Archive for July, 2010

Introducing the Annual Sarajevo Film Festival

Sarajevo is filled with anticipation for the annual international film festival that begins today July 22 and lasts until July 31, 2010. The festival will take place earlier than normal this year because Ramadan is in August, and they are expecting about 100,000 visitors for the event. Tourists have arrived in the city, posters advertising the festival hang in every shop window, and men are hard at work setting up outdoor stages and rolling down red carpets. The program is mainly focused on Southeast Europe but will feature films from around the world, and several theaters around the city will show the films all day long.

The website boasts that this is the 16th year of the event, but those from the city know that the festival has a longer history. According to the website, the festival was founded in 1995 after the siege, and the cultural event helps to “recreate civil society” in the city. However, film students from the city tell me something different. The festival did in fact take place during the siege and was organized by Haris Pašović, a theater and film director from Sarajevo. Pašović organized the first Sarajevo film festival in 1993 called “Beyond the End of the World.” The city had no food, water or electricity, let alone projectors and screens to show films. Somehow by petitioning the international community, Pašović received around 200 films from around the world. He found a projector and a generator, and hundreds of people waited out front of the National Theatre for tickets, despite the constant sniper fire around the city.

In the article he wrote in Oslobodjene newspaper that accompanied the festival program in 1993, Pašović addresses the city under siege and the people being annihilated. After comparing the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims to the Holocaust and Jews, he writes “Sarajevo is the city in which the world of the twentieth century, the world to which we were born and brought up, has died. In other places the dying is taking place. Here we live beyond the end of the world.” This statement reflects the title of the festival, and he describes the fundamental human need for art, even (or especially) at a time of war. He states that being constantly close to death means longing for things like art and love in the strongest way.

Pašović did not worry about picture quality or sound at the 1993 Sarajevo film festival. The list of international supporters was very long, and the organizers stated in their newspaper program that they “could not promise anything.” It did not stick to the schedule, and many of the promised films and guests did not show. In 1993, there was no glamor, parties or red carpet. This is a striking contrast from this year’s festival which will honor special guest Morgan Freeman, and other stars will be whisked off to Dubrovnik for post-festival parties. The glossy program and efficient box offices today seem well rehearsed after many years of this annual festival. The organizers of the festival have changed, and so they write that the festival began 16 years ago and they do not mention its start in 1993. I wonder how the “Beyond the End of the World” festival felt for people of the city- they risked their lives for a bit of culture in a time of war, and heard gun shots outside as they watched films from around the world. I am happy for the city of Sarajevo, that they have come so far since the end of the war, and that they host such a well-attended international event. However, as I walk around the city and see artsy foreigners claiming to be emerging directors with their bold clothes and oozing confidence, I cannot help but to wonder about the humble beginnings of the festival in 1993.

Sources:

Sarajevo Film Festival Website

Haris Pasovic- The City Engaged

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Hjorth, Daniel and Monika Kostera, ed.  Entrepreneurship and the Experience Economy.  Copenhagen Business School Press, 2007.  (Found on Google Books)

Note:  I will be attending films from this region, including Years Eaten By Lions, Sevdah for Karim, On the Path, As If I am Not There, Together, The Flood/Kapitalism, I Even Met Happy Gypsies, as well as Lebanon.  The website contains a synopsis for each film.  I look forward to writing about Southeast European film in a later post.

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11 July 1995

I would like to acknowledge the victims of Srebrenica since yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.  Yesterday afternoon as I sat in a crowded cafe in Sarajevo, I watched the extensive news coverage of the memorial events at the site a couple of hours away.  Around 50,000 people gathered in Srebrenica, including many world leaders and the presidents of all the countries of the former-Yugoslavia.  They buried 775 victims next to the 3,749 bodies already in the cemetery. Leading up to the ceremony, 5,000 people marched for 68 miles through the Bosnian mountains.  This march takes place annually, and the participants walk the same journey (except backwards) that around 15,000 people took to escape the mass killings.

