Posted on November 3, 2020 by Tom Simpson

One of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s great charms, and great sources of pride, is its incredible pool of talented actors and filmmakers. I’ve written here before of my love of extraordinary films like Jasmila Žbanić’s “Grbavica,” Aida Begić’s “Snijeg” (“Snow”), Srđan Vuletić’s “Hop, Skip, and Jump” and Tarik Hodžić’s “Scream for Me, Sarajevo,” all of which I have screened in my classes to give my students a sense of war’s terrors and aftermath, as well as the diverse, powerful ways that ordinary people are able to resist and survive.

This year’s 17th annual Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival (BHFF) — traditionally based in New York City and online for the first time because of the pandemic — offered a total of 13 films across the categories of short films, documentaries, and narrative features. I watched them all over the course of a few days (cancer has given me one gift: time), and I marveled at the range of talent on display, especially given how criminally underfunded the arts are in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some brief notes and highlights:

Postwar Complexities and Aftermath

Most of the film’s in this year’s program deal with the war only indirectly, choosing instead to explore current, contemporary psychic and cultural landscapes of postwar, postsocialist Bosnia-Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia. Ado Hasanović’s short documentary “Let There Be Colour” tracks the potentially explosive, and yet in many ways deeply affirming, cultural reactions to Sarajevo’s first pride parade. Ines Tanović’s taut narrative feature “The Son” evokes the psychic minefields of modern-day Sarajevo, following troubled teenagers, parents, and grandparents all trying to do their best and find their way in a city where things can suddenly fall apart. Intergenerational struggles are prominent also in Dražen Žarković and Marina Andree Skop’s heartwarming “My Grandpa Is an Alien,” which allows an eleven-year-old girl to be the hero in her quest to ease the pain of her mother and grandfather, who barely survived a catastrophic alien invasion 30 years earlier. Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story “Take Me Somewhere Nice” (winner of the jury prize for best narrative feature) follows a teenage girl, Alma (Sara Luna Zoric), born and raised in the Netherlands, as she fumbles with language and boys on a journey of self-discovery in rural Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nermin Hamzagić’s “Full Moon” features a police officer (Alban Ukaj, winner of the jury prize for best actor) working the night shift in a precinct that’s a microcosm of modern Sarajevan desperation and corruption as he’s just about to become a father. In Miroslav Terzić and Elma Tataragić’s chilling “Stitches,” a desperate Serbian mother (the brilliant Snežana Bogdanović, who also starred in “The Son”) tries to locate her missing son. Similarly, the central figure in Nejra Latić Hulusić’s “The Infidel” (winner of the jury prize for best documentary and the audience award for best film) battles a persistent loneliness and alienation (in this case caused by his family’s religious radicalization), and in the short films “Snorty” (Alen Šimić), “Natural Selection” (Aleta Rajić), and “Stack of Material” (Sajra Subašić), the alienated also seek a sense of existential coherence and belonging, largely in vain.

The War Revisited

A few films revisited the war years in especially vivid ways. Nihad Kreševljaković’s documentary “Don’t Cry for Me–Susan Sontag in Sarajevo” honors Sontag’s extraordinary artistic collaborations and spirit of solidarity as she staged “Waiting for Godot” with Sarajevan actors during the siege. Sabina Vajrača’s outstanding “Variables” (winner of the jury prize for best short film) tells the story, based on true events, of Sarajevan teens who escaped the besieged city to compete in the 1995 International Math Olympiad. And Guillaume de Fontenay’s gripping “Sympathy for the Devil” (winner of a special jury prize) performs a kind of artistic miracle as the predominantly Bosnian crew recreates the look and and feel of besieged Sarajevo in order to tell the story of French war correspondent Paul Marchand and Sarajevan translator Boba Lizdek.

Concluding Reflections

The festival’s perennial contribution is that it gives us such a beautiful range of Bosnian stories told such a beautiful variety of ways. It reminds us not only of the immensity of Bosnia’s challenges but also of Bosnians’ prodigious artistic gifts. I think of eighteen-year-old Arman (Dino Bajrović) — the handsome, powerful, wounded central character of “The Son” — turning to his girlfriend to say, “I have so much to tell you.” Bosnia-Herzegovina has so much to tell us, and the Bosnian-Herzegovinian film festival is one of the best ways for us to hear it.Posted in BosniaFascismFeminismFilmGendergriefHuman RightsIslamPeacebuildingPoliticsReligion and SpiritualityTeachingtraumaUncategorizedViolence | Tagged Aida BegicAlban UkajBHFF NYCBoba LizdekBosnian-Herzegovinian Film FestivalDino BajrovicElma TataragicEna SendijarevicGuillaume de FontenayInes TanovicJasmila ZbanicNejra Latic HulusicNermin HamzagicNihad KresevljakovicPaul MarchandSabina VajracaSnezana BogdanovicSrdan VuleticSusan SontagTarik Hodzic | Leave a comment