Promoting Croatian Tourism Through Film: Spomenka Saraga Interview

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February 17, 2020 – Meet one of the unsung heroes of Croatian tourism promotion and learn how Spomenka Saraga is using film to showcase Croatia and its location filming potential. 

Tourism arrivals from South Korea have soared in Croatia in recent years, from just 16,000 to over 400,000. Rather than this being part of a coordinated official strategy, the main reason was due to the popularity of several Korean reality TV shows which  

Spomenka Saraga is director of her own production company called Balduči Film. She has won numerous awards for her tourism films and she is director of the Zagreb Tourfilm Festival, which is the international festival of tourism film that is held in Zagreb.

Where did you get your love of film?

My love for films was determined by the place I was born. I was born across the road from the legendary Jadran Film production company and from early childhood, I saw actors and later I would see them on TV. So in a way they were my neighbours. At that time Jadran Film produced a lot of American films. It was of course Yugoslavia back then, and when the actors went to buy some things, a lot of people didn’t recognise them. People lived more relaxed lives back then and when they walked around the town in those costumes it was very interesting to see.

I started working in Jadran Film and soon decided that documentary film was the niche which interested me. Within documentary films, I started to love tourist films and that love has lasted until the present day. Then the love for tourist films became a love for travelling.

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Credit: Spomenka Saraga

According to you, what does a good tourism/travel/promotional film has?

A good promotional film has to show a location in its natural way. The film has to have a target to the which public is intended. While working with a tourist board I always ask them what is their target age of tourists. Are those older people, couples, families, young people and what do you want to show tourists? Sometimes you can cover the whole age group. But it depends if the attraction and location can cover it, like Rijeka.

In our last film about Rijeka, we addressed people from Europe, people from Croatia to visit Rijeka, which is the European Capital of Culture for 2020. In that film, we wanted to address everyone. We wanted them to come for one or more days in Rijeka or simply spend their vacation there. Rijeka is a big town but also has beautiful beaches. They can also find great accommodation and go on excursions outside of Rijeka.

The most important thing about good promotional films is that the clients know what they want. Locations are different in their way. You can’t address young people and families with children with the same location. Young people want to go out in clubs, loud music, dance and that is different what families want. Families want peace. The second important thing is the music. A lot of clients told me that music is not important. We choose music to fulfil all the criteria. Even our Croatian authors are now making great music, which follows global trends.

In Rijeka I Miss You, you covered things for young people as well.

Yes, because a town like Rijeka has it all. You have bars, night clubs for young people. Also, there are restaurants, both fast food and restaurants with good food, because it is a big town. The same goes for Split and Zagreb as well, or any other bigger town. Right now city breaks are modern. People come for a couple of days and they come with direct flights. Towns need to have good connections with destinations. It is great when you can come in the morning with your flight and then spent a few days and then catch a night flight. That is very convenient for young people and business people.

What can you tell us about Balduči Film?

I worked in Jadran Film for over 30 years and unfortunately that firm was destroyed like many others in Croatia. Before the Homeland War, Jadran Film was one of the best production companies in Europe. They even called it Little Hollywood. We had studios, laboratories and we did great films, such as Night Watch, Death Train, Sophie’s Choice, Fiddler on the Roof and some of these films got an Academy Award.

Because of the combination of these circumstances in the firm, I asked myself what now? I only knew how to work with films, so I decided to open my own production company. I can proudly say that in almost 13 years, my company hasn’t had any debt or problems. The company produces tourist films but also offers foreigners which come to shooting in Croatia for reality shows from China, Korea, England, the United States, the Netherlands and more. Thanks to our production connection with Korea, today Croatia has more tourists from Asia. Not so long ago we finished a reality show with a production company from Wales. We finished six episodes for a reality show that we worked in Lošinj, where Lošinj came across as a great destination. It showed great production and we were surprised with great service. On that project, we worked with a production company from the Netherlands. In one day, we shot one episode and we finished in eight days and preparation lasted for five days and it all went perfectly.

