‘Ma vie’ cleans up at Sarajevo fest

SARAJEVO — Although the road from the airport into town still shocks the eye with destroyed buildings more chilling than Hollywood’s worst disaster movie, Sarajevo is definitely on the mend.

The third Sarajevo Film Festival unspooled Sept. 2-10 with continued support from the international film community, including the U.S. majors, and registered more than 45,000 admissions — twice last year’s number.

With the airport and hotels reopened, the city that became a symbol of the war in former Yugoslavia was able to offer normal hospitality to 100 international guests, including actor John Malkovich, on hand for “Con Air,” and director Michael Winterbottom, whose “Welcome to Sarajevo” closed the festival.

Although the announced airlift from Venice didn’t come off, many chose to make the inter-festival hop via commercial flights.

Fest chief Mirsad Purivatra opened the event with the first public screening of “The Perfect Circle,” a moving feature about war-torn Sarajevo directed by local filmmaker Ademir Kenovic. It sold out the 2,500-seat outdoor arena, which was filled to capacity night after night for major pics like “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “The Saint” and “The English Patient.”

Significantly, included among the program’s 69 titles were several entries from the neighboring ex-Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. Competition pics unspooled in a new 200-seat cinema that, like the outdoor arena, is owned and run by the festival organization, Obala Art Centar.

Highlights of a packed children’s program were a trio of Disney pics: “Pocahontas,” “The Lion King” and “101 Dalmatians.”

For a change, both the Fipresci critics’ prize (fest’s main laurel) and the audience award went to the same film, Alain Berliner’s “Ma vie en rose.” Special jury mentions were handed out to David Fourier’s six-minute French short, “Des Majorettes dans l’Espace” (Majorettes in Space), and sobering U.S.-Croatian docu “Calling the Ghosts” by Mandy Jacobson and Karmen Jelincic, about two courageous Bosnian women who drew world attention to the plight of the war’s rape victims.

The largest cultural event in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, the festival earned the support of government and regional authorities for the first time this year.

A $600,000 budget was put up by the city of Sarajevo, the ministry of culture, UNICEF, the Soros Fund, Arte and other private sponsors. Making their presence positively felt were a number of organizations with a strong interest in the area, including the Locarno and Rotterdam film festivals and Switzerland’s Pro-Helvetia.

“The event could become a place for the international film community to meet with filmmakers from Bosnia and former Yugoslavia,” opined Rotterdam’s Sandra Den Hammer, on hand to outline how local producers could access money in the Hubert Bals Fund, which she heads. The fund put money into the development of “The Perfect Circle.”

The Sarajevo Film Festival’s larger goal, fest chief Purivatra said, is to “establish a base for all Bosnian producers, without taking over the role of the production companies.”

Berlin-based Philippe Bober, who selected the main program, also expressed satisfaction with the event. “We met our goals — to take part in the reconstruction of the theater infrastructure, to build up movie audiences and to participate in the distribution of films in Bosnia.”

“Things have started to move here,” concurred Locarno chief Marco Muller, who was recently appointed as director of the cultural foundation Fabbrica, created by Italian garment line Benetton, and who is head of the MonteCinemaVerite film fund. “Video production continued through the war, and ‘The Perfect Circle’ has gathered a tribe of young filmmakers around it. The main problem facing the festival is to become an active agent in consolidating new Bosnian cinema.”

The nonprofit Obala Art Centar acquired local theatrical distribution rights to eight films from last year’s program, including the Grand Prix-winner “Breaking the Waves,” and plans to release “Ma vie en rose” commercially as soon as the festival is over.

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