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Exotic Sarajevo Film Festival Discoveries and Award Winners

Exotic Sarajevo Film Festival Discoveries and Award Winners

The Sarajevo Film Festival’s existence has much to do with the specific gifts and personality of its charismatic founder and director, Mirsad Purivatra. He’s a man of the arts as well as the advertising industry, having run McCann Erickson Bosnia as well as a prominent Sarajevo theater company that also played around the world. The festival grew organically, in leaps and bounds, to where it is today, born during the brutal four-year Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996), when 13,952 people were killed, including 5,434 civilians. After declaring independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serb Army thought they could swiftly take over Bosnia Herzogovina by conquering its capital. But that never happened.
It’s horrifying to talk to people who actually endured the siege. During the first year there wasn’t much contact with the outside world. The Serbs took over the Olympics side of the mountains, setting up snipers with a clear view of the streets who picked off military fighters and civilians at will. The Serb Army bombarded Sarajevo’s infrastructure with artillery shells. The buildings in Sarajevo are still pock-marked and while many have been patched and repaired, others are abandoned ruins. One moving story, made into a documentary, is the Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo, a couple both age 25, Bosniak Admira Ismić and Bosnian Serb Boško Brkić, who were killed by snipers on May 19, 1993, while trying to cross the Vrbanja bridge to the Serb-occupied territory of Grbavica. Their bodies were left lying for eight days as it was too dangerous to retrieve them in the open. Burials were an issue during this time; they had to take place at night. 
Families huddled in their dark homes with no electricity and very little food. Bread was produced locally, somehow, and after a year the U.N. took over the airport and NGOs delivered supplies. Many children were sent away to live in other countries, separated from their parents, much like the World War II London blitz. The Bosnians built a narrow tunnel from a secret home outside the airport that burrowed under the tarmac and emerged on the other side. Food, gifts, and people were able to move through, single file in one direction, on a schedule. The tunnel saved Sarajevo.
Out of this madness and deprivation, the seeds of the Sarajevo Film Festival grew: social, communicative, oriented toward human rights. People with no way to communicate came together to watch videos in a safe basement. After the siege a screening series was born, and it grew apace, fostered by many international filmmakers. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron supported the first 1995 festival, delivering–at some personal peril– a print of “The Little Princess.” Mark Cousins, Angelina Jolie and others supported the cause.

French designer Agnes B., inspired by the plight of Sarajevo, designed a heart which she placed on fund-raising t-shirts. Purivatra had the insight to ask her to let him use that emblem for his festival logo–and the big prize of the fest is called “The Heart of Sarajevo.” (This year’s winners are listed below.)

Today the burgeoning festival draws 100,000 guests (many from neighboring Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia) and features a competition among the Eastern European regional premieres (Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey), as well as a strong Kinescope selection of festival faves. I caught up with Andrew Haigh’s excellent Berlin hit “45 Years,” Jeremy Saulnier’s well-directed (and very violent) Sundance entry “Green Room,” which A24 will release stateside, and likely Colombia Oscar submission “Embrace of the Serpent,” an elegant black-and-white tale of white explorers and their mystical native guide on the Amazon. 

The festival tributed Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, and also devoted retrospectives to Armenian-Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan and Philippine late-bloomer Brillante Mendoza, who has made 16 idiosyncratic films in the last 10 years. I liked his latest film, moving verite essay “The Trap,” about marginal people living in the path of coastal typhoons. “We always try to have a director with a strong combination of film language, storytelling, acting — different skills,” Purivatra told me. “Someone who brings something different. Brillante is a great storyteller; very straight, with no compromises. The visual style, the film language — it’s all there. We decided to have him as talent just to show it’s not just with skill. It’s really something you have as a person. If you have to be different, be yourself. Don’t try to repeat other directors; try to find your way. I think Brillante found his way. If you watch them, all his films are different, through the phases of life. I think all of them have not only film art, but life.”

