FestBeat: Public space and Goodnight Sarajevo (day 10)

Yesterday I went to watch Edu Marin and Olivier Algora’s Goodnight Sarajevo (2014).

For one week the directors, a journalist and a TV producer, follow Boban Minic as he returns to Bosnia after 20 years’ absence to bury a close family member. Minic had written a book, not translated from Spanish yet, called Bienvenido a Sarajevo, Hermano (Icaria Editorial, 2012). Marin told the audience yesterday after the screening that in Minic’s book he found a different, less bloody, more human angle for representing the Bosnian war.

The film opens with a bird’s-eye shot of Sarajevo as the sound of a Muslim call to prayer is heard. Bosnia is a Muslim-majority country but the version of Islam we see in Sarajevo might not fit with the increasing tendency to equate Muslimness with Arabness. As a film about the division of Yugoslavia, discussion of religious conflicts is a necessary subtext. Early on, Minic stands in front of his old family home and looks straight into the camera, as he often does, to describe how a family from a different sect of ex-Yugoslavia lived on each floor. A Muslim Serbian family lived on one floor, an Orthodox Christian Croatian family on another and then his own atheist, mixed-race family on the last floor. They all coexisted, peacefully.

Goodnight Sarajevo.jpg

Goodnight Sarajevo

Minic was an atypical soldier in the Bosnian war, a type not often spoken about, because it was his voice that was his weapon. Broadcasting each night from Radio Sarajevo, Minic was a cultural radio journalist during the height of the war’s bombings and other horrors. He would greet the city each night, bringing a little ray of hope about the future. He took messages from listeners to let their loved ones know that they were alive and safe. He would play music and discuss the joys of living amid the stench of blood. His voice brought comfort and consolation to many people.

Goodnight Sarajevo tells a very personal story but one that is necessarily also of public import. Minic takes us into the halls of Radio Sarajevo during a very special period in its history. We come to know that some journalists died because they refused to go off air when they had to evacuate buildings. The radio’s staff didn’t go home for weeks, surviving on little sleep and food. Minic himself lost his voice for a brief period, and his career as a radio journalist, because he kept on talking when he had to rest. They were fighters that refused unnecessary ethnic and religious divisions. They took from a common language enough ground to communicate and coexist.

This film is very much about the public sphere as a concept: how is it formed, who does it marginalize, how can films comment on and operate within it? Minic takes us into the workings of mass media and their contribution to the formation of a “public.” But what I found more interesting was the film’s representation of the city streets and of public spaces such the Sarajevo market. I felt relief when the camera would exit a building like the train station or even the radio building and go out on the streets.

In one scene, after Bosnia and Herzegovina qualify for the World Cup 2014, we see people celebrating on the streets. One man says soccer is perhaps the one thing that brings everyone together in the country, regardless of ethnicity, religion or politics. The camera shows us a sublime view of human beings in large numbers celebrating a collective triumph. There is hope in this film’s representation of public spaces. Even if Minic himself does not believe so, there is a possibility to revive the diversity and tolerance of ex-Yugoslavia. The camera shows hope in an inclusive, peaceful public sphere.

The film itself is also a contribution to our current global public sphere, if such a concept can be accepted. Gruesome images of the Yugoslav wars have long circulated within our global networks of image exchange. Goodnight Sarajevo is part of these largely news media networks, as it has been screened in Al Jazeera Documentary Festival and similar documentary festivals. So, in a sense, it is trying to disrupt these networks of image exchange from within. It refuses the sensationalized, bloody images of death the media thrives on and like Queens of Syria, also screened in the Panorama, it gives us a more human side of war. 

Today is the very last day of the Panorama so make the most of it and stay tuned for my last blog entry tomorrow!

The Panorama of the European Film screens through December 5. See the full program here, our brief guide here, and all our film festival blog entries here.

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