Croatia was represented at the International Film Festival in San Pedro with two award-winning films, while the Croatian Heritage Foundation participated with a documentary about the veterans of the Hajduk football club. The screening was accompanied by a performance given by the women’s Klapa Izvor band out of Los Angeles.
An international film festival was established in California’s San Pedro nine years ago. It is not by chance, then, that Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission, has expressed her gratitude for the contribution of the local community in San Pedro. She noted that San Pedro deserved to have its own film festival. The festival is led by director Ziggy Mrkich with Maya Bristow and Frane Jerković of the Croatian Culture Center in San Pedro serving on the board. The Center and the Los Angeles department of culture are among the sponsors of the festival.
This year’s festival, running from 12 to 14 October, featured screenings of thirty-four movies from Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Croatia and the USA. Croatia was represented by two award-winning films; the feature-length Noćni brodovi (Night Ships) and the short Get A Move On. The Croatian Heritage Foundation participated in the festival with a football (soccer) documentary entitled Veterans of Hajduk, with the screening accompanied by a performance by the women’s Klapa Izvor a cappella band out of Los Angeles.
The festival opened at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, with US Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich among those walking the red carpet.
Following the festival and the presentation of a book about the veterans of FC Hajduk, the head of the Split branch office of the CHF met with representatives of Croatian associations. Talks were held with Mirjana Tomić of the Sveti Duje Benevolent Society, gathering emigrants from Split for the most part, about the organisation of next year’s celebration of Split patron saint Sveti Duje (Saint Domnius) feast day. At its annual festival the society always collects donations to assist institutions in their native city and have to date provided aid to the Lastavica association, the Mileva Tomić home for children and youth, the Slava Raškaj centre for psychosocial rehabilitation, an autism aid society and others.
Outside of San Pedro a visit was made to the Croatian-American Club in Las Vegas, founded in the 1980s by Goldie Zrna. In the late 1990s its leadership was assumed by Bosnian Croatians who now constitute the majority of Croatians living in the city. The association is led by American-born Tomislav Buntić. The association has registered at least 260 ethnic Croatian families in Las Vegas, meaning that the number of Croatians in the entertainment capital of the world exceeds one thousand.
Early November will see the famous Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas play host to the Croatian Fraternal Union’s 26th Tamfest, featuring performances by fourteen folklore ensembles, most from the US east coast and Canada, twelve tamburitza ensembles and the Klapa Izvor band out of Los Angeles. The members of the Croatian-American Club of Las Vegas were happy to help out in the organisation of the festival in spite of not having a Croatian Fraternal Union lodge in their city.
The Croatians of Las Vegas also do not have a church of their own, but do attend Croatian language masses thanks to the efforts of Don Mate Bižaca, a native of Postira on the island of Brač—a delegate of the Catholic Church in the USA and the parish priest at St Anthony’s church in Los Angeles. The church is located in the core of Los Angeles and was erected in 1910 at the location where a large Croatian community once lived—with time they moved to new homes and a Chinese community grew there. At St Anthony’s church they teach catechism, folklore and organise sports activities in spite of the fact that most of the local Croatians now live quite a ways away. Don Mate Bižaca makes the rounds of the Croatian community in other places as well. Besides in Las Vegas he also holds mass for Croatians in San Diego, Phoenix in Arizona and in Denver, Colorado.
In the northern Californian capital of Sacramento there is a very active Croatian community working in the frame of the Croatian-American Culture Centre. The Center is led by its president Milan Matošević and vice presidents John Susac and Andrija Topic. With their capable executive secretary Mike Zupan and treasurer Steve Matulich, a lawyer, the Center is notable for its organisation of complex and quality culture events that aim to promote Croatian heritage and Croatia in general in the United States of America.
They launched the Croatian Extravaganza, a large festival, thirty years ago that every year gathers folklore and tamburitza ensembles from across America and guests from the homeland. This year the guest star was Đani Stipaničev. The festival is preceded by a parade featuring the event participants in Croatian folk garb, hymns and speeches and an offer of Croatian cuisine from different part of Our Beautiful Homeland.
The Croatian-American Culture Centre was founded in the 1970s. Today it is the owner of an impressive building with a beautiful garden with fountains and benches bearing the names of the major donators.
That the bonds with their roots are very strong was demonstrated by the Croatians of Sacramento even prior to the construction of the home as in 1989 they established the Croatian Scholarship Fund. The Fund was founded by Branko Barbir, Anthony Ujdur, George Kumparak and Bob Bronzan. Over its first twenty years the Fund has provided aid to 115 young Croatian students. The current president is Nina Jurjević and vice president Mary Ann Pavic. The Fund organises very well received humanitarian concerts to raise money for scholarships. This year’s concert, held on 14 October, featured a performance by the 2 Cellos group of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser.
The Croatian-American Culture Centre intends to retain this high level of achievement in the future but also hopes to increase the number of activities, especially those related to youth who wish to learn the Croatian language and folklore. Traditions are deeply regarded here and invested in with the aim of preserving them for future generations.
Text by: Branka Bezić Filipović