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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday August 14, 2019 

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For most Australians the name Sarajevo is still synonymous with war and suffering, but last week, the town’s annual film festival ended, and it was a cause for much cheering as David Jones* reports from Sarajevo.

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.


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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


Million Dollar Hotel

Jesus' Son

* David Jones is an Australian English language teacher and film lover living in Sarajevo.

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