It doesn’t have the haute couteur of Cannes or the chic of Berlin, but the
Sarajevo film festival has a unique charm of its own. The festival is the most important
cultural event in the region and a platform for filmmakers and producers from east and
west. In this its sixth year the city has flocked to cinemas to savour a feast of screen
gems which, with limited distribution in the Balkans, are few and far between for the rest
of the year. Art, esoteric, regional and short films are screened indoors while more
mainstream flicks feature at a 2,500 seat capacity open-air cinema, which serves otherwise
as a children’s playground. And no rain - for ten nights audiences thrilled, cheered
and gasped under starlit skies.
"an eclectic mix"
For the first time, the programme featured a week-long film icon tribute. Steve
Buscemi’s diverse character portayals and work behind the camera was given due
recognition with the European premier of Animal Factory, a story of love amidst prison
gang life, his latest directorial work. Cult men Buscemi and Willem Dafoe, the film’s
protagonist, were in town adding insight and an air of authenticity to the festival
(Dafoe’s ever-so camp Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire a highlight for me). Mike
Leigh also made his hirsute way around town and spoke generously about the seriousness of
film making. The latest Gilbert and Sullivan offering, Topsy Turvy was well received.
Rubbing shoulders too in bars and cafes was Bono. Here in 1997 with U2 and still revered,
he appeared with panama hat and was treated like the king of a banana republic. He came to
say hi and bolster enthusiasm for Million Dollar Hotel.
New Yorker Howard Feinstein is the programme director for the Panorama section, an
eclectic mix offering provocative films with a strong artistic, intellectual and
sociological bent. Not surprisingly works from the northern hemisphere dominated (last
year Australian John Curran’s Praise received just that). Highlights this year were
La Cuidad (The City) which captures the experiences of Latin American emigrants in New
York. Sincere and absorbing, it took four years for David Riker and team to build trust
and celluloid with this vulnerable community.
Alison Maclean’s hilarious tilt at lowbrow 70’s drug subculture, Jesus’
Son, refreshingly doesn’t look like an extended video clip and, with its first
screening out of the states, the manic Requium for a Dream also exposes the multifarious
nature of addiction - and the striking imagery and daring of Darren Aronofsky. Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee’s breathtaking homage to 1920’s Chinese pulp
fiction, warmed audiences and showcased Mr. Lee’s continued ability to shun the
pedestrian. The Jury’s prize however went to Edward Yang’s epic celebration of
the ordinary. Yang has re-emerged after some 10 years in obscurity to demonstrate
Everything and Nothing with an everyday saga of an extended middle class family in Taipei.
"in a country where barriers of ethnicity and religion
are still being broken"
With four cinemas within ten minutes walk, a lively cine-culture and enthusiastic
audiences from throughout the region, there is an intimacy with this festival which bigger
cities (especially sprawling Melbourne and Sydney) cannot boast. And, in a country where
barriers of ethnicity and religion are still being broken, the festival celebrates
diversity through the medium of film. Once again Sarajevo performs its role as a meeting
point and a crossroads of culture.