12nd Sarajevo Film Festival

Bosnia-Herzegovina, August 15 - August 23 2008

The jury

Atilla Dorsay (Turkey), László Kriston (Hungary), Mike Goodridge (US)

Awarded films

Since its inception in 1995, the Sarajevo Film Festival has emphasized, indeed helped recharge, the regional production that was greatly curtailed by the war — especially that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also that of the rest of ex-Yugoslavia. At the same time it has increased its focus on international cinema, important in a city with an high degree of cinephilia and still limited distribution. Locals don’t have to always depend on low-quality pirated dvds to catch up with the best foreign films from the past year.

Rightly, the centerpiece of the festival, situated amidst minarets and mountains in an architectural setting that recalls both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, is the regional program, comprised of a narrative and shorts competition, as well as a smaller documentary section. The region has expanded over the years, including now such neighboring countries as Turkey, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria et al. Whether it is always fair to place in the same competition films with an Austrian sized budget with a Kosovar one is arguable, but the additions to the strand do increase quality, and with that, interest. As you can see below, Buick Riviera, from Croatia, took both the FIPRESCI prize and the top award of the main jury for best narrative.

Further initiatives have helped filmmakers in the region. Cinelink, modeled on Rotterdam’s Cinemart, takes place during the last few days of the festival and pairs would-be investors with select projects. This year marks the second edition of the Talent Campus, modeled on Berlin’s, which helps train young people entering or relatively inexperienced in various aspects of the film industry (directing, screenwriting, acting etc.) And, to be certain it’s all-inclusive, a section called Made in BiH is comprised of other productions shot in Bosnia over the past year.

One of the highlights of the festival is the Tribute to…, a retrospective of a top-notch director, who comes and speaks about the works, many of which have never, or rarely, been screened. This year’s choice was Todd Haynes, who energetically engaged his audiences. Past honorees include Bela Tarr, Alexander Payne, Mike Leigh, and Abel Ferrara, among others.

Among the non-regional programs are New Currents, a group of edgy first or second features; Panorama — the intellectual core of the festival, a selection of international fiction, half of them shown in the outdoor atrium of a delightful (working) fire station; Panorama Documentaries, a hugely popular group of docs that are accompanied by their directors, who also have something of a teaching function for the eager young audiences; and Open Air, a mixed mainstream-and-arthouse nightly event in which 2500 people pack a huge space.

Not to leave anyone out, there is also a large children’s program — kids are bussed in from all over Bosnia for the screenings—as well as a strand of films for teens.