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In 2014, the Sarajevo Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary. While gaining widespread fame, becoming the largest such event in Southeast Europe and promoting the work of regional artists, the festival also reflects the essential role that cinema has come to play in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Meanwhile, we bring you a list of the five Bosnian films you need to see in order to understand the country’s complex culture.
During the siege of Sarajevo from 1992-1996 residents of the Bosnian capital became trapped between warring factions while living under continual shelling with scarce water, food, electricity and medical supplies. In spite of this constant terror, artists, musicians, writers, actors and filmmakers fought a peaceful revolution against the ethnically motivated violence surrounding them, and attempted to promote the city’s cosmopolitan culture through art. Residents often risked their lives to attend the numerous plays, concerts and films shown during the war, including the first Sarajevo Film Festival, which bore the title Beyond the End of the World. Filmmakers have continued to play an important role in Bosnia’s transition by confronting atrocities and aiding in the creation of a common historical memory.
Ademir Kenović’s The Perfect Circle was one of the first films about the Bosnian conflict to receive international recognition. The story revolves around the figure of an alcoholic Bosnian poet who, after sending his wife and daughter abroad, decides to stay in Sarajevo and await death. Upon befriending two orphaned boys, the protagonist finds a renewed desire to survive and attempts to unite the boys with their aunt. In 1997, the film won both the François Chalais Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Filmmaker Jasmila Žbanić’s films have been influential in confronting the sensitive topic of the mass rape and torture of women during the Bosnian conflict and its consequences. In Grbavica: The Land of my Dreams a single mother struggles to make ends meet while avoiding questions from her teenage daughter about her father’s death. The film won awards for best film and peace film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2006.
Žbanić’s more recent film For Those Who Can Tell no Tales follows the journey of an Australian tourist who experiences acute depression during her stay at a spa hotel in Visegrad. After discovering that the hotel had been a detention center for women during the war she begins to investigate, further uncovering the town’s concealed past. In both films Žbanić demonstrates how society’s failure to recognise the victims of sexual violence during the war has impacted the country’s healing process. While films like these serve to bring this issue out into the open, the subject continues to be taboo with many victims facing stigmatisation within their communities. It was only in 2008 that the UN Security Council recognised that, ‘rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide,’ signaling the long road ahead to universal recognition.
Arguably the most famous film to come out of Bosnia, Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land conveys the anger, frustration, emotion and helplessness felt during the conflict by using a combination of satire and drama. Rather than having a central character, the story follows UN peacekeepers, journalists and three rival soldiers who get caught in the middle of a battlefield. This method is particularly effective in capturing different perspectives on the conflict creating a film that overcomes the potential for a one-sided account. The film won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards and Best Screenplay at the European Film Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival in 2001.
Having already won a number of awards at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, Tanović’s latest film An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker promises to be another important film for Bosnian cinema. Unlike the others, this film departs from the topic of the Bosnian conflict and instead highlights the issue of contemporary discrimination against the Roma community in Bosnia. The film recounts the story of a Roma woman who, lacking health insurance, is unable to receive medical attention after a miscarriage. One of the most unique aspects of the film is that the actors are actually playing themselves enabling the film to capture the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists. Though the film is focused on the Roma community in Bosnia, it echoes the discrimination that’s felt across Europe, thus widening the film’s international relevance.