SARAJEVO—A decade after the beginning of the Serbian attack that leveled the cityscape and killed more than 10,000 civilians, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital looks bruised but not beaten. Many of the hastily patched-up buildings appear less war-torn than simply bedraggled, and from morning past midnight, Sarajevans flood the streets on leisurely strolls, window-shopping and slurping ice cream—custard stands boast a Starbucks-worthy prevalence—or pausing to people-watch at the omnipresent outdoor cafés. Even noontime midweek screenings were well attended at the eighth annual Sarajevo Film Festival, which wrapped up August 24 after nine days that mixed international festival favorites, Hollywood shlockbusters, a retrospective of movies by guest of honor Mike Leigh, and rough-hewn local selections.
The city’s surface vibrancy and robust cinephilia, while undeniable, belie a tougher reality. Unemployment hovers at one-third and rising—folks probably aren’t taking off work to use their relatively cheap festival tickets—and an inchoate economy has left filmmakers with few resources. In shops and bistros, you can spot a poster of Sarajevo-born director Danis Tanovic hoisting his Oscar for No Man’s Land, but that proud achievement—shot in Slovenia and Italy and financed with nary a Bosnian mark—has not yet paid dividends toward national film production: In the past year, only one feature-length film was mounted in Bosnia (Dino Mustafic’s Remake, not ready in time for the festival). Talk of funding woes was a rueful constant, and occasioned at least one breathtaking specimen of made-in-U.S.A. myopia: A visiting American documentarian, lamenting a dearth of intrepid stateside distributors, actually said aloud, “It doesn’t matter if you’re from a wealthy country with an infrastructure if no one’s gonna go for your film.”
While most of the local shorts faced down the war (directly or allegorically), these shell-shocked backward glances also afforded glimpses into the future. The “Insert” program of independent videos spotlighted an array of precocious filmmakers, some barely into their twenties. On the documentary front, Marko Mamuzic’s The Lost Movie benefited from a perspective at once insider and outsider: After the Dayton accords, Mamuzic sets about tracking down the doc about a Jewish WWII refugee that he was editing as a student at the Sarajevo Film Academy before fleeing to Belgrade in 1992. And so The Lost Movie becomes two films—one within the other—about two wars, rendered unnervingly similar in the elderly refugee’s recontextualized voice-over. The festival also sampled from an extraordinary archive of guerrilla nonfiction by the SaGA group, a Sarajevan filmmaking network that produced some 60 short docs from the belly of the 42-month siege.
In a promising sign, SaGA veteran Pjer Zalica is currently making his first feature, while Ahmed Imamovic, director of the opening-night short 10 Minutes, has started his own production company. Government funding for the festival itself remains up in the air; lawmakers will vote this autumn on a proposed four-year guarantee of partial financing. But if the state is reluctant to parcel out scarce cash, “it’s a reasonable, respectable decision,” says Medzida Buljubasic, the festival’s press-office manager. “We are a country in big trouble—no jobs, homelessness, refugees. We all need more patience. And the young people of Bosnia and Herzegovina will try to solve their problems by themselves.”