SARAJEVO — The Sarajevo Film Festival kicked off its fifth year on Friday with a screening of “Notting Hill” attended by a standing-room crowd in the 2,500-seat Obala Open Air Cinema.
This year’s fest features seven programs encompassing some 90 films repping 30 countries, up from 70 films repping 27 countries last year.
Inaugurated in 1995 in a city still under Serbian siege, the fest has steadily grown in size, popularity and cultural importance. Whereas in its freshman year the fest was conceived as a small morale-boosting event attended by 15,000 people, the 10-day event now attracts close to 50,000 spectators and has expanded from its initial home in the Bosnian Cultural Center to several venues in downtown Sarajevo.
Since their construction in 1997, the Obala Meeting Point Cinema and adjacent cafe have become the home to the fest’s official selection, now dubbed “New Currents.”
This year’s feature competition is composed of strictly Euro and Asian fare, including Bruno Dumont’s controversial Cannes Grand Jury prize winner “L’Humanite,” Laetitia Masson’s “A Vendre” and Jan Peters’ “December 1-31.” Rounding out the category are Japanese contenders “Bullet Ballet” (Shinya Tsukamoto), “Fishes in August” (Yoshiro Takahashi) and “Fatherless” (Yoshihisa Shigeno).
Six sidebars take place alongside the official selection. Repeating this year are the popular Open Air section (featuring commercial Hollywood pics such as “You’ve Got Mail” and “American Pie”); a children’s program held in the Bosnian Cultural Center; a retrospective of Bosnian films; Special Screenings (a potpourri of high-buzz items like “Run Lola Run” and “Beautiful People”); and for the first time, a section called Panorama.
Sarajevo’s equivalent of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, the noncompetitive Panorama category features 17 films by international auteurs ranging from Pedro Almodovar (“All About My Mother”) to Todd Solondz (“Happiness”). Along with Open Air and New Currents, Panorama, housed in the four-score-old Apolo Cinema, is proving to be one of the fest’s hot tickets.
The only real blemish this year, conceded festival president Mirsad Purivatra, was a dearth of new films by Bosnian directors.
Whereas last year’s Sarajevo fest hosted eight short and documentary items by local filmmakers, this year programmers were obliged to repeat previous offerings.
Today the fest features a panel on film finance with producers Martha Coleman (Australia’s “Praise”), Behrooz Hashemian (Turkey’s “Journey to the Sun”) and Danijel Hocevar (Slovenia’s “Idle Running”).