4th Sarajevo Film Festival
August 21-30, 1998
Sarajevo, which forms a long and slender shape alongside the Miljacka River, is certainly a beautiful city, woven by the diverse cultures of various people. It was originally the capital of Bosnia which achieved independence through the efforts of a south Slavic leader. Later it was ruled by the Ottoman Empire; then it became a part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, and finally Yugoslavia.
Because of its history, the East and the West mingled; different ethnic groups such as the Muslims, the Serbs, the Croats, and the Jews lived as neighbors; religions such as Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism co-habited; and alphabets such as those of Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin co-existed. Even if the Sarajevo Film Festival's "Open Air" (outdoor cinema) plays the slow dance music of Full Monty, or "Besame Mucho" of Great Expectations, we hear prayers praising Allah from the loudspeaker of the mosque. The Winter Olympic Games, the festival of sports for peace, was held here in 1984. Who could have imagined that the war would strike Sarajevo several years later?
SFOR troops (the NATO-led stabilization force) are stationed in various parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sarajevo is filled with soldiers from all over the world. Although we spot heartbreaking remains from the war here and there, both the city and the country are under re-construction and making a recovery. The film festival began simultaneously with the cease-fire and counts this year as its fourth. Literally it is the symbol of peace. We have watched Sarajevo live on television and many documentarists have come to film it. Moreover, a number of feature films use this place as their stage, including Jean-Luc Godard's Forever Mozart (France and Switzerland); films taken from the perspective of third party reporters like Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo (UK) and Gerardo Herrero's Territorio Comanche (Spain); and a work depicting the view of the local people who stayed, Perfect Circle (Ademir Kenovic), which was the first Bosnian film opened the last year's film festival. When I put reality together with those visual images, I am petrified from an unspeakable and deep emotion, and indescribable emptiness.
The film festival is divided into four categories. "Main Program" is the title of the international competition; "Open Air" seems to lean towards Hollywood; East European films are featured in "In & Out"; and "Made in Bosnia" is made up of new and old works from Bosnia. In addition, the "Special Program" framework takes up films that don't fit in other categories, such as animation for children provided by Buena Vista, and the works of FAMU, the Czech national film school.
"Main Program" is further divided into long and short features. Most of the long features were already shown in other film festivals such as Berlin and Cannes, including Tsai Ming Liang's The Hole (Taiwan), Carlos Marcovich's Who the Hell is Juliette? ("¿Quén diablos es Juliette?," Mexico), Lars von Trier's The Idiots ("Idioterne," Denmark), and Nakagawa Yosuke's Blue Fish ("Aoi sakana," Japan). In brief, The Hole quietly portrays a woman and a man whose point of contact is a hole in the floor. The man lives upstairs on the floor with the hole, and the woman lives downstairs and is annoyed by water leaking through the hole. Everyday space turns into unusual space and creates a somewhat Kafkaesque world. Caught in it, the man and the woman live lonely lives. Glorious show scenes are thrown in repeatedly, cutting off depressingly ordinary days.
The Idiots is said to have been fairly controversial in Cannes. It is about a group who pretend to be idiots. Since they are "disabled," they ignore the rules of civil society and abandon all ceremonies. The film tells its story in episodes, deconstructing the narrative structure. The style of fake-dilletantism, where a shaking camera reveals the microphone repeatedly, shows the maker's provocative intention, following his last work Breaking the Waves. The director seems to be among the performers outside the camera's frame, but I think it's excessive taken that far. The FIPRESCI Award was presented to another provocative work, I Stand Alone ("Seul contre tous," Gaspar Noé, France). The protagonist thinks he has failed in life, but aims to start anew. He seems to embody the right wing of the general public in France.
On the whole, short features were more lively, but I can only touch on two titles here. Tales from the Underground (Tim Rolt, UK) is shot with six frames per second. Jingle Bells (Olivier Peyon, France) tells a story in which the Santa Claus some brothers met on Christmas Eve was a woman in her last month of pregnancy.
Just looking at the program does not tell much. By actually coming to the scene, I felt that I understood the meaning of this film festival for the first time. Originally, its intention was not to invite many guests and present awards. Here the local people need pictures as a means of self-expression, and one fruit of that is the film festival. I imagine that not many other places need film festivals as much as this one.
The war (1991-1995) caused 200,000 deaths in Bosnia and Herzegovina; within besieged Sarajevo, with a population of 500,000, 12,000 were killed and more than 50,000 were injured. The result was numerous refugees and orphans. To the youth, UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) offers opportunities to make animated films. The official opening, Armageddon, was screened in the "Open Air Cinema" and I felt that the choice was a mismatch. Yet, short animated works by children were shown before Armageddon and they were the real opening. In between each film, short introductory pictures of the filmmakers were inserted. One girl appropriately says, "(Creative activities) produce confidence."
