Organisers are reviewing the future of the popular Sarajevo Film Festival, both in the region and beyond.
By Harriet Salem for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 03/09/2013
Serbian actor Bogdan Diklic (right), Croatian film director Bobo Jelicic (left), and movie producer Zdenka Gold pose after Diklic was awarded a "Heart Of Sarajevo" award for best male actor on the closing night of the 19th edition of Sarajevo Film Festival, in Sarajevo, on August 24th. [AFP]
From August 16th to 24th the picturesque city of Sarajevo took on a life of its own as visitors from around the world flocked to the city's 19th annual film festival.
During the day crowds wandered between ad hoc theatres set up across the city to view the festival's programme of artistic films and documentaries. At night contemporary electro beats blended into nostalgic Yugo-rock as friends from across the globe, new and old, met up to discuss the day's movies.
"It really brings people from across the region together, and not only this it also attracts foreigners to see Sarajevo is not only the place where there was a war," said Jana Poljakova, a project manager for Mitrovica-based NGO Aktiv.
The Sarajevo Film Festival has come a long way. Founded in 1995 by a group of film enthusiasts while the city was still under siege, the festival has evolved into a facilitator of reconciliation and much-needed stimulus for regional cultural development in a post-war society.
"We started to think of how to develop the film industry, which was completely destroyed by the war, how to link Bosnia in the region, how to open channels within the region and to Europe," Mirsad Purivatra, director of Sarajevo film festival told SETimes.
"Sarajevo has always been the crossing place of different cultures, of different religions. It is the ideal place for people to meet with one another," Purivatra said. "Initially we focused on ex-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and Romania slowly we have expanded our region to wider parts of [what was] the Austro-Hungarian empire as well as Turkey and Greece."
Nearly two decades after it started, the nine-day event is a firm fixture on the international film festival calendar, regularly attracting more than 100,000 attendees.
However, this year, in the face of more than 25 percent in budget cuts, organisers are once again reviewing the future of the festival, both in the region and beyond.
"We now have to take the next steps, to think about the next 5 to 10 years," Purivatra told the audience at a panel discussion. "Political and economic changes have affected the Sarajevo Film Festival."
In an interview with Screen Daily, an online film publication, Purivatra cited the country's poor infrastructure and the need to renegotiate public funding every year as additional financial burdens on the festival.
Event organisers are now hoping the formation of strategic partnerships with organisations operating outside the region may be one way of opening up the festival to new markets and potentially new sources of financial backing.
This year's festival for the first time partnered with the Doha Film Institute in Qatar, showing a series of films from the Gulf region including Mahdi Fleifel's "A World Not Ours," and Ahd's "Sanctity." Three films from the southeast Europe will be shown at the Qumra Film Festival in February.
"The Arab world is an emerging film market. … This is one of the first things we will be looking to develop further in the future," Purivatra said.
However he also emphasised the broader cultural benefits of taking international movies to a domestic audience.
"After 20 years we have achieved so many things in the region, but there are still so many regions we don’t know so well," Purivatra told SETimes. "It is very important our citizens see different cultures, different stories, different characters; to meet internationals,"
Yet, some believe that the festival should remain true to its roots.
"This should not be about celebrities, red carpets and people with money. Media attention here is very huge because of the whole history of the Sarajevo Film Festival. This should be the place for promoting Balkan movies and discussing Balkan issues," Ivan Velislavljevic, a film critic from Belgrade who worked at this year’s festival's talent camp shop reviewing films and delivering lectures, told SETimes.
Instead of turning to international markets Velislavljevic suggested that the film festival should instead tackle the region's economic and political problems.
"The whole region is facing the same issues, the war for jobs, the war for workplaces, political systems that are failing. … I would like to see more movies on this," he said. "It is time for the Sarajevo Film Festival to step up and start debate on these topics."
How important do you think the film festival is for Southeast Europe? Leave a comment in the space below.