Burial of victims on the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre

Not surprisingly, the United Nations cowardly did not send any representatives to the anniversary ceremony.  During the war in 1995, the UN declared Srebrenica a safe area for civilians, but this “protection” resulted in the largest mass murder since World War II. Fifteen years ago, 30,000 Bosniak Muslims sought refuge in Srebrenica, but the Republika Srpska forces arrived and made the Dutch peacekeepers let them inside. The Serbs sorted out the Muslim men and boys and killed over 8,000 of them in a massacre. A few months later in an effort to conceal what happened, the Republika Srpska army dug up the mass graves and moved the victims. The bulldozing tore apart the bodies, causing some victims’ remains to be spread across different sites. Many bodies still have not been found.

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

While fixated on the news coverage of the political speeches, flashing images of coffins and people overcome with emotion, one story stood out to me in particular. I learned about the project of a German NGO to build a memorial for the victims and to point blame at the UN for the massacre. Called the ‘Pillar of Shame,’ the monument is certainly not subtle. Its design features massive letters U-N made out of plexiglass, which are to be filled with 16,744 shoes representing the 8,372 victims. It will measure eight meters high, and the shoes will even have a few spaces that look like bullet holes. As the campaign in Germany for shoe donations from around the world continues, the huge collection was placed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this weekend for the anniversary. A small version of the letters was placed on top of the pile. When completed, the final monument will stand on the hill next to the memorial center/cemetery in Srebrenica, which opened in 2004. The Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian organization for families of the victims, will decide the names of Western politicians and military leaders “to shame” by including their names on the monument. Construction should begin in May 2011.

Berlin's tribute to the victims of Srebrenica

I feel that the strongest aspect of this tribute to the victims of the massacre is the idea to include the shoes. After visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau a couple of times while living in Krakow, the part that resonated with me the most was the room that showed the personal belongings taken from camp prisoners. It would be impossible to see this display of collected shoes, or the chopped off hair in a huge pile, or the pile of eyeglasses without feeling sick over the sheer number of these objects reflecting the number of victims. Perhaps this is the origin of the idea for the inclusion of shoes in the forthcoming Srebrenica memorial. Using everyday objects to represent the number of victims will be a powerful statement in itself.

However, I am rather uneasy about the memorial’s blatant assignment of blame. These massive letters will completely change the landscape of the site and in my opinion, distract from the cemetery and memorial already in place. When I visited the memorial last year, I was overcome by the amount of names written in a stone semi-circle in a similar fashion to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. The number of pristine white headstones was overwhelming and even on that particular afternoon last summer, they were burying victims. Seeing the temporary headstones of the latest burials and the way the graves extended up the hill as if they ran out of space for everyone was truly a powerful sight. In a few years, people who visit the memorial will only be able to look at the massive U-N monument which will take the focus off of the victims themselves.

Pointing blame at the UN is understandable, but I think writing names of individuals who did not intervene is a step too far. The whole world knew about the war in Bosnia and ignored the tragic events that took place. Is it really necessary to list individuals? I do not think this feature of the plan should be included because I think its unfair and unnecessary. Since the purpose of this tribute is to assign blame, it should only refer to the UN or other big collective groups that should have intervened in Bosnia. In my opinion, a better option would be to blame the world in general for allowing genocide take place.

The list of victims at the Srebrenica memorial site

No monument, no matter how big or angry, will ease the pain of the relatives of the victims. With the Chief of the Republika Srpka army during the war Ratko Mladic still at large, justice cannot take place. Several of the speeches at the ceremony yesterday stated the urgency of his arrest and trial. The people of Bosnia cannot move forward with their grieving while knowing that a man responsible for so many deaths is still alive and free in the world. The assignment of blame should come from the Hague trials for the war criminals, not from an eight meter high monument.

The powerful images from the news combined with my discovery that the Bosniaks who live in Sarajevo are very willing and open to talk with me about the war provided a powerful first few days of my relocation to Bosnia. For more information or to support the Pillar of Shame project, please visit the website provided below.

Sources:

Pillar of Shame project website

Article on Anniversary Ceremony

Balkan Insight article about Pillar of Shame

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