Postcards from Dalmatia was filmed in the former Yugoslavia between 1958 and 1960 to promote tourism along the coasts of what are now Croatia and Montenegro. Postcards was created in cooperation with the Yugoslav National Tourist Board (then located in London) as part of a BBC Passport series. Today AR and IMAX make it hard to imagine the potency of this film genre especially since short travelogues were mostly relegated to filling in gaps between feature films. This twenty-two minute documentary is emblematic of Josef Broz Tito’s open door policy which helped position Yugoslavia as an international tourist destination. Focusing on the coast, Postcards branded and marketed the Croatian beach vacation. The film to follow is archived at Periscope Films LLC headquartered in Los Angeles.
Postcards from Dalmatia is narrated by Scottish actor and educational and documentary film narrator James MacKechnie. MacKechnie is known for his role in the 1943 satire and homage to 19c and 20c Britishness, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Rotten Tomatoes review here Several British actors read awestruck, giddy sounding postcards they sent to loved ones back home. Postcards follows in the footsteps of pioneering tour company founder Thomas Cook (Thomas Cook & Son, Ltd, 1872) for inserting a few elite 19c Grand Tour attitudes into ordinary 20c mass tourism. TripSaavy Vacation Like a Pro morphed the idea to a newer iteration. Postcards like most travel writing to this region of the world, is indebted to Dame Rebecca West (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1941). It may have inspired the influential travel website Total Croatia News (TNC). Croatia has been the passion and home of Manchester born journalist and TCN’s CEO Paul Bradbury since 2003. This year Bradbury became involved in a lawsuit with The Croatian National Tourist Board.
Postcards from Dalmatia is quaint, charming and peppered with some maddening commentary. Narrator MacKechnie characterizes Ivan Meštrović and Diocletian as ‘local boys who made good’ while camera and narrator admire their hometown, Split–‘once the center of the world.’ The film relentlessly objectifies women in bikinis and in traditional dress. Female voices pine for their romantic partners and complain about smelly changing rooms on Opatija’s ‘bathing station’ (long since removed during renovation). Male voices poke fun at themselves and brag about newly acquired worldliness by stereotyping women tourists according to their nationality. This awkward mix of social commentary, snarky humor and historical facts is works in part because of BAFTA-winning cinematographer Arthur Wooster’s beautiful camerawork. His closeups of Croatians and tourists are sensual–they seem to embody a languid summer day. Although its hard to compete with gorgeous 4K aerial shots, Wooster captured the Adriatic’s sparkle and sun-mellowed architecture in Split, Sibenik, Dubrovnik and Budva, Montenegro. I wished for footage of Pula and Zadar.
Postcards from Dalmatia is a snapshot of time and place that now exists only in memory. Low res images–and the inclusion of Montenegro– help to impart a wistful, Yugonostalgic feel to the film. The narrator’s animated reading of the postcard’s flip side draws viewers into moments of discovery that tourists love to document and share.
Postcards are a popular media and art form connected to travel and the postal service. ‘Wish you were here’ and ‘Greetings from…’ are ubiquitous postcard messages usually sent from places that are vetted to be relaxing, invigorating, exciting, educational. They are staples in exhibitions displayed at The Croatian Museum of Tourism, and the subject of a recent book by postcard collector Igor Goleš. Postcards are personal, hand selected artifacts/souvenirs which tell the receiver that the sender is genuinely thinking of them while they are experiencing something important. As a historical document that time travels well, Postcards from Dalmatia convincingly presents tourists having a ‘nearest to heaven’ summer holiday that many people would wish for today.