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‘Land’ symbolizes Sarajevo

Tanovic's pic a motivational shot in the arm to local film prod'n

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Seven years after it was created partly to boost morale in a city under siege, the Sarajevo Film Festival has finally begun to see its long-range goals come to fruition.

The festival’s mission, apart from helping to normalize life in Bosnia, includes stimulating domestic film production; increasing global awareness of the local film industry; and promoting cultural, intellectual and economic exchange between Bosnian and foreign filmmakers.

Fest, which ran Aug. 17 through Saturday, has emerged as the most important regional film event between Vienna and Thessaloniki.

Nothing could have made the fulfillment of its goals more apparent than the fest’s opening-night film, “No Man’s Land” by Danis Tanovic. Pic’s domestic premiere — it won the screenplay prize at Cannes — was a highly anticipated homecoming for the Sarajevo-born director.

Spurring production

Just two years ago, there was nary a new Bosnian film to present, and last year the fest offered only a handful of new homegrown shorts. Proving the nation can once again spawn talented cineastes, Tanovic’s film is a motivational shot in the arm to local film production.

And yet Tanovic had been unable to finance the film in his native country, obliging him to seek funds elsewhere. “No Man’s Land” is a French-Belgian-Italian-Slovenian co-prod, though it will be Bosnia’s official contender for the foreign-language film Oscar. Picked up by United Artists at Cannes, the film is slated to open Stateside in November.

Despite the pic’s foreign financing, the people of Sarajevo resolutely welcomed “No Man’s Land” as a Bosnian film. A political satire centering on two opposing soldiers caught in a neutral trench during the war, pic stars Branko Djuric, one of his country’s most beloved actors.

After the screening at the filled-to-capacity 2,500-seat Open Air Cinema, festgoers were treated to a lavish fireworks display, the first in the fest’s history.

But with the sound of fireworks discomfitingly reminiscent of shelling and gunfire, some crowd members initially panicked.

Tanovic had deplored the fireworks idea, but festival director Mirsad Purivatra insisted the festivities were healthy and appropriate to the proceedings.

Regional programmer Elma Tataragic rebuked the Bosnian authorities for not having supported Tanovic’s film, adding that she hoped its success will teach them a lesson.

“Now that the film is getting international recognition, the Bosnian authorities are starting to realize that film is important for the promotion of the country; it’s not only art, it’s also marketing,” Tataragic said.

To that end, the fest sponsored a Bosnian cinema co-production project in which filmmakers, having finished scripts and secured a minimum of 30% of their budgets, could pitch projects to a commission composed of producers, script consultants and film fund representatives.

Going beyond borders

In the same vein, the fest mounted two workshops, one to promote an exchange of ideas and practices between foreign and Bosnian docu helmers, the other to stimulate domestic film criticism.

Latter event consisted of a five-day seminar in which international film journalists (Lisa Schwarzbaum, John Anderson, Aaron Hicklin, Merton Worthmann and this critic) were invited to instruct 18 regional college students on film criticism.

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