Sarajevo and Kyiv, two cities united by war and cinema

Sarajevo and Kyiv, two cities united by war and cinema

Sarajevo was the last European capital to face siege in the 20th century. Kyiv was the first European capital to be attacked in a war in the 21st century. “The first days of the Russian invasion, when they bombed Kyiv, this is where many of us remember our experiences in the 1990s, we cry when we think of a possible Sarajevo 2,” says Edin Forto, Prime Minister of Sarajevo Canton, most important of the 10 that make up the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Next to him, in a conversation with EL PAÍS, the director of the Sarajevo Festival, Jovan Marjanović, agrees: “This event was born in 1995, when the city was still under siege, and from the beginning of the Russian offensive we understood that we had done to help its filmmakers, to screen their works, to set up a residency program for its creators… In short, to open our sections to Ukraine. We cannot live by gestures alone, we must act”. This emotional line that connects the two cities, which the Bosnians underline as soon as they are asked, runs through the program of their film competition, which is currently celebrating its 28th edition and is becoming the most important film event in Southeast Europe. and whose organizers describe it as the “engine of soul reconstruction” of this city and a “possible example” of future festivals in Kyiv.

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The Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Serguei Loznitsa, the most important filmmaker in his country, referred to this painful connection when he accepted the heart of honor at the opening gala last Friday, which was rounded off with a retrospective on his work: “Ukrainians feel your brothers and more at this time . Thank you for not forgetting us.” Two days later, in a morning master class, he pointed out: “I bet on using all possible means to move the public. I’m not a purist documentary filmmaker, dramaturgy is for me essential in the documentary.Cinema is for influencing people.A few hours later his film Donbass (2018) was shown in the Meeting Point cinema, a modern theater with 191 seats and two entrances, one straight through a gray side alley and the other through the busy one Cafe on the facade There was a half-door on that Sunday, with onlookers including couple Tarik Gordić and Milica Džebo, both in their fifties.”We didn’t know each other, but we both lived here during the almost four years of the siege. When I burst into tears when I saw the Russian attack on TV,” says Džebo. Three other university students, Matea Domuzin, Dragana Džombeta and Bojan Varda, w were born after this war. “We had already seen Donbass. However, it seemed important to us to come here to support an author like Loznitsa,” says Varda in crystal clear English.

If Marjanović (Sarajevo, 42 years old), who is making his debut as director of the event despite having been part of the organizing team for 19 years, wants to highlight something, it is that the festival, which has a budget of three million euros, is designed for the public , which exceeds the population of a city of 280,000, almost 400,000 if you include its metropolitan area. “Of course we have a lot of Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian participants, but also Romanians and Turks who only come to watch films,” he says. “This edition is the first at full capacity after the pandemic and we hope to conclude with 100,000 spectators at the screenings.” The competition has paid for EL PAÍS’ stay.

Sarajevo Festival director Jovan Marjanovic presents filmmaker Serguei Loznitsa (right) with one of the festival's honorary awards.Sarajevo Film Festival Director Jovan Marjanovic presents filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa (right) with one of the Sarajevo Film Festival honorary awards

And then there is the industry. Today 1,200 accredited people meet in CineLink, his industrial area. “Not only are we the most important cultural festival in Bosnia, but we have created the meeting place for the film industry in this part of Europe and this year also attracted visitors from Western Europe,” stresses Marjanović. Among the many round tables held over the first weekend was one on armed conflict: Can cinema help promote peace?

Interestingly, CineLink holds its meetings at the Europe Hotel, the city’s most traditional and pompous hotel, two blocks from the most hackneyed corner of the 20 Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot dead by a Yugoslav independence fighter in June 1914, making the First World War I and the earthquake that ended the monarchical superpowers that had ruled Europe for centuries. It was here that the film Hotel Europa (2016), which explored the emotional situation in his country, was made by filmmaker Danis Tanović, the only Bosnian to have won an Oscar thanks to No Man’s Land. “I don’t think the current situation in Kyiv and the 1425-day siege of Sarajevo are comparable,” Tanović told EL PAÍS. “Yes, it seems to me that both cities are capitals of countries fighting invasions. I do believe that a film festival like this serves to rebuild the soul of a city, to awaken the longing for better times and to satisfy a fundamental part of human beings, the thirst for culture. And I hope that next year Ukraine will defeat Russia and I can take part in the film competition in Mariupol.”

