Ski Race for the Yugoslav Championship in Planica near Rateče – the Film Debut of Veličan Bešter and His »Re-Birth«
Between February 21 and March 5, 2023, Planica was hosting FIS Nordic World Ski Championship, and in the first days of April, the valley below the Ponce mountain range was also the venue for the closing competitions of this year's Ski Jumping World Cup.
Ski competitions in Planica near Rateče have a very long tradition. This is clearly reflected in the film Ski Race for the Yugoslav Championship in Planica near Rateče, which was shot by a photographer and Slovenian film pioneer Veličan Bešter (1891-1938) on February 26, 1922. In addition to being of extraordinary importance both for the history of the Slovenian cinematography as well as for the history of the Slovenian sport, this Bešter's film debut is also the first preserved documentary reportage film by a Slovenian filmmaker and was produced by his newly founded film company.
In 2021, the film was digitally restored and in the process of doing so, we discovered certain details that are very interesting in the broader context of the history of the Slovenian film. During this year's World Nordic Ski Championship, the Slovenian Film Archives donated a digital copy of the film to the museum of the Planica Nordic Centre, where it will be on display for the visitors.Smučarska tekmovanja v Planici imajo zelo dolgo tradicijo. To dokazuje tudi film Smučarska tekma za prvenstvo Jugoslavije v Planici pri Ratečah, ki ga je Veličan Bešter posnel 26. februarja 1922. Film je izjemnega pomena tako za zgodovino slovenske kinematografije kot tudi za zgodovino slovenskega športa. Je prvi ohranjeni dokumentarno reportažni film slovenskega avtorja in hkrati Beštrov prvenec, ki ga je posnel pod okriljem svojega filmskega podjetja.
Film smo leta 2021 digitalno restavrirali, pri tem pa odkrili nekaj za zgodovino slovenskega filma zelo zanimivih podrobnosti. Digitalno kopijo filma je Arhiv RS v času letošnjega svetovnega prvenstva v nordijskem smučanju (prav na 101. obletnico nastanka filma) podaril muzeju Nordijskega centra v Planici, kjer bo na ogled obiskovalcem.
The film recording titled Ski Race for the Yugoslav Championship in Planica near Rateče was shot by a photographer and Slovenian film pioneer Veličan Bešter (1891-1938) on February 26, 1922. In addition to being of extraordinary importance both for the history of the Slovenian cinematography as well as for the history of the Slovenian sport, this Bešter's film debut is also the first preserved documentary reportage film by a Slovenian filmmaker and was produced by his newly founded film company.
On February 15, 1922, Bešter was the first in Slovenia to be granted a filmmaking trade licence. The licence was issued for the studio in Aleksander Street 5, aptly called by Bešter » Slovenija-film, prva slovenska filmska tovarna (Slovenia-film, the first Slovenian film factor)«. Bešter was the first among the Slovenian filmmakers to use the technique of tinting individual film frames in this particular film, and the film itself is the first Slovenian film record on the subject of sport. The race was the first such ski competition organized in the valley under the Ponce mountains. In addition to competitors from sports clubs in Ljubljana, Celje, Jesenice and Kranjska Gora, there were also participants from Zagreb and even one that arrived from Belgrade. Among female competitors, all except Majka Mayer, who came from Šoštanj, were members of various sports clubs in Ljubljana.
Ski Race for the Yugoslav Championship in Planica near Rateče is also the first Slovenian film to be screened in a cinema. The premiere took place on April 6, 1922 at the cinema Ideal in Ljubljana; the present day Komuna cinema. According to the newspapers of that time, the film was very well received by the audience, offering them a chance to see themselves on a big screen rather than just watching those Slovenians, »who were in Vienna taking part in Festzug 1909 in Trachtengruppe Oberkrein«(as observed by the newspaper Jutro). The film captures the magnificence of the Julian Alps with Mount Jalovec in the forefront, the grandeur of the Ponce mountain range and Mount Ciprnik, and shows the most interesting sport moments, as well as, of course, the competitors themselves. As many as 60 skiers (53 men and 7 ladies) took part in the competition. When identifying the winner and the first runner-up in the women's competition, we were greatly helped by Mr. Mirt Martlanc, the grandson of the winner Talka Šepetavec, and by Dr. Jasna Mueller, the daughter of the first runner-up Milena Bloudek. Both female competitors were good friends and members of the Ilirija Sports Club in Ljubljana. Also identified was Prof. Rudolf Badjura, »walking at the head of his army of quick feet« (as observed by the newspaper Jutro).