Numerous sponsors support the film festival, including the United Nation's Trust Fund and the European Culture Fund. Furthermore, the film festival itself provides funds for young filmmakers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The audiences were able to see those funded films in the "Made in Bosnia" category: seven short fiction films and documentaries, shot on 35mm or 16mm film, and animated films for children. In terms of the audience, the "Open Air Cinema," which transformed a sports field into a 2,500-seat cinema for the festival, was completely packed everyday.
The "Made in Bosnia" program had two main divisions: mostly classic films of the "Bosnian Film Best 10" were shown at the Kinoteka movie theater and new works were presented at Obala Meeting Point, the main movie theater within the modern Arts Center. The new works were further divided into the above-mentioned short features, a short video program in cooperation with a contemporary arts exhibition, television (video) documentaries, and the rest. Both theaters were small: even the main Obala Meeting Point has 190 seats and Kinoteka has only 80. However, the latter was especially overflowing with young people.
The Bosnian classic films were ten chosen movies made in the about thirty years between 1958 and 1989. They included two films by Emir Kusturica and two films by Bato Cengic, Little Soldiers ("Mali Vojnici") and Pictures from the Life of Shock Workers ("Slike iz zivota Udarnika"). The latter was not only the best film among all those in the film festival, but also an exceptional masterpiece. The film is based on a real heroic worker whose face appeared on paper currency, although he is forgotten now. The man injured his vocal cords by working too hard. It sounds like Man of Marble ("Czlowiek z marmuru") by Andrzej Wajda, but the film's approach to history rather reminds me of Theodore Angelopoulos. Through the hero's life, the realities of post-war Yugoslavian history are sketched in quite a symbolic way that does not fit well with socialist realism. The film Pictures from the Life of Shock Workers was censored and banned soon after the completion. The director and the actor attended the screening and received thunderous applause after its the presentation. However, the actor told us that the same politicians at that time still control politics now.
The Sarajevo Film Festival Fund, established in cooperation with domestic and foreign sponsors, financed eight projects: seven shorts and one collection, "Lights and Shadows" ("Sjene i Svjetla"), made up of five animated works by children. A separate judging committee for the eight projects was set up and selected Love is . . . ("Ljubav je...") by Jasmila Zbanic as the best film and Pjer Zalica of The End of Unpleasant Times ("Kraj Doba Neprijatnosti") as best director. Love is . . . is a surrealistic work that puts together a pregnant nun and a couple. The End of Unpleasant Time portrays a widowed man's tender feelings towards a woman with a wonderful singing voice who lives across the street. The film also includes a scene of people crowding the distribution of food rations as well as, to my delight, the same actor from Pictures from the Life of Shock Workers.
Needless to say, film production requires staff members. Production support not only trains young generations, but also secures working positions. As a result, many staff members can work in film production. Instead of money, the prize is 16mm film stock donated by the sponsors. A feature-length documentary featured in "Made in Bosnia," Greta (Haris Pasovic), tells of the memories of a Jewish woman who lived through two wars and two difficult circumstances. The camera moves from the snow-filled Sarajevo of today, to Auschwitz, Paris, and Israel, following Greta's steps. As she calmly narrates, shots of her facial expression are inserted. Compared to the quiet pictures of Sarajevo and Auschwitz, which reflect the maker's feelings, the camera's dynamic movement in Paris is amazing.
Finally, let me touch on the East European works in "In & Out." The most popular and well-attended film at the festival, except the works for a wide audience at the "Open Air Cinema," was The Hornet ("Strsljen," Gorcin Stojanovic). I mentioned earlier that this film festival symbolizes peace. As a matter of fact, however, inspections of one's belongings took place every time at the "Meeting Point" and the "Open Air Cinema," and the severest inspections by police officers were at The Hornet. This was to be expected: the protagonists of the film were a man and a woman who just met and escaped from terrorism in Belgrade. The woman is a Serb, and the man who pretends to be a mysterious Italian is an Albanian and also a Mafia hitman. Tracked down, the man runs away to his homeland Kosovo. The film opens and closes with the woman's English monologue. Regardless of the film's quality, The Hornet is a noir story of crime and love, and at the same time a drama about the loss of homeland.
A much more interesting and entertaining work is Buttoners ("Knoflikari," Czech) by Petr Zelenka. The six episodes, beginning with one in Kokura, Japan, on August 6th, 1945, are somehow connected. The United States Army airman who dropped the atomic bomb appears at a broadcasting station in present-day Prague. Another man who caused a car accident makes a final telephone call to the airman. The film deals with the main themes of confession of guilt and forgiveness, using comical situations and conversations close to grotesque black humor. It should also be a warning to us who rarely recognize our guilt.
Translated by Inoue Hazuki