[spectre] film: do you remember sarajevo?

geert geert@xs4all.nl
Wed, 17 Apr 2002 09:36:02 +1000


Transitions On Line (Prague)
12 April 2002

Remembering the Siege
Ten years on, a poignant documentary recalls the siege of Sarajevo.

By Daria Sito

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina--The producers of the documentary, 'Do
You Remember Sarajevo', thought their film would play in a local cinema
for a total of three days, and at that, only in the afternoon--a time slot
not known for "good box office." They said they only wanted to make a
contribution to the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the 1992-95
Sarajevo siege. But the film triggered a great interest in Sarajevans
and played for weeks.

Ten years after the Bosnian capital became a global symbol of resistance
and survival, the film--which features amateur video by locals, footage
filmed by the producers in wartime Sarajevo, and various other video
archives--has revived memories of how hellish life was in the besieged
city.  It presents the inside story of the longest siege in Europe
during the 20th century.

"We wanted to make a film that would attempt to convey that characteristic
emotion and energy that existed at that time and which would be recognized
by the audience," said Nihad Kresevljakovic, one of the producers.  "We
didn't intend to make a film to be seen by a million people, but a film
that a group of people will watch million times."  He added that the film
attempts to help future generations better understand what life under
siege was like.  "We noticed that time and distance does not help better
understanding. On the contrary, it reduces our abilities to cope,"
Kresevljakovic said.

It is still difficult for many people to understand what happened here
after the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the former Yugoslav Peoples Army
(JNA), surrounded the capital, which was known for its multicultural
spirit and tolerance. The Serbs fired millions of shells at the city,
wounding some 60,000 people and killing nearly 12,000.  Ten percent
of the victims were children.  The attackers cut off water, power and
gas supplies. The city suffered severe food shortages.  Serb snipers
deliberately targeted civilians, often while they were queuing for bread
and water.  Death became a daily routine.

'Do You Remember Sarajevo' reminds Sarajevans of empty streets, where
absolute silence was broken only by explosions and gunfire, and of babies
and children screaming in chilly shelters. It revives images of destroyed
apartments and burning historic buildings that were once the pride of
the city. People watching the film sometimes weep.  "God, we really had
got used to it," an old woman said as she watched the scenes of violent
destruction in a packed cinema recently.

The film recalls the shock and disbelief of ordinary people early
in the war, when they couldnt grasp what was happening. Kresevljakovic
said the film is a history of common people suffering a plight they
could never have imagined. "Hey, they are shelling residential areas,"
a stunned cameraman says in the film, not believing his eyes. "Just
look at what they have done to the town," sighs another cameraman,
echoing the feeling widely shared by Sarajevans--that their city was
a living thing.

At a recent screening, the audience was deeply moved by scenes that
reminded them so vividly of things they have struggled to put behind them.
As they watched scenes of their survival, they cried, but at one point,
they laughed, when a woman in the street was shown protesting loudly
against the shelling: "Every civilized bombardment has been announced
so that people know and orderly find a shelter. And look what they are
doing here," she complains.

"Our film is partly jovial and partly sad, said Kresevljakovic. Just as
was the life under siege."  He added that the authors did not have any
artistic ambitions. "But the survival itself was a piece of art," he
said.  "We wanted to keep self-respect and respect of all those people
who went through it."  And that feeling has been recognized by the
hundreds of  people showing up every day to watch the documentary. Even
in the biggest cinema in town, many people sit on the floor and stairs
because all the seats are full.

Since the war ended in late 1995, life hasn't been easy for Sarajevans.
Most have struggled to make a living in a post-war society dogged by
unemployment and poverty.  As the country reintegrates, and as those
who left during the war slowly return, there is less and less talk about
the past.  Most people try to look toward the future.  But in the days
leading up to 6 April--widely regarded as the day the Bosnian war began
10 years ago--the memories came back. Sarajevo media ran special coverage
of the 43-month siege. Survivors laid flowers at the graves of those who
lost their lives. Sarajevo artists participated in a number of public
memorial events organized to recall the city's resistance and survival.
Also, wartime posters, photos and films reminded Sarajevo that it had
resisted an inconceivable evil and its culture had survived.

"A normal Sarajevan needs to keep these memories out of self-respect,"
said Kresevljakovic. He added that the authors did not intend to revive
negative emotions caused by the war, but rather to highlight those noble
human acts that made it easier to cope with the war.  "We just do not
wish to deny that we have had this experience. After this [experience],
I am very different from from a Frenchman or an Englishman," said
Kresevljakovic, who was 18 when the war broke out.  "But I could have
done without it as well," he added.

Daria Sito is TOLs correspondent in Sarajevo.