There’s no shortage of movies that gauzily peddle the notion of art as a balm. Few, however, are as invested in the charged immediacy of art’s relationship to real-life pain as “Kiss the Future,” a documentary enjoying its world premiere Feb. 19 in the Berlinale Special slot, with Fifth Season and WME handling worldwide sales.
Directed by Nenad Cicin-Sain, and based on American-born aid worker Bill Carter’s “Fools Rush in: A Memoir” (the pair share a screen story credit), the film is a savvy mélange of history and cultural portraiture that affectingly chronicles the struggle of Sarajevo’s besieged civilians during the Bosnian War of the 1990s.
Produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the movie shows the young Carter bluffing his way into an interview with the frontman of the biggest band in the world at the time: U2, a group never afraid of sociopolitical statements or marrying big ideas to even bigger emotions in arena-ready rock ’n’ roll that doesn’t forsake intimacy.
The results of that initial meeting, all chronicled in “Kiss the Future,” would come to include U2 beaming by satellite into Sarajevo nightly during their groundbreaking Zoo TV Tour, and subsequently making good on a promise to play a concert in the city with an emotional 1997 PopMart show.
Cicin-Sain, born in the former Yugoslavia to a Serbian mother and Croatian father, had long nursed the idea of making a movie about what the trapped citizens of Sarajevo went through during the war, and how the U2 concert served to bring people back together. While writing a separate screenplay for Affleck and Damon, the latter mentioned his relationship with U2 lead singer Bono. Sensing an opportunity, Cicin-Sain threw himself into research. In Carter’s story, he finally found the connective tissue he was looking for.
The pair connected in the spring of 2021, and quickly bonded over an ambitious vision. “If we were going to make a documentary about just the concert, U2 would say no, because that’s not who they are,” said Carter. “But Nenad and I started thinking and broadening the scope in a really cool way. It’s about both how people lived there [during the war], but also it’s a cautionary tale that if you don’t pay attention to your democratic tendencies and you let misinformation divide you and create hatred, Bosnia is what can happen — you killing your neighbor.”
The result, something Cicin-Sain deems a portrait of collective memory, interweaves trenchant reminiscences (interviewees include regular Bosnians from Carter’s relief work, plus Bill Clinton, Christiane Amanpour and members of U2) with an abundance of smartly curated archival footage showcasing a spirit of defiance evidenced in underground discotheques, punk rock shows, beauty pageants and more.
“We wanted to create this tapestry of people all connected by this moment of history — from the Bosnians to the president of the United States, from different local musicians to the biggest band in the world,” said Cicin-Sain.
“Tonally, I didn’t want to make something heavy and dirge-y, I didn’t want to make something forced and precious and depressing,” he continued. “I wanted to make something that had this balance of the best of human beings next to at times the worst of human beings. I wanted to put the president talking about geopolitics directly next to a 12-year-old girl reacting to that on the ground in Sarajevo. So everything became about these two polarities.”
“War is horror. There’s no question about that,” Cicin-Sain concluded. “But there’s also extraordinary beauty in humanity that happens in those times as well.”
In telling a tale of triumph over ethnic nationalism, “Kiss the Future” highlights humankind’s inherent need for artistic expression — even, and especially, in incredible darkness.