Banja Luka launches film fest

Week long event unspools early May

MOSCOW — The first ever film festival in Bosnia’s Serbian enclave of Banja Luka opens for a week long celebration of life and movies early May.

The Banja Luka International Film Festival is the first major cultural event to be hosted in the semi-autonomous Republic of Srpska since the brutal civil war of the 1990s tore apart Yugoslavia, of which it was a part until 1991.

Now one of the two entities that make up Bosnia & Herzegovina, Banja Luka is the Republic of Srpska’s largest city and before the civil war a major regional cultural center.

The film festival – which is planned as an annual event – aims to promote “human rights, peace and reconciliation between the peoples of Bosnia, and the rejuvenation of the local film industry,” organizers said in a statement.

“Post war reconstruction has focused on the concrete: rebuilding houses, businesses, and infrastructure. Rebuilding of the cultural life is one crucial area that has received little attention – until now. The film festival offers people throughout the region a chance to enjoy cinema in a way that has not been possible for the last 15 years.”

Founded and headed by Banja Luka-born Irena Taskovski, who now teaches at Prague’s famous film school FAMU, the festival features three competition programs – for features, documentaries and student shorts – and a host of sidebars including a ‘peace and tolerance’ section, ‘film and laughter’ and works by women directors.

In common with the well-established Sarajevo Film Festival – founded in 1995 as a long-running and brutal siege of the city drew to a close – the Banja Luka festival will aim to nurture and develop new talent.

To complement Sarajevo’s Cinelink, which promotes the development of features, Banja Luka will concentrate on aiding the development of documentary features, an area Taskovski has experience in: she was producer of the award-winning Czech ‘mockumentary’ “Czech Dream.”

The festival, which runs May 2-9, has a feature competition line up that includes Czech director Jan Sverak’s “Empties” and “Lovesickness” by Mairem Perez and Carlitos Ruiz.

Documentaries include the award-winning “Durakovo: Village of Fools” by Nino Kirtadze and “Alone in Four Walls” by Alexsandra Westmeier. Students shorts include a selection of films from the UK’s National Film & Television School, and FAMU.

To emphasis the importance of the festival’s launch for the cultural life of a region that has been largely isolated from international connections since the civil war, the Banja Luka festival will also stage music concerts, children’s activities and a street carnival “to inspire the city, bring it back to life and reconnect it to the outside world.”

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