Magazine article Screen International

Mirsad Purivatra, Sarajevo Film Festival

Magazine article Screen International

Mirsad Purivatra, Sarajevo Film Festival

Article excerpt

As the 20th edition gets underway, Sarajevo's festival director talks to Screen about the birth of the festival during wartime and how it is looking beyond its borders for the future.

For those who weren't there, it is hard to imagine the Sarajevo Film Festival's first edition in 1995, when fighting raged across the city toward the end of a four-year siege by troops from Bosnian Serbia.

Back then, just 37 films were screened to 15,000 people, with portable generators powering projectors in a city without electricity and a donation of one cigarette used in place of currency to secure a ticket.

Now, celebrating its 20th edition (Aug 15-23), the festival is hosted in state of the art theatres and an impressive outdoor cinema, drawing a total of more than 100,000 cinemagoers and thousands of film professionals to see around 250 films from 68 countries.

Looking back, festival director and founder Mirsad 'Miro' Purivatra says: "The hunger for films was enormous. The people had gone four years with almost no connection to world cinema. They just wanted to be part of the world again.

"I will never forget the interest of the people, not only in seeing the films but also to speak to the guests."

Directors Alfonso Cuaron and Leos Carax rode in armoured cars over the mountains that surround Sarajevo to enter the city under siege. Their film canisters were carried though the now famous 'Tunnel of Life', dug beneath the airport.

"People asked about the films but soon moved on to how the guests saw Sarajevo," recalls Purivatra. "We are just a one-hour flight from Vienna, 90 minutes from Paris... but there was seemingly no reaction to what was happening during the four-year siege.

"The people of Sarajevo were forgotten as a civilised people and they wanted to know why they were being punished, forced out of film distribution."

Building the festival

The second festival ended on the day the war was formally brought to an end by the Dayton Accords. It was then that Purivatra began to work with his team on creating the Sarajevo Film Festival as it is today.

But they were realistic in their planning. "We didn't create a timeline of miracles to become the best festival in the region overnight," says the festival director. "That is why we waited nine years to create a strong festival before launching our regional competition."

It was also only after 10 years that a red carpet was laid out at the festival "to respect regional authors who were making films but not walking many red carpets elsewhere in Europe."

Infrastructure problems

Despite celebrating its 20th edition, there are still issues, most notably with "infrastructure problems," according to Purivatra. …

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