For an event that was launched a quarter of a century ago, in the midst of a four-year siege that devastated the city during the Bosnian war, it was perhaps to be expected that this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival would try to forge ahead, even in light of a coronavirus pandemic that has turned the world of red carpets and gala premieres upside-down.
But plans for a slimmed-down version of the physical fest were finally scrapped on Aug. 5, with the organizers announcing that the entire festival would be moving online. “Due to greatly increased concern regarding the epidemiological situation in Sarajevo, and record cases of COVID-19 infection in the city in the past several days, we at the Sarajevo Film Festival have made the decision to conduct the 2020 edition of all festival events entirely online from 14 to 21 August,” the festival said in a statement. “This confirms the Sarajevo Film Festival’s responsibility and commitment to its community.”
Screenings of all films and festival events will take place on Sarajevo’s VOD platform, ondemand.sff.ba, beginning with the world premiere of opening film “Focus, Grandma,” the latest feature from Bosnian director Pjer Žalica. Users worldwide will be able to subscribe to the entire festival program for seven days, or to select individual titles and events for viewing.
The last-minute pivot might have scuppered efforts to organize physical screenings around the Bosnian capital, but the CineLink Industry Days program was slated to take place online from the moment the severity of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent, an acknowledgement that even the most determined festival must adapt to these uncertain times.
“We were ready for this from the beginning,” says CineLink head Amra Bakšić Čamo, highlighting not only the famously resilient spirit of Sarajevo, but the adaptability of a global film industry in flux. “I don’t think [the pandemic] will stop us or ruin us. Definitely it will change us.”
Pitching sessions for the CineLink Co-Production Market, which has become one of the leading platforms for projects from Southeast Europe and the wider region, will be held online from Aug. 18-20. Sixteen projects representing 11 countries were selected for this year’s edition, with CineLink industry coordinator Armin Hadzic noting that in spite of the pandemic, a record number of films were submitted. The event has launched films such as Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner “Touch Me Not,” and Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Sundance-awarded documentary “Honeyland.”
In recent years, CineLink has expanded its footprint to include the Middle East, North Africa, and the former Soviet republics in its influential Works in Progress section. A popular TV strand, CineLink Drama, was also added to reflect the growing influence of serialized drama on local creative industries. Collectively, CineLink Industry Days has come to reflect the evolution of one of the world’s most dynamic regions for film and television production.
“Every couple of years, some film industry [from Southeast Europe] makes a huge leap,” says Hadzic, pointing to the example of Montenegro, which has recently produced films like Ivan Salatić’s “You Have the Night,” which premiered in Venice Critics’ Week, and Ivan Marinovic’s Sarajevo player “The Black Pin.”
“It’s evolving, absolutely. But it’s finally steadily evolving,” he says. “There’s a system that’s producing new filmmakers, new talents…. With small [government] support, we are getting huge results.”
That has led to a new generation of “brave and genuine voices,” says Čamo, each in their own way grappling with a changing world. While some Balkan filmmakers have chosen to confront the region’s painful history head-on, for example, others have used film as a way to escape it. “The reality is always there. But the question is how it is treated.”
The coronavirus pandemic is perhaps just the latest challenge for a city and region whose resilience has proven not only to be a survival mechanism, but a source of inspiration for filmmakers. “We’re really adaptive here,” says Hadzic. “Whatever you throw at us, we…can make something out of it.”