U2 frontman Bono made a surprise appearance at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday, where he introduced a digitally restored version of Wim Wenders’ “The Million Dollar Hotel” – a film the iconic rock star presented at the Bosnian fest more than 20 years ago.
Addressing a full house at the Sarajevo National Theater – where fans had gathered outside for more than an hour in the blistering heat, clutching photos and singing along to U2’s hits as they waited for his arrival on the red carpet – Bono told the audience: “It’s really good to be here. It feels like a long time, and yet also a short time.”
The Irish superstar’s relationship to the city dates back nearly three decades, when he was approached by an American aid worker to help draw attention to the plight of Bosnia, where war had broken out in 1992. A year later, during the European leg of U2’s Zoo TV Tour, the band broadcast live satellite feeds from Sarajevo in the middle of its near four-year siege. In September 1997, they held a concert in the war-ravaged city.
Bono then attended the Sarajevo Film Festival in 2000 to introduce “The Million Dollar Hotel,” which earned Wenders the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and screened at the Bosnian fest’s sixth edition.
“It’s like as if there’s two Sarajevos – the real and the imagined. The one that you live and work in and we visit, and this other one that you take with you wherever you go in the world,” he said on Sunday. “This mythic Sarajevo. This place of mischief and fun and magic. And also still to me the capital of coexistence. This great city, and this great festival…[which] is almost like the connective tissue between those two Sarajevos.”
Addressing festival founder and co-director Mirsad Purivatra onstage, the singer said, “You’ve had some great filmmakers, but I don’t think anyone greater than Wim Wenders,” describing him as “a giant of cinema.”
Before introducing the German director, Bono also took a moment to recognize legendary music producer Hal Willner, who produced the soundtrack to “The Million Dollar Hotel,” and who passed away from COVID last year. “If you feel something in the music today that’s a little extra, you’re feeling the spirit of Hal Willner,” he said.
Wenders, who received an honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award at the festival’s opening ceremony Friday night, teased Bono about his claim to have “a small writing credit” on “The Million Dollar Hotel,” which the Irish superstar co-wrote with Nicholas Klein.
“You don’t just have a writing credit; you invented the story,” he said. The director also praised the film’s soundtrack, which was co-produced by Bono and featured music from U2 and other acts, calling it “maybe the most beautiful film score” he’d ever held in his hands.
On Monday, Wenders will give a masterclass at the Sarajevo festival, which runs Aug. 13-20.