Films put the Western Balkans on the big screen

On 16 August, the 25th edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival will kick off

The Western Balkans' film scene has been thriving in recent years, reaching audiences across the world and winning awards at major festivals. And this week sees the opening of one of the biggest one in the region; the 25th edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival. Founded during the siege of Sarajevo, it is today a major celebration of film, bringing together over 100,000 spectators and filmmakers to celebrate regional, European and international cinema.

Marking the first quarter-century of the biggest film festival of the region, organisers have prepared a street parade, a record number of movies... and an unusual carpet. The silver jubilee will kick of on 16 August with a street parade, after which 270 films from 56 countries will be shown over the following eight days.

As part of the spectacular line-up some 68 movies will be having their world premieres, while 12 will be having their first screenings outside of the country they were produced in. In the meantime, some 53 movies will compete for the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo (Pocasno Srce Sarajeva), the Festival’s annual award.

“We are expecting a big festival this year – a record number of films – 270 – a record number of films submitted,” Andrijana Copf, spokesperson for SFF, told BIRN.

A Bosnian co-production, Sin (the son] will open the festival on Friday, produced by Ines Tanovic, the highly regarded film producer who was a Bosnian candidate for the Academy Awards in 2015. The film, which gets its world premiere, tells the story of the life and relationships of a four-member Sarajevo family who have one biological son and one adopted one.

Ordinary film fans will keep an especially close on the Open Air programme, when they can enjoy films under the stars, and at top projection quality. Another attraction of the Open Air programme is that nearly all of the films shown will be attended by special guests, either producers, actors or directors, who will personally introduce their films to the audiences.

In another special touch, instead of the usual red carpet, the festival this year is using a traditional ornamented Bosnian carpet as a walkway for the stars. The idea is the brainchild of the Sarajevo city council, and aims to represent the cultural commonalities of Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs and all the other peoples living in the multi-ethnic and multi-faith country.

Since its start in 1995, during the war, the festival has grown into the largest film event in Southeast Europe, attracting an annual audience of 100,000 and renowned filmmakers from around the world. In 2018, an independent study showed that the festival contributes significantly to the local economy and tourism, generating a total spending of € 5,3 million and an additional € 27 million impact related to the thousands of visitors it attracts. The festival was also found to help create a sense of belonging and pride among citizens, and mentioned alongside the iconic 1984 Winter Olympics in terms of importance. The jubilee edition of the festival this year is held under the auspices of UNESCO as once again a powerful demonstration of how arts and culture can promote dialogue and tolerance.

“I am confident that the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival and its programs will contribute to giving access to films to a wide audience and to strengthening peace in Southern Europe,” UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, wrote in a letter on 31 May.

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