Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Datum 16-01-2014
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The Balkans are picturesque and dramatic, hiding film stories behind every corner — they say. Cinema likes the Balkans. Balkan cinema is romantic, expressionist, some would even say balkanist. Black humor, folklore, turbulent politics, tragicomic narratives, authentic characters, absurdity, fatality.
The Balkans are cinema.
Maybe. Maybe cinema loves the Balkans. Maybe the Balkans are cinema. And maybe Bosnia and Herzegovina is its most restless child.
They say Sarajevo is a city of film. There is even a local joke saying that when a Bosnian feels like watching a good film, s/he makes one. (The original joke is not gender sensitive, of course.)
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some still make films. The brave ones, the stubborn ones. Sometimes even good films. But this short piece should reflect on the state of cinema in the country, so we need to think about, and talk about cinema, and not films. We need to ask whether there are distinctive, specific visions. In Bosnia, cinema is not (yet) the classic victim of business and the market. Nor of neoliberal budget cuts. No, not at all. There is nothing left to be cut.
One might say, that could be a good start.
The public film school in Sarajevo, the city of film, some years provides studies in directing, and some years it doesn’t. This decision is usually not budget-related, nor the result of a new strategic plan for audiovisual arts education. It depends on the weather on the day the exam committee with its single member makes the decision who is in and who is out, the mood of the tenured lecturers, or simply a lucky coincidence. But hey, whose fault is it if you have bad luck?
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are less than ten functioning cinemas, three of which are in its capital Sarajevo. One of these three needs to profile itself as ’the best club in town’ to be able to support its tiny cinema program; another has (almost) closed down every second month for the last four years and specializes in financial acrobatics to stay afloat; and the third is a multiplex that showcases movies while never ever programming cinema.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no more cinema culture. As difficult as it is to spell this out, it is a fact. Those two functioning cinemas in Sarajevo barely attract an audience. There are two film festivals in the city. At the big red-carpet Sarajevo Film Festival, the best cinematic screenings gather the few local cinephiles and those festival guests looking for a detox from the market hangover. The small, creative documentary Pravo Ljudski Film Festival shows arty, slow films, which attract the students of Bela Tarr’s school, a few expats wanting to escape from their everyday routines, and less and less locals since they have begun to realize the benefits of audiovisual entertainment and have downloaded Manakamana (2013) or a fresh digital restoration of Loin du Vietnam (1967) in stead of paying $16 for a comedy…
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Cinematheque is one of the least accessible public institutions, making it liter­ally­ impossible to see a film, borrow a book, or (God forbid) organize a program there. And since the staff has difficult personalities, the public agreement is not to talk about it as there is no solution to this inaccessibility.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are no film critics. Nor film magazines. Nor a film shop.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Film Fund decisions are often the subject of court cases, public slander and hurt feelings.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are no local distributors, while the number of producers and production companies can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Just for fun, substitute the term Bosnia and Herzegovina with Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro. Please do not substitute it with Croatia or Bulgaria — things changed there. Yes, they did.
Maybe cinema once loved the Balkans.
Maybe the Balkans were cinema.
Maybe the Balkans no longer love cinema.
The time is three thousand years in Europe.
When did cinema in the Balkans die?
Or is it yet to be born?

Kumjana Novakova is co-founder and Creative Director of the Pravo Ljudski Film Festival in Sarajevo