Gaining by far the best reaction of the films I viewed there was Cannes Directors Fortnight entry “Mustang” (Cohen Media Group) which won the Heart of Sarajevo award as well as an acting award for the cast. Turkish actress-turned-writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature tells the story of a family of five school girls who are caught frolicking innocently with boys in the surf one day and subsequently are clapped in prison inside their home, subjected to virginity tests, until they can be married off. Each time one manages to escape, the family adds higher barriers and window bars to keep them enclosed. (The film will play Toronto.)

The CICAE award went to Cannes Un Certain Regard prize-winner Dalibor Matanić’s Croatia/Serbia/Slovenia film “The High Sun,” which depicts the high cost of Serbo-Croat hatred in a triptych of thwarted romance, somewhat distractingly played by the same actors. You could hear a pin drop in the National Theatre as the Sarajevo audience clearly responded to these three wrenching tales of ethnic heartbreak and dissonance.

“It’s stayed in our mind,” said Purivatra, whose programmers have organized a Human Rights Day at the festival for ten years; this time it was focused on immigration. “It’s only 20 years, but we are still paying the price of all these crazy things we had in ’92 and ’95. Still, we’re dealing with the past. The consequences of some decisions or reactions, the genocide and some operations where hundreds of thousands of Serbs went out of Croatia — it’s some kind of a tectonic change in the whole region. It’s demographic; it’s psychological. That’s one reason I think Dalibor is so important: he’s dealing with it in a very, very clever way.”

Winning a special jury prize was debut feature director László Nemes’s Cannes award-winner “Son of Saul,” the official Hungarian Oscar submission, which Sony Pictures Classics will likely unveil stateside at Telluride, followed by Toronto and New York. “Son of Saul” went through the festival’s 12-year-old co-production market CineLink, “the biggest co-production market in this part of Europe,” said Purivatra. “I could compare it with the one in Rotterdam or Torino Lab. We are offering, every year, 15 to 18 projects from the region. Bear in mind, some of those projects are not developed in the right way. We are offering script-doctoring, budgeting, promotion, pitching. Like the Sundance lab. They’re preparing for four months the project, then they’re bringing it to the festival, and then we’re inviting the producers, TV companies. And many found developers and financiers here, like Semih Kaplanoğlu’s ‘Honey,’ winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, and Florin Serban’s ‘If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,’ the winner of the Silver Bear in Berlin.” 
Sarajevo is building a network, starting with their Talent in Sarajevo mission, which brings young talent from 25-30 years old to work with experienced film professionals. “Then they’re coming back and we’re offering them consultancy,” said Purivatra. “They are bringing these to the CineLink markets, to find the financiers, to have even post-production…One project we launched two years ago: we are putting exhibitors and distributors from the region together, here, in Sarajevo. They have three days. We aren’t showing the film for competition, but possible acquisition titles for buyers and sales. They have an industry terrace where they’re meeting each other. Our goal is to create a platform, and now it’s up to them.”

Landing a Special Jury Mention was Locarno hit “Chevalier,” Athina Rachel Tsangari’s feminist comedy, which could well be Greece’s Oscar submission. Women did well at Sarajevo. The popular Sarajevo opening night film, Anna Muylaert’s “The Second Mother,” stars Brazilian Oprah Winfrey Regina Case as Val, a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy Sao Paulo family whose life is upended when her brainy daughter Jessica moves in. A likely Oscar submission from Brazil, the crowdpleaser will open in the U.S. via Oscilloscope on August 28.

Shown as a work-in-progress at Locarno last year, the film was seen by Sundance and Berlin programmers and went on to win prizes at both festivals. But the price of success weighs on Muylaert, who spoke out at Sarajevo about being a woman filmmaker in a sexist country: “This film was much more difficult for men to accept. As a successful woman, I feel like Jessica: I am sitting at a table that women are not supposed to sit; I shouldn’t cross that door; I feel they don’t know what to do with me.” She added, “I have been treated like second class citizen; it’s very painful to me. Even in a good position as I am today, my film is successful, even then maybe because of that, I am being treated like a dog. This is something we should be aware of in the 21st century… Maybe it’s time to realize, from where does sexism come? It’s sad. It’s not time for that any more.”