We also shot the second season of PTSP: Sexual harassment, the previous one was shot in Norway and the second in Lošinj. It is a great show, female patients came with their therapist, they had everyday therapies and sessions in a beautiful environment, where they enjoyed excellent nature and food which Lošinj offers. We looked through a lot of islands and destinations and Lošinj came out as the best one.

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Credit: Spomenka Saraga

What do you think about Croatia as a film location?

That is also one of the segments in which I work. I work as a location scout. The first film that I made about film locations in 2006 was the only film we have ever had. This year we finished a new film about locations in Croatia and I have to thank the Croatian National Tourist Board which gave me the support. We showed the coast and continental part of Croatia. The film sadly didn’t cover all the locations, it even lasts longer, like seven minutes. However, it is hard to summarize everything in two minutes and that is exactly how long they had to last. If someone wants to visit locations in Croatia, that film is a great invitation. And it also shows the diversity that Croatia has. The producer needs to have the ability to move on the ground from one location to another and Croatia has that advantage. Croatian advantages are roads. Also, for example, Makarska has mountains which are very close to the sea. Split also has harbour from which you can quickly come to islands.


Dubrovnik is so beautiful and whenever you turn your camera you can’t go wrong. The problem of shooting in Dubrovnik is that they are too many tourists. To shoot in Dubrovnik, you have to close the town and that is very hard. So you have many night scenes. This year the town has started paying to use the location for films because sometimes damages can happen or pollution, but the team of filmmakers clean it. The citizens of Dubrovnik are proud of the fact that famous productions are made there. That is a great promotion of not just Dubrovnik, but all of Croatia. With this movie about film locations of Dubrovnik, we want to call film producers to visit and use other places in Croatia.

Mamma Mia 2, was shot in Vis, but the first part in Greece. When I was in Greece at a congress where I had a lecture on How a film location can be a tourist attraction. A the end of the lecture, many people admired how Croatia managed to get that. But they were also angry because Vis portrayed a Greek island. In the films, we have a problem that Croatia often doesn’t represent itself, but other countries. I agree that towns should play real towns, like when we shot in Rovinj and Šibenik and they played their real towns. That is a good thing for the promotion of films and locations for films are cheaper and sometimes they can be free. But if the town represents the other town, the rent for the location of the town should be paid.

We have a commercial for Heineken in Rovinj with a James Bond then. First, it is showed Rovinj and then you see it is a commercial for a Heineken.

You have produced a lot of films about Dubrovnik over the years

In the last 30 years, I worked with Branko Baureom which came from the production company Jadran Film. The first film that was shot in Dubrovnik after the war, was Dubrovnik Riviera that worked Baldo Čupić. The first film that I worked with my production company is Unique Dubrovnik, after that Dubrovnik and Time. Eleven years ago I made a film whole Dubrovnik Riviera and it is called Magnificent Jewels. That is a film about Dubrovnik county

Last year we made a film Dubrovnik Riviera, which won nine awards. We even won two American awards. One of them is Telly awards and we won third place in the New York Film Festival.

DUBROVNIK RIVIERA – FV from Balduci Film on Vimeo.

For what film it was a great honour to win?

Every movie is a great honour, but when great festivals get to know your work. Visit Lika won a silver award in America, second place in Riga, an award in Portugal. On that film, I worked with director Boby Grubić, who won three Emmys. In order to make a great movie it is important to know what people like, what clients like, and how to reach to them.

VISIT LIKA from Balduci Film on Vimeo.

Dubrovnik is a great love for me, I love Dubrovnik like I was born there. For American filmmakers, I showed them new script and locations which would be good. At first, they weren’t interested, because they had their own standard story of Dubrovnik. But overnight they liked my idea and they were excited. They saw a sea egg and Stone walls. It is great that part of the county is preserved and that people look after it.

