Yugoslavia and the Folk Dress

Photograph by Joseph Hammond.

[W]hen Nina Platisa talks about Yugoslavia, her eyes travel up towards the ceiling and just for a moment it seems as though she is daydreaming.

But her head isn’t in the clouds – nor is she completely starry-eyed – because when she launches into discussing her heritage, it’s obvious that Platisa knows her stuff.

“When I decided to make a traditional folk dress from Yugoslavia for my final thesis, I thought, ‘This could be bigger than me just making the costume, I could involve more people who believe in the same sort of thing,'” she explains.

So Platisa is making a documentary, chronicling her journey through the six nations that used to make up Yugoslavia – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia Slovenia, and Croatia. She hopes to travel to the countries in the summer of 2013.

She is joined by her family members, like her grandfather and grandmother who are helping her work on wool-making and crocheting, and her peers and professors at school, like Caroline O’Brien, head of costume at Ryerson Theatre school.

“This costume never existed, which is why people have a hard time understanding what I’m doing,” Platisa says. “This documentary could plant an image in their mind, or at least get them to start to thinking in that way.”

Platisa is taking distinguishing qualities from each of the former republics, and putting them together to form what the Yugoslavian folk dress could have been. In her journey to build this mythical dress, she is experiencing the hostility that exists between the countries, and the complex and violent history that tore the people apart.

“At one point all these countries were one, and while they always did have a different cultural identities, they ultimately are all part of the Balkan region,” she says. “Their politics, their struggles, their recent war…people are so set on being against something, they forget that different people are going though the same things.”

Platisa explains that the tensions among these countries are all based on their common journey through division, and she hopes that her documentary will can communicate people’s stories with the struggle of identity.

“Listening to someone else’s story is the biggest thing you can give them,” she quotes, laughing because she is citing another documentary’s words. “You know that actress Charlotte Rampling? When I saw her documentary this summer and I heard her say that, I thought, ‘That is exactly it. This woman knows it!'”

She says that it is exactly what her documentary aims at doing – communicating people’s stories.

“It’s not just about the Yugoslavian country, it goes further that that. Every country has an issue with identity. Identifying yourself as an individual, what you stand for. The documentary isn’t just about one specific culture, it’s just a mere example of what is going on in many people’s minds and countries,” Platisa says.

She explains that the nation’s divide remains a “very touchy subject,” and it could be troublesome getting people to open up to her.

“It’s hard to even try to explain it to people who have my background because all of the sudden someone’s going to say, ‘Well you grew up in Canada, so you don’t really know what those real tensions are, or why peoples still feel that way,'” she says. “But I do, I just know it from a different perspective.”

Platisa says it’s difficult to understand why people don’t want to get past those tensions, because “all everybody wants in every culture, every religion is just to be happy – to not have conflict, to live in harmony.”

“If for an hour and a half, that’s what the documentary lets people see, in my journey in piecing together this costume, then I’ll be happy with that.”