Critically Acclaimed Director: Vinko Brešan

Vinko Brešan, one of Croatia’s most well known directors, isn’t afraid to take on projects that approach sensitive historical and cultural subjects with a sense of humor – and viewers love him for it.

Schooled in film and television in addition to philosophy and comparative literature at the University of Zagreb, Brešan began making short films in the late 1980s. He won awards for the documentary shorts Lunch Together (1993) and The Corridor (1994). Two years later his first feature-length film, How the War Started on My Island, brought him widespread critical acclaim.

How the War Started on My Island, 1996

Still from ‘How the War Started on My Island’, 1996

The film, set just after Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, follows art historian Blaž Gajski to an unidentified Croatian island where he attempts to rescue his son, who had been serving in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). The situation on the island is tense and chaotic as the locals and the JNA commander struggle for power. The commander threatens to blow up the barracks if they are taken by force, and in response, the locals organize a festival, complete with rock bands and performances, in front of the barracks.

Audiences seemed to appreciate a more humorous take on the war: it became the most popular Croatian film of the 1990s and rated one of the best Croatian films of all time. It won several awards, including three Golden Arena awards for Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Costume Design at the 1996 Pula Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Cottbus Film Festival in 1997.

Brešan’s second feature-length film, Marshal Tito’s Spirit (1999) achieved international acclaim. The story of Partisans on the island of Vis who claim to see the ghost of Josip Broz Tito – which in turn sparks other sightings and Yugo-nostalgic business opportunities – probes issues surrounding the tremendous changes Croatian citizens faced after Tito’s death.

This year, Brešan has enjoyed critical acclaim for his film The Priest’s Children, also set on a Croatian island; but this time, Brešan explores the controversial subjects of religion and contraception at a time when sex education is a hotly debated topic in Croatia. The Priest’s Children tells the story of young priest Fabijan, who, religiously motivated and concerned about the declining birthrate in his country, begins poking holes in all of the condoms available on his small island with the help of a local kiosk clerk and pharmacist. Released in January, The Priest’s Children became a boxoffice hit with the highest number of opening weekend attendees since Croatia’s independence.

Witnesses, 2003

Still from ‘Witnesses’, 2003

Brešan’s other films include wartime thriller Witnesses (2003), Will Not End Here (2008), and the television series Prodovi i sprovodi and Bitange i princeze.

The Priest’s Children trailer (Continental Film)


Written by Elaine Ritchel (@elaineritchel)

Images courtesy of

Explore More