During this year's World Nordic Ski Championship, the Slovenian Film Archives donated a digital copy of the film to the museum of the Planica Nordic Centre, where it will be on display for the visitors. In 2022, Mirt Martelanc also donated to the museum a special award, which his grandmother, then 21-year-old Talka Šepetavec, received upon winning the competition in 1922.
Similarly as almost all of the preserved Bešter's films, this silent film was also shot on 35 mm nitrate film tape, in black and white and with intertitles, characteristic for the silent films of that era. Camera was manually operated, resulting in uneven recording speed, which viewers could observe during the screening of the film.
In the archive of the former company Triglav film, located in Trnovo in Ljubljana, the only preserved copy of the film was a nitrate film copy with tinted parts of the film. Intertitles are of yellow-brown shade, while skiers and the landscape are a shade of blue. To achieve such colouring, Bešter made use of the tinting technique (tinted films).
Between 1969 and 1976, a decision was made that, for safety reasons, films on flammable nitrate film tape were to be copied to uninflammable acetate film tape. This copying was carried out at the film laboratory of the company Viba film, where the only preserved nitrate film copy was used to make a double positive and a double negative, together with two screening copies. However, during this process, several key factors were overlooked. Although the film was shot in a silent format (no sound traction), in copying it, a sound format was used. As a result, part of the picture was cut off, a feature most clearly observed in intertitles. They also failed to take into account the projection speed, which for silent films is between 18 and 22 frames per second, and, most importantly, they disregarded the colouring of the original film. Namely, the copies were not tinted but made in black and white technique.
In 2021, the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia decided to digitally restore the film, along with two other Bešter's films titled King Alexander at Bled (1922) and The Final Journey of National Martyrs to Their Homeland (until now known under the title The Burial of Judenburg Victims, 1923). The film laboratory L'immagine Ritrovata Film Restoration & Conservation in Bologna was chosen to do the restoration, and Rado Likon and Radovan Čok, both of them directors of photography and members of the Slovenian Association of Cinematographers, were as experts invited to help us with our projects.
Having made a detailed technical review of all the preserved film tapes, it became apparent that the only suitable copy for digitization was the nitrate base copy. Here, we recorded a high, on average more than 1.2% shrinking of film tape, and continuing rain scratches along the picture, both on the base as well as on the emulsion side. The nitrate copy is 121 metre long and contains 6373 frames.
In digital restoration, we used 4K resolution and the original format of the picture. The picture was stabilized and cleaned. The tinting of the original picture was preserved as well as the original projection speed, which in this case is 20 frames per second. The length of the digitally restored film is now 5 minutes and 20 seconds.
The final outcome of such digitization is a film, which managed to preserve all the characteristics of the technology of that time and is the best possible approximation to the earliest preserved nitrate copy. The digitally restored version of the film is now kept in long-term preservation form (DPX format), in DCP, and, in accordance with FIAF recommendations, also transferred on a film tape.
You are kindly invited to take a look at this digitally restored film.
Tatjana Rezec Stibilj and Roman Marinko
Ski Race for the Yugoslav Championship in Planica near Rateče
Cinematographer and editor Veličan Bešter
Produced by »Slovenija-film, prva slovenska filmska tovarna«, 1922, 35 mm, black and white with tinting, 121 m, 5' 20'', silent; DPX, DCDM, DCP, screening in MP4 format
Reference code: SI AS 1086, Zbirka filmov, no. 18