As popular as the festival is in Sarajevo, as throngs crowd the streets in celebratory partying every night of the ten day event, there is a sense of haves and have-nots, of glittery velvet rope revelry amid an impoverished country where, according to Salary Explorer, the average annual  monthly salary is $881. No question, gifted patron of the arts Purivatra is on the side of the angels as the festival enhances the economy of Sarajevo and develops a stronger regional film industry. As the strapped government withdraws support from the festival as it shuts down art museums, forcing Purivatra to lean more and more on corporate sponsors for support, some of the folks on the outside looking in still view him as a very lucky man. 

OFFICIAL AWARDS
COMPETITION PROGRAMME – FEATURE FILM
Jury: 
President of the Jury: Călin Peter Netzer, director (Romania)
Members of the Jury:
Diana Bustamante, Artistic Director of Cartagena International Film Festival (Colombia)
Zrinka Cvitešić, Actress (Croatia, UK) 
Mike Downey, Producer (UK, Ireland) 
Maja Miloš, Director (Serbia)
HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST FEATURE FILM
MUSTANG 
Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Financial Award, in the amount of 16,000 €, is provided by Council of Europe
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
SON OF SAUL / SAUL FIA
Hungary
Director: László Nemes
Financial Award, in the amount of 10,000 €, is provided by Agnes B.
SPECIAL JURY MENTION
CHEVALIER
Greece
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST ACTRESS
Güneş Şensoy, Doga Doğuşlu, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, Elit İşcan, Ilayda Akdoğan (MUSTANG / Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar)
Financial award in the amount of 2,500 €
HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST ACTOR 
Yorgos Kéntros, Vangelis Mouríkis, Panos Kóronis, Makis Papadimitríou, Yorgos Pyrpassópoulos, Sakis Rouvás (CHEVALIER / Greece)
Financial award in the amount of 2,500 €
COMPETITION PROGRAMME – SHORT FILM

