The selector of regional docs at the Sarajevo Film Festival presents the highlights of this year’s selection and recent years’ Balkan docs.

Ten years have passed since the end of the horrible war in the former Yugoslavia, a decade that signified a period of transition in which many countries in the Balkans have been facing hard times. After the establishment of new political systems or even whole new states in the Balkans, filmmaking became more than just a matter of culture. It is considered to be the most profound manner of expressing a national identity and of giving a recognisable voice that echoes abroad. It is also an attempt to reflect on the political events as well as to re-conciliate and consolidate with one another.

Humour and Self-irony

Although one cannot consider Balkan cinema as an aesthetically common notion, a specific quality distinguishes the new films coming from the different parts of this region: a humour full of self-irony and dark, pitiless contemplation on the misfortune of Balkan heroes. A new generation of young directors is successfully combining the “auteur cinema” approach, trying to come up with a very personal cinematic language, with stories being processed smartly in a more accessible way.

Maybe one of the most memorable films from the region is the Bulgarian documentary “Whose Song Is This” by Adela Peeva that brings out the mentality of the Balkan people in a mocking and humorous manner, showing at the same time the darkest sides of the neighbours who are ready to start a war in a dispute over a song. Or the remarkable documentary “The Bridge” that Survives by Mira Erdevicki that balances between a tremendous uplifting spirit and the tragic destinies of the musicians from the divided city of Mostar. Similarly, the documentary “Imported crow” by Goran Devic, an innocent document on birds, provides a hilarious but deeply serious metaphor for the former political climate in Croatia.

Balkan Docs Anno 2006

Alen Drljevic

Interestingly, the main theme of most films chosen for this year’s selection of Sarajevo Film Festival’s (SFF) Regional Docs appears to be a quest: a painful and courageous quest for the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Bosnian refugees in Montenegro, in the brilliantly made investigative and creative documentary “Carnival” by Bosnian director Alen Drljevic. We see a search for the warmth of a true home (country) in the powerful “The Second Generation” by Amir Muratovic that addresses the problems of Bosnian refugees living in Slovenia. “My Neighbour Tanja” by Petar Krelja is a profound quest into the inner world of a woman “next door” who struggles through life with tremendous strength and self-irony. A search over the border to discover Western Europe’s capitalism and democracy is given in the dramatic “Europe Next Door” by Zelimir Zilnik, in which he unveils the dreams and deeds of young people who agree to marry for money in order to reach the EU next door. Each of these ‘quests’ is done in a cinematically different manner. What they have in common is a quite humorous, even mocking approach to the heaviest sides of the political and social life in their respective places in the Balkans.

Successful Abroad

“Georgi and the Butterflies” by Andrei Paounov

The programme of the IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) proves that the documentary production from this region has been tremendously changing the global landscape of documentaries. The most successful ones, at least, are worth mentioning here: Bosnian “Ecce Homo” by Vesna Ljubic was nominated for the Joris Ivens award; “Sarajevo’s Dog” by Haris Prolic was in the Silver Wolf competition; the Serbian film “Chicken Election” by Goran Radovanovic was nominated for the same award last December, while Bulgarian “Georgi and the Butterflies” by Andrei Paounov won it in 2004, as well as the Romanian film “The Bridge” by Ileana Stanculescu, which won the First Appearance Award in 2004. Other films that have been much in demand by Western broadcasters and international festivals in the last few years are “The Great Communist Bank Robbery” by Alexandru Solomon and “Children of the Decree” by Florin Iepan, both from Romania, “Whose Song Is This” by Adela Peeva from Bulgaria and “Pretty Diana” by Boris Mitic from Serbia, as well as “La Strada” by Damir Cucic from Croatia.

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