Between 13-20 August, the 27th edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival was once again on hand to serve up a feast of global films in the Bosnian capital. With a competition programme dominated by women directed movies and debut features, the festival lived up to its pledge to both discover new talent and push artistic and sociopolitical boundaries.
Among the festival winners were Sebastian Meise, who took the Heart of Sarajevo prize for Great Freedom, a film exposing the draconian laws on homosexuality in postwar west Germany. Elsewhere, Serbian director Milica Tomović was named Best Director for Celts, a family and political drama set during the Yugoslav wars. Best Documentary was awarded to Landscapes of Resistance directed by Bosnia-born Marta Popivoda and her story of the nonagenarian Auschwitz survivor and Second World War partisan, Sonya.
The Calvert Journal was among the festival attendees, bringing you our not-to-be-missed selection of coming-of-age stories, surprising rom-coms, documentaries, and biopics.
The Hill Where Lionesses Roar is a mesmerising tale of adolescence set in a remote Kosovan village. The film starts with slow-moving scenes depicting the lives of three girls and their secret hideaway, where they escape their complicated lives back home. Desperate to leave their village and abusive families behind, the trio apply for university. But the film takes an unexpected turn: confronted with rejection, the young women form a criminal gang. Stunning, unusual, and masterfully paced, Luàna Bajrami’s directorial debut has all the ingredients of a cult classic, not least thanks to the star performance of the Best Actress prize-winning Flaka Latifi, Era Balaj, and Urate Shabani.
The jury awarded a special prize to Looking for Horses, a poetic documentary about one man’s choice to withdraw from society. After losing his hearing in the Yugoslav Wars, then losing his eye in an accident, the film’s protagonist, Zdravko, moves to a small island on a Bosnian lake. Surrounded by quiet, beautiful nature, he spends his days fishing, with only a dog for company. “I am not healthy in the city; I get angry,” he repeats, explaining his decision to move away from his hometown. While following Zdravko’s daily life, we soon see a growing friendship between himself and the filmmaker, Stefan Pavlović. At the end of the film, the men come across a herd of wild horses, leaving the audience with a final, striking image: Zdravko stroking one horse after another, tenderly and purposefully.
Film director Srdan Kovačević arrived at the ITAS factory in Ivanic, Croatia, in 2015. Ten years earlier, the workers had overthrown the bosses who had tried to privatise the company, occupying the factory floor and taking control themselves. Kovačević had planned a positive story on the aftermath of their historic occupation. But over his five years of filming, Kovačević discovered that the reality on the ground was far more complicated, with workers not getting their salaries for months on end. The result is an observational documentary that takes a nuanced look at a Yugoslav-era self-governed factory resisting dodgy privatisations, and trying to survive under capitalism. Rather than providing answers, the documentary explores the promises, difficulties, and shortfalls of pursuing Yugoslav socialist dreams in today’s Croatia — as experienced by the workers themselves, and portrayed through everyday conversations, meetings, and negotiations.
A charming and experimental debut from Emina Kujundzic, A Perfect Love Story Where Nothing Goes Wrong Or Does It…? captures a stylish young Bosnian-French couple enjoying a road trip in the Bosnian countryside. You soon learn that this holiday romance is actually a heist film in disguise. With its indie pop soundtrack and an array of colourful, fun outfits, the film is a fresh, dazzling watch that also captures the reality of romantic relationships, with alternating moments of tenderness and annoyance. As an allegory, the relationship stands for the cultural and economic divides between the East and West of Europe, the choice between community and freedom, the capitalist dream, and its escape.
A moving debut feature by Kosovar director Blerta Basholli, Hive scooped an extraordinary three top prizes at Sundance Festival earlier this year. The film tells the story of one woman’s efforts to rebuild her life after her husband goes missing in a massacre during the Kosovo War in 1999. Becoming the sole bread-winner for her household — which includes her two children and her father-in-law — Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) learns how to drive and starts a business that gives employment to other widows in the village. Together, the women face down attacks from the men in the neighbourhood, who see their struggle for independence and survival as a violation of the norms.
Set in a beautiful coastal village and directed by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Murina is a coming-of-age story based within a harsh and patriarchal Croatian family. Teenage protagonist Julja becomes enchanted by an old friend of her parents who visits them at their holiday home. Soft-spoken, charming, and glamorous Canadian businessman Javier is a very different parental role model to her own father: authoritarian, abusive, and traditional. Yet, appearances are deceiving — and Julja soon learns that only she can set herself free.
One of the first biopics to come from the Balkans, Toma introduces audiences to the much-loved Yugoslav musician Toma Zdravković. Deeply emotional, the film carries viewers through the star’s life, from his childhood marred by physical abuse, to his success, emigration, and eventual return back to Belgrade. The story reveals a folk musician haunted by unhappy love affairs against the backdrop of his rise to fame, flashbacks that are interspersed with Zdravković‘s final years of battling cancer. But director Zoran Lisinac also focuses on the unlikely friendship between Zdravković and his doctor, as well as his final, sold-out music tour across the country. Screened as the closing movie at Sarajevo Film Festival, the film received a standing ovation from the audience — a reflection of just how much the Yugoslav-era star is loved by audiences to this day.