East film-sets had somehow merged with Post-Yugoslavian ruins of a modernist utopia. The site emerged as an environment neither built for work nor war, but for a society that had overcome political, ethnic and class struggle, a futurist concept and aesthetic regime in which tourism, leisure and recreation served the well being and unification of its people.

Where German Indians in the Balkans as a historical project remains unfinished and archival, encapsulated in its conditions, the footage from Trogir and its open-ended questions have long been calling for a different approach. Your open call MOTEL TROGIR: The East is west of the West was like a long awaited call from the past — or an old future. Your project provides a rich opportunity for me to develop the subject in a new direction, actualising and activating its present context, i.e. the production of histories from geographies that have often been overlooked or little understood in the West. After all, Wild West phantasies and Socialist Utopia manifested on Yugoslavian ground display certain similarities and connections: aiming for peace between people, a need for heroes in organizing a better society, and a colonising of land for the greater good – a set-design for grand narratives, of which only micro-histories remain.

It is with great enthusiasm for this project, but also concern for my actual age, that I want to confirm my interest. Hoping for possible exceptions, I hereby send you a proposal itself containing a “narrative [that] is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story”. If relevant for your consideration, my research for German Indians in the Balkans was initiated when I was only slightly over 35.

Timo Menke Stockholm, 2016-07-20