On the Sarajevo Film Festival
by Vanda Vucicevic - interview with Miro Purivatra (festival director)
For some years now the Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF) has been seen as the most significant annual event in Bosnia-Herzegovina=s cultural life. This year, however, it undoubtedly became the most successful and talked about festival of the entire region. In his speech at the closing ceremony, the eminent Bosnian film director Ademir Kenović suggested that SFF director Miro Purivatra had done for Sarajevo and B-H what the Winter Olympic Games achieved back in 1984, restoring the country=s confidence and confirming the cosmopolitan spirit of its capital city. Bosnian Institute associate Vanda Vučićević spoke to Miro Purivatra just a few days after the end of the Festival at Vinoteka, SFF=s new and already celebrated official restaurant.
What is the concept of the Sarajevo Film Festival and what do you consider to be its role in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
SFF was created as a long-term project. At the very beginning of our work we set ourselves very clear goals, whose importance grew along with the festival itself. At the same time, we aimed to acquire an understanding of international film production, in order to bring film back into the lives of people in Sarajevo and eventually the rest of the country. Our second goal was, through SFF, to create a strong platform for the development of Bosnian film production, as well as for the development of co-production in the region. Moreover, we wanted to enable fast, quality links between Bosnian and regional producers, authors and script writers, on the one hand, and people from the international film business, on the other.
Evidently a lot of attention was paid to the >Regional Programme= during this year=s festival. Do you see regional film production as interdependent?
In previous years the Regional Programme ran at the Meeting-Point at six o=clock. This year, however, we decided to give it a prime-time slot at the National Theatre. We gave it special treatment: free press-screenings and press conferences, and a red-carpet entrance to the Theatre. So we gave a lot of prominence to authors from the region, who are often not in a position to get that kind of treatment at international film festivals.
So far as unifying regional film production is concerned, the fact is that even in the best of circumstances Bosnia-Herzegovina can make only one or two films a year, which does not amount to very much. Considering that this is a very small country in terms of film production, it is crucial to regard the region as a single area. How do we go about achieving this? Well, this year we initiated a project named Cinelink, which will select the six best scripts from the region each year. We then invited about forty producers from Europe and the rest of the world to get an idea of these projects. Thus, just as Danis Tanović had to go to Europe in search of producers for his film, we have now turned the situation around. We are giving young authors a chance to meet producers in Sarajevo, hoping that this will speed up the process of actually making films as well as enable the production of quality films. That is roughly what we have achieved this year - in addition, of course, to all the other programmes that have become regulars, like Open-Air, Tribute (with a programme devoted this year to Peter Mullan), Currents, special screenings, promotion of international independent productions or so-called art house films, and visits by Patrice Chereau, Brad Silberling and (for a second time) Stephen Frears.
Do you agree with the idea that one Hollywood star appearing at a small festival like SFF can take most of the publicity, and by doing so cast a shadow over not only local people in the film industry but also other less established visitors from abroad?
I believe it is important to find a balance in everything, since it is true that one star can cast a shadow over others. However, there are what you might call normal big stars - like our previous guests Steve Buscemi, William Dafoe, John Malkovich and so on - who became part of the specific atmosphere of the Sarajevo Film Festival. If we invited anyone who really did behave like a film star, then all our energy could go to that one person. It is in our interest to have big stars at the festival, but considering that we are a small country, even a small region, with a limited film market, we certainly cannot expect the studios themselves to send us big stars for promotion. What we can do is to invite people using personal contacts. So, for instance, one of our guests this year was Brad Silberling, who with his film The City of Angels is at the top of Hollywood production, but who is also a person who does not request special treatment and who will not act like a star. This is not a festival of big stars, it is a human-sized festival.
So that is one side of our concept of the festival. The other is the Regional Programme, which we really want to create in order to aid the process of winning more attention for film-makers from the region. Why should Pjer Žalica, Branko wurić or Željko Ogresta not be big stars in this region? We must not fear the idea of glamorizing local people, since in my opinion they have made good, quality films and are giving their own contributions to the creation of a positive atmosphere. The Regional Programme has thus helped to create the fantastic atmosphere in Sarajevo this summer, as did the very fact that Pjer Żalica received a Silver Leopard in Locarno for his films, and all the other awards won by film workers from the region.
If the focus of SFF is not on Hollywood production, but on paying more attention to the region, then promoting local cinematography must be in your interest. Are there plans to work actively on presenting Bosnian film achievements and expanding the festival itself beyond the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina?
It is definitely in our interest to make the Sarajevo Film Festival as international as possible. This means that already now we have six or seven advisors who are from abroad. A festival like this cannot survive without strong net-working in the international film business. Hence, it is in our interest to be as strong in the region as outside it. For instance, this year we signed a deal with Večernje Novine [Croatia] to promote the Sarajevo Film Festival. As a result, if we take the example of the Croatian press, we note that SFF got a double-spread feature this year whereas in previous years it was barely mentioned. The media are becoming orientated towards the region! So our PR in neighbouring countries, though its main aim is to attract people from the film industry, can also help tourism and the promotion of a different Bosnia.
What is your relationship with other film festivals in the region?
We have a professional relationship with other festivals, inasmuch as we exchange and share information, prints,dialogue sheets, and so on. However, there is still no direct linking of the festivals themselves. In principle, every festival has its own political strategy, its own concept and each one is different. Accordingly we have our own very clear profile, which is to be the best regional festival from Vienna to Greece and Turkey. Our focus is not only on showing good films, but also on aiding the development of the film business and the provision of an opportunity for regional authors and film professionals to meet in Sarajevo on a yearly basis to discuss their projects. We aim to create an atmosphere in which events like the awards ceremony for regional authors we held this year will become a tradition, and a reflection of the quality attained in the region during the year in question.
The Sarajevo Film Festival achieved another astonishing success this year: it created an unforgettable atmosphere in the city by expanding the festival activities to a whole number of Sarajevo=s bars and restaurants, in which the vast gatherings of people during the festival period confirmed the fact that SFF has become an event well beyond the boundaries of film. During the closing ceremony you suggested that people should write the date of SFF in their diaries for next year, since apparently summer vacations are already beginning to be planned according to the festival dates! With that in mind, how do you see the next, tenth Sarajevo Film Festival?
The Sarajevo Film Festival is already on the brink of becoming a big European film festival, and cannot get much >bigger=. Anything bigger would be unrealistic. Sarajevo still does not have the infrastructure necessary to hold a festival of that size. We still don=t even have a multiplex cinema!
Do you intend to build one?
I=m not sure whether we or someone else will, but somebody will have to. This festival already requires a multiplex of five, or even ten, cinema auditoriums that can provide professional standards not only for watching films, but also for giving professionals the chance, say, to have their pre-premieres here. So this is a question of the festival’s further growth. However, even with what we have now, with the small-scale projections that we ha=ve had, we are still successful. I believe that already next year we shall be a festival with thousands of guests that - with its image of not only good films and good business, but also precisely its accompanying atmosphere – will attract both professionals and tourists. I am convinced that this enormous achievement of the Sarajevo Film Festival team is also a result of all the accompanying events at Vinoteka, So.ba and Koloseum, and all the other little restaurants in Baščaršija whose owners and workers feel that the festival is also theirs, and have begun to help create this atmosphere that, at the end of the day, is in the interest of us all.