Jury: 
Marion Döring, European Film Academy Director (Germany) 
Una Gunjak, Director and film editor (UK) 
Alice Kharoubi, Head of Cannes Film Festival Short Films (France)
HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST SHORT FILM
A MATTER OF WILL / BISERNA OBALA
Montenegro
Director: Dušan Kasalica
SPECIAL JURY MENTION
DAMAGED GOODS / KALO
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Director: Nermin Hamzagić
SPECIAL JURY MENTION
TUESDAY / SALI
Turkey, France
Director: Ziya Demirel
COMPETITION PROGRAMME – DOCUMENTARY FILM
Jury:
Boro Kontić, Director of the Media Center in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) 
Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Director/writer (France, Brasil) 
Anka Schmid, Filmmaker, videoartist (Switzerland)
HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
TOTO AND HIS SISTERS / TOTO ŞI SURORILE LUI
Romania
Director: Alexander Nanau
Financial award, in the amount of 3,000 €, is provided by The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE FOR COMPETITION PROGRAMME DOCUMENTARY FILM
TITITÁ
Hungary
Director: Tamás Almási 
Financial Award, in the amount of 2,500 €, is provided by Al Jazeera Balkans.
SPECIAL JURY MENTION
FLOTEL EUROPA
Denmark, Serbia
Director: Vladimir Tomić
HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD
ONE DAY IN SARAJEVO / JEDAN DAN U SARAJEVU
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria
Director: Jasmila Žbanić 
Award for the best film of the Competition Programme – Documentary Film dealing with the subject of human rights. Award in the amount of 3,000 € is granted by The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
HONORARY HEART OF SARAJEVO
Atom Egoyan, director
Benicio Del Toro, actor
KATRIN CARTLIDGE FOUNDATION AWARD 2015
Ran Huang
YOUNG AUDIENCE AWARD
NEXT TO ME / PORED MENE
Serbia
Stevan Filipović
CINELINK AWARDS
Co-production market jury:
Behrooz Hashemian, Silkroad Production
Čedomir Kolar, ASAP Films
Georges Goldenstern, Festival Cannes
Rémi Burah, ARTE FRANCE
Annamaria Lodato, ARTE France
Darko Baseski, Macedonian Film Agency
Dorien Van de Pas, Netherlands Film Fund
EURIMAGES COPRODUCTION DEVELOPMENT AWARD
A BALLADE Aida Begić / Adis Đapo
20,000 €
ARTE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS CINELINK AWARD
HAMARAT APARTMENT Huseyin Karabey / Su Baloglu
6,000 €
MACEDONIAN FILM AGENCY CINELINK AWARD
THE SON Ines Tanović / Alem Babić
10,000 €
LIVING PICTURES SERVICE CINELINK AWARD
SOLDIERS Ivana Mladenović / Ada Solomon
in kind support up to 10,000 €
SYNCHRO FILM VIENNA CINELINK AWARD
A BALLADE Aida Begić / Adis Đapo
HAMARAT APARTMENT Huseyin Karabey / Su Baloglu
THE SON Ines Tanović / Alem Babić
in kind support up to 2,500 € each
EAVE SCHOLARSHIP
Alem Babić
 WORK IN PROGRESS AWARDS
Work in Progress Jury:
Khalil Benkirane, Head of Grants, Doha Film Institute
Tanja Meissner, Head of International Sales & Acquisitions, Memento Films
Tolke Palm, The Post Republic
POST REPUBLIC AWARD
THE FIXER Adrian Sitaru / Anamaria Antoci
in kind post production services worth 50.000 €
RESTART AWARD
GODLESS Ralitza Petrova / Rossitsa Valkanova
in kind support worth 20.000 €
 21st SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL PARTNERS AWARDS
ASSOCIATION OF FILMMAKERS IN B&H – “IVICA MATIĆ” AWARD
Mirsad Purivatra
for his contribution to B&H cinema
Zoran Galić
for his contribution to B&H cinema
CINEUROPA PRIZE
SUPERWORLD
Austria
Karl Markovics
Jury: Arben Zharku, David Gonzales
CICAE AWARD
THE HIGH SUN
Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia
Dalibor Matanić
Jury: Kevin De Ridder, Silvia Bahl
EDN TALENT GRANT
I LIKE THAT SUPER MOST THE BEST
Croatia
Eva Kraljević
SARAJEVO SHORT FILM NOMINEE FOR THE EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS 2015
TRANSLATOR
Turkey
Emre Kayiş
Jury: Laurent Crouzeixis, Marina Kožul, Tom Shoval
 Best Pack & Pitch Award (Talents Sarajevo Pack & Pitch)
The best pitch
Anda Puscas
The postproduction of sound services in the amount of 4.000 EUR provided by studio Chelia
Ismet Kurtulus
An Invitation to CineLink’s Coproduction Market
 BH FILM STUDENT PROGRAMME AWARD
Best film:
VEJDA: ENCHANTED WORLD OF FAIRIES
Julia Klier (ASU Sarajevo)
 Special Jury Award
IMPERATIV
Jelena Ilić Todorović (Akademija umjetnosti Banja Luka)
 Special Jury Mention
WOYZECK
Adi Selimović (ASU Sarajevo)
Jury: Adis Đapo, Mirna Dizdarević, Mladen Đukić
 DOCU ROUGH CUT BOUTIQUE AWARDS
Work in Progress Digital Cube Award
KORIDA
Siniša Vidović
HBO Adria Award 2,000 EUROS
KORIDA
Siniša Vidović
 
IDFA Award
LITTLE BERLIN WALL
Toma Chagelishvili
CAT &Docs Award 2,000 EUROS
CINEMA, MON AMOUR
Alexandru Belc
Croatian Radiotelevision Award (HRT) 2,000 EUROS
CINEMA, MON AMOUR
Alexandru Belc

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