FESTIVALS: Rebuilding Sarajevo One Film at a Time; 6th Edition Shows Promise
by Patricia Thompson
(indieWIRE/8.31.00) --It's opening night at the Sarajevo Film Festival, and photographers are swarming around celebrity guest Mike Leigh. But the British director's "Topsy Turvy" isn't kicking off the festival; in fact, it doesn't screen for another two days. The prestigious opening night slot is instead given over to three shorts by young, unknown Bosnian directors, each dealing with the same subject: the four-year siege of Sarajevo and its aftermath.
This encapsulates the two sides of the Sarajevo Film Festival, now in its sixth year. On one hand, the festival is the only way local residents get to see international releases like "Topsy Turvy," "American Beauty," Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love," and a nine-film tribute to Steve Buscemi. (Once boasting 142 theaters, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) now has just 17, and virtually no international distributors doing business there.) On the other hand, the festival enables international guests to see Sarajevo and witness the slow re-growth of both its film industry and the city itself, once a vital multi-ethnic crossroads between East and West before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Sarajevo does make quite an impression. Even five years after the Dayton Accord put an end to the siege and despite all the rebuilding, the city looks painfully war torn. High-rise towers remain collapsed in a heap of rubble or stand vacant and hollowed out by fire. Elegant Austro-Hungarian palaces lining the river are pockmarked with bullet holes, as are buildings throughout the city -- relics of sniper fire by Serb residents who remained after the siege began. Plaques mark the sites of civilian massacres. Bookstores display the "Sarajevo Survival Map," which shows sniper hotspots and Serbian tanks completely surrounding the city on the encircling mountains.
These hills also reveal the scars of war -- denuded of pine forests once used for fuel and peppered with live mines. The week of the festival, in fact, four international mine sweepers were killed doing their jobs. So despite the recent stretch of relative peace and the return of shops and caf