Opening of the Sarajevo Film Festival last Friday.Opening of the Sarajevo Film Festival last Friday Sarajevo Film Festival

In the city that bursts with life in the terraces and bars in summer, in which the increase in tourism from the Persian Gulf (countries that have also invested in the reconstruction of Bosnia) is noticeable and in which there are hardly any traces of holes are bullets on the facades of the buildings in the old town – on the other hand, the road to the airport confirms that “especially in the suburbs”, as Prime Minister Forto confirms, there is still a lot to be restored – at sunset thousands of their neighbors go to some of the four open- Air spaces set up by the festival. The largest, with a capacity for 3,000 people, called Coca-Cola (one of the sponsors investing the most in the event), is tucked away near the National Theater, the main venue of the event.

Two surprises lie hidden in a huge block courtyard, where each side contrasts with the diversity of its architecture (a boring Soviet-style block, several nondescript apartment buildings and a crumbling Austro-Hungarian-era building). First up are those 3,000 plastic chairs, half of which go up a step. Second, that the screen is supported by two almost dilapidated houses whose owners tend small gardens. This type of real estate pops up in every nook and cranny of Sarajevo. “Their owners refuse to sell, probably because they are the houses they were born in and they are like islands between blocks of Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman architecture,” they point out from the festival. It was in this room that a jubilant Ruben Östlund presented the opening film The Triangle of Sadness, the last Cannes Palme d’Or, on Friday, and received another heart of honor. Fifteen minutes later, he repeated the presentation in the Stari Grad room, also open to the sky but much smaller, across the river from one of the city’s landmarks, the City Hall and National Library, which were razed to the ground in August Raised to the ground in 1992 and now resplendent in the splendor of its Spanish-Moorish style.

Mads Mikkelsen on the red carpet at the National Theater before receiving an honorary award at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday 14th. Mads Mikkelsen on the red carpet at the National Theater before receiving an honorary award at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday 14th. FEHIM DEMIR (EFE)

“It’s important that you understand that if Sarajensers are passionate about something, it’s the cinema,” says the canton’s head of government and head of the social-liberal group Our Party. Forto (Sarajevo, 50 years old) worked as a journalist during the war and still remembers the beginning of the festival in October 1995: “The cans of the 37 films came through the tunnel of hope [800 metros a cinco metros bajo tierra que comunicaban el aeropuerto con el barrio de Dobrinja, y que sirvieron para introducir víveres en la ciudad y evacuar heridos durante el asedio]. Tickets were paid for with money or cigarettes, and 15,000 spectators came. Wim Wenders sent So Far, So Close! But most of all, I remember the line of people waiting to see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, shown in a basement in French with no subtitles. A bombardment began in front of the projection, and nobody moved on the street. No one. There was a longing for culture, for normality. And all for a movie we wouldn’t understand!”

Day view of the big open air hall in Sarajevo.Day view of the large outdoor space in Sarajevo DADO RUVIC (Portal)

Almost three decades later, the competition is showing 51 films in its four competition sections, 20 of which are world premieres. In addition, there are other sections, such as the already mentioned tribute to Loznitsa or Kinoscope, a world panorama that includes three Spanish films: Pacifiction by Albert Serra; Unicorn Wars by Alberto Vázquez and the brand new Golden Bear Alcarràs by Carla Simón, which almost filled the hall of the Punto de Encuentro cinema at three o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday (“And that at the same time a film was shown Bosnia in the official part”, says Marjanović).

Renowned filmmakers such as Loznitsa, Americans Paul Schrader and Jesse Eisenberg – the actor is presenting his first film as a director –, Swede Östlund, Englishman Michael Winterbottom, Israeli Ari Folman and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who is now collecting the 2020 Sarajevo Heart of Honor, an issue frustrated by Covid. And of course another local character, Jasmila Žbanić, who starred with Quo Vadis, Aida? Last Thursday, at a screening in the Coca-Cola Hall, as a prologue to the event, Žbanić presented a preview of his new film, a documentary about the industrialist, organizer of the Sarajevo Olympic Games and the city’s mayor, Emerik Blum (1911-1984). He did this to solicit public cooperation in his quest for visuals and Blum anecdotes. As a sign of good knowledge of his neighbors’ passion, Žbanić said to them: “You love cinema, help me”.

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