Sarajevo Film Festival Seen as Celebration of Life

By Dragana Erjavec

Sarajevo’s world famous film festival screened a total of 222 films coming from 61 countries this year, far more than the 37 shown at the first event in 1995, held during the longest siege in modern history.

The programme contained “77 Bosnian movies and 44 world premiere screenings, which shows that the SFF has exceeded the epithet of a regional festival,” the festival press service says.

Ten feature films were screened, with four of them being Bosnian movies, including the award-winning movie “Death in Sarajevo” directed by Danis Tanovic.

For documentary lovers, the festival programme offered 29 projections, while 16 short and two animated films were screened over the eight days of the festival.

The first Sarajevo Film Festival was held in October 1995 when the city was still under siege. Over the past 22 years it has become the leading film festival in the region.

Sarajevo Film Festival opening red carpet ceremony last year. Photo: SFF

The festival was initiated by people who worked at the Obala Art Center at the time and ran the first wartime cinema.

In an interview with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mirsad Purivatra, current director of the festival, recalled the first projections in the besieged city.

“There was great interest. People would come in order to watch movies, but also to see each other. To see who was still alive, who was in Sarajevo, to share stories. So, the idea to organize a festival arose in the war cinema. We concluded it should be a summer festival, so we could use movies to celebrate life.

“The first festival was even called the First Summer Film Festival, but it was unfortunately postponed until late October due to a big battle that took place in Sarajevo that June,” Purivatra said.

Elma Tataragic, the festival’s competition programme selector, said the festival emerged during the war from the need to lead a civilized life.

“We could not be reduced to one liter of water and half a kilogram of bread or flour or a can of meat,” she said.

“We wanted to enable all those people, who had not been treated as humans for years, to live a film story. I think we live the same story today. I think we convey the same message as 20 years ago — a message saying that there is future for Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region after all,” Tataragic added.

During the 12 days of the first festival in 1995, a total of 37 movies were screened to 15,000 viewers. All projections were totally sold out.

Purivatra recalled that bringing copies of films to Sarajevo was the biggest challenge. “One roll weighed around 30 kilograms. Some directors, whom we know as authors of world movie classics, like Leos Carax, Alfonso Cuaron, Milcho Manchevski, decided to come to Sarajevo and risk their lives. Of course, they had to bring film rolls with them. Leos Carax, who may have weighed 60 kilograms, brought three of his movies with him. They all came to Sarajevo taking an old road across Mount Igman,” Purivatra said.

According to Purivatra, two decades on, the festival has grown into an international festival with a special focus on South-East Europe, thanks to which movies, talents and future projects from the region come to the centre of attention of the international film public.

“The SFF has managed to achieve it original goals, including its biggest goal to become a platform for making movies in BiH,” he said.

“However, the most valuable recognition we have gotten is the fact that Sarajevo citizens have accepted the Festival as their own. The moment people realized it was not just a festival, but the way of living, was a turning point. Let’s go to the streets, let’s live, let’s enjoy,” Purivatra added.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina participated for the first time as a partner in a project of this year’s programme called “Dealing with the Past”.

Originally published at on August 11, 2016.

Here is another story from Balkan Insight you might be interested in:

Sarajevo Siege Film Explores Legacy of Trauma.

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