How does the promotion of Croatia around the world look like?

A lot of people who do not know people from Croatia or have never been there, see Croatia in a bad way. When they see film or hear stories, they think that we are a small, poor country. When I show people tourist films which are different than documentary films and news video, where they saw a situation in Croatia, people are very surprised when they see how great it looks. They say that we are a real European country. A country with a great sea, nature, and they are surprised by our roads. How quickly they can go from one place to another. Of course, they are thrilled with Croatian National Parks, because for example in Plitvice lakes people love nature and waterfalls. Many people come to Croatia and they don’t dare to drink our water because they think is polluted. They would rather buy it. But we can be proud because we have clean water. Croatia has a lot of stuff to offer. It is a beautiful country, with nature and fresh air. We should consider the price and quality. It is not a problem to pay if that price satisfies the quality. When you go to other countries, you pay a big price for a meal, but you get a quality one. During the winter we keep our hotels closed, but I think if we give lower prices, we would have tourists then too.

How long does it take to make a tourism film?

The idea of what to shoot takes most of the time. After we decide what do we want to shoot, then things go smoothly. The most important thing is the preparation. When you make a film, it is important to make more plans, because you depend on the weather, so I always have Plan A, B, C. So if Plan A or any other doesn’t work, I always have a backup. It can often happen that we make a film and then we change the concept. For example, in Dubrovnik Riviera, we changed the music, because we thought it would go better than the previous one. We are always careful when we choose the music, we want it to go to the pictures and that the client likes it. If you want to make a low-budget film, the minimum is five days. But if you want to make a quality film, you have to have time for that. The optimum time for that is eight to ten days or more. It depends on the location and the places which you have to visit. When we make it, we pick the best cadre and after that, the editing is done very quickly. It takes about five days, but it depends on the length of the film. Sometimes you have to have colour effects because you don’t work under the same conditions. But when you look it from the start, the beginning, organizing, the script, it takes let’s says two months.

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Credit: Spomenka Saraga

What do you think about Croatian film festivals?

Croatia can be proud of its festivals and hospitality. Festivals always offer people to stay, food, they make great organization and welcome them. From day one, we want to make their stay very beautiful. Some people are shy and we make sure to connect them to other people, so they don’t feel bored or left out. We always want to feed our guests well and many guests from other countries are very surprised when they find out that food on such events is free. In other countries, if you want to eat something, you have to pay for it.

In the Sarajevo film festival, they work hard to satisfy their guests and that is the reason why it is one of the best festivals in Europe. In a short time, it became a great festival like one in Cannes and Venice.

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Credit: Spomenka Saraga

Tell us a little about Zagreb TourFilm festival?

Organizing such an event is not that simple. We owe a debt of thanks to Amelia Tomašević, the previous director of the Zagreb Tourist Board, who saw potential in the promotion of tourism through such festivals. In a way, she was a co-organizer. Later we continued working with Martina Bienenfeld, the current director of the Zagreb Tourist Board, which supported the festival because it is a mutual festival between Zagreb Tourist Board and Balduči film with other sponsors as well. My experience at other festivals allowed me to see what is good and bad. In the first year, we set the bar very high, so later it was really hard to surpass that. With the help of Luka Benko, from Zagreb Tourist Board and Niko Bulić, the previous director of Croatian National Tourist Board, we made a great festival. Every guest praises the festival, as it can be seen in the reaction of the quests, which come for the first time, or they have been here. Also, ambassadors in Croatia show satisfaction about the festival. They are amazed how their country gets promotion through the festival, they are happy that their film was shown to the Croatian people.

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Credit by: Spoemnka Saraga

The benefit from these festivals is that journalists in countries that won the award are writing about it. We have a lot of articles abroad, for example in Japan. We recently got information that fifty portals have written about a film and their director who won an award in Zagreb. So that is the promotion of the town and country abroad. Sometimes people come to the festivals for three days, but they often extend their stay for a week or even more.

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