When we arrived to Sarajevo in mid-June, there was a general sense of quiet and tranquility that blanketed the city. Most of its citizens were maintaining their Ramadan fasts, and until the sunset Iftar, the city didn’t fully spring to life. Once the cannon from the Yellow Fortress fired, Sarajevans flooded the cobbled walkways of Baščaršija.
My first experience of the city was a far cry from my final experience in the city. The opening of the Sarajevo Film Festival coincided with our last night in Sarajevo. The Film Festival was a communal outpouring, and summoned everyone in the city to participate in some capacity. New cafes and restaurants sprung up overnight, and an infectious energy permeated the city.
The Sarajevo Film Festival began during the siege, and showed how the Bosnian’s refused to let the siege dictate all aspects of their day-to-day lives. Bill Carter’s Film, Ms. Sarajevo is one film that is emblematic of this, and even went on to inspire U2’s Song, Miss Sarajevo. Despite constant shelling and warfare, Sarajevans fought to maintain their identity whether it was in the way they chose to dress, or their unique sense of humor. The image from Ms. Sarajevo that will continue to resonate with me is of the young women in bathing suits unfolding a banner reading, “Please don’t let them kill us.” The woman who went on to win “Miss Besieged Sarajevo” went on to say ”there were numerous appeals to end this war, we asked for help in all possible ways but nothing worked…so this was another outcry to draw attention and have someone do something. We just wanted this war to end.” Other clever jabs at media came when Sarajevo surpassed Leningrad for the longest siege of all time and the local radio station played the song “we are the champions.” Another story from the war that evidences the Bosnian’s attempt to lighten the somber mood was when a Serb painted “This is Serbia” over a post office in Sarajevo. The following day, someone wrote over it, “no, this is a post office, you idiot.”
It was a bittersweet departure leaving the city in the midst of the film festival. The festival represented an impressive array of work from around the world and from emerging filmmakers. It also brought life to unique venues around the city, including open-air cinemas and screenings in historic buildings. Even if a film lacked a star-studded cast, or is marginal in its outward appeal, it managed to draw an impressive assortment of attendees. The film festival represents Sarajevo’s annual dedication to the arts and unity in diversity.