Like any art cinema can make you think
By Aldijana Selimbegović
Each new acquaintance is important. As time passes it grows more meaningful and draws us in, opens the doors to new values. To friendship. The one that was born thanks to the common thread that culture can bring to surface. Because it is important to know the ones who visit our country for the reasons we highly value. The right ones. Those people who write honest lines about what they've expirienced, they help others see things from a new perspective, see them in their true vibrant colors. Craving more, because there is an insatiable need for healthy communication, because today the world is ragingly chaotic, and beacuse we don't need a better reason to pay greater attention to truly special people - Pablo García Márquez.
Everything has its own story in Sarajevo and nothing really happens accidentally here. Your relationship with Sarajevo has been going on for ten years. What attracted you to Sarajevo in the ﬁrst place? What made it so special that you keep coming back to this city every year?
- Well, I was 20 the first time I set foot in Bosnia and 21 when I arrived in Sarajevo 10 years ago on the interrail. I must say that, for anyone from Europe, Sarajevo was associated (and stupidly continues to be associated) with the war. That is all we learn from outside; that there was a war that we cannot understand, and that arouses an unhealthy curiosity. I would like to say that I came to Sarajevo accidentally, but it is not true. I had always wanted to visit the city, spend a few days and travel through the Balkans route, but I did not expect to be so in love. Yet it was not the city or the country, not even the Cevapis, what won me over; it was the people I met and of course the festival.
First I got to know Mostar, where I met people who have become very important in my life. Yes, they were wonderful people with whom I lived at that time, who made me love the country. Well, I fell in love with Bosnia, especially during the first week. Since I was stying longer I came to understood the daily problems, I became desparate. I'm talking about the problems local people had; young people, wonderful people who could not find a job and in many cases were eager to get out of here, or people who were struggling to live with dignity and improve the country, or at least, to live with at their parents' place. And that was almost a daily struggle, trying not to fall into despondency. That was my first contact with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then I came to Sarajevo, and most importantly, its festival. I think I know very little about Sarajevo. When I come here I usually live in a bubble, the festival. In an age where in Spain, my country, festivals of all kinds were happening because it was fashionable to have a film festival in any city or town, Sarajevo had a wonderful festival, with good cinema and where people came in flocks to see the films. The first film I saw here was The Funeral, made by a great filmmaker, Abel Ferrara. Sarajevo, or rather its festival, won me over slowly. Sarajevo Film Festival is a big part of the city. I discovered that for many people it is a must on the calendar, something to participate in and be proud of. A festival where you can see Aida Begic or Jasmila Zbanic in the audience in the National Theatre. In the worst case - the festival is a social event where it almost does not matter whether or not you like movies, and in the best case - a mental state. Of course neither the festival nor Sarajevo are perfect and when you go a little beyond the comfort bubble of the festival, everyday problems are still to be confronted. I have friends who say that they are tired of the cliches and stereotypes found in theatres: a cinema say, made rather for tourists than for them. I have many friends who still live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but many have moved away. However, I still want to go back every year to immerse myself in the festival and learn the language. And really get to know the city; not only the surface. There are places you see and like, but you never come back, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, I want to keep coming back.
How important is communication in your job and what role does it play in connecting people through the world of cinema? How important are those truths that this art can bring to light?
- I am a screenwriter. I studied films in Barcelona, and now live in southern Spain where I was born. I write, too, and I have written about film in various online media. Communication and collaboration are crucial. As a critic, I am learning and deepening my understanding of many things in every movie. Every festival and contact with others is vital to continue learning. There are always new tools and views that must be analyzed. As I said, I try to be humble. You'll never stop being a sponge soaking up culture and you will always have to be critical of yourself, your work and your surroundings. I do not want to be a critic who sees umpteen movies without analysis. It is useless to devour movies without stopping. We must be thoughtful, search for information, find sources and discuss internally and with those in our environment. As for the search for truth, films can be understood and enjoyed in thousands of ways, as an escape or entertainment. But I stay mostly with the idea that, like any art, cinema can make you think. In fact, I prefer to be challenged to think and reflect before I enter an absolute truth.
How have your movie critiques changed, evolved over time? What guides your writing?
- I have changed a lot. Before critiques were a diversion and a way to go to the cinema for free, that’s the truth. Now I am more curious and I am focused especially in certain styles of cinemas. I am not closed-off from any film, but I am passionate about more than others. Before trying to look cool, now I just try to delve into my cinematics passions. Before I was looking to dump all my knowledge and now I am just have fun discovering all I love about cinema. Today anyone can write about film, and I do not find anything wrong with this. But there must be a purpose beyond seeing lots of movies. In my attempt to deepen the Balkan cinema case, I focus on Romanian, Bosnian or Serbian films. These films have some peculiarities; while universal, humanistic and critical vision is clear, it is often portrayed with one of two different slants: dry drama or crazy dark comedy. What guides me? Respect for the work I am viewing, whatever it is. A film is always the collaborative work of many people. I also attempt to understand the viewpoint of the filmmaker, whether I like it or not, whether or not I agree or disagree. For me, that approach is the key to any movie. But more personally I guess I'm still focused on ideas that keep reappearing in each review; I usually like a critical eye, I dislike sentimentality and I'm more open to films from humanistic perspective.
How important is it to nourish that inner child in us by seeing, from time to time, some animated movie?
- I think it is a pity that animated films remain associated only with childhood. Some of the most complex films I remember are actually animated. The scene of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima unleashing terror in the Japanese film Barefoot Gen (Mori Masaki, 1983) something I will not forget, because of its rawness. We must stop underestimating animated film as something only for children. Animated film should be understood not as a genre, but as a whole, conataining infinite world views and offering infinite possibilities. That being said, I also like to watch animated movies from my childhood. I always like to be surprised by Pixar or Studio Ghibli. It is a wonderful thing to watch animated films when you are an adult. It's like when you read The Little Prince: when you are young it means one thing, and it means something else when you are an adult, troubled by nostalgia of knowing that you will never again see those films or books so innocently as you once did. I guess it comes down to that phrase in the movie 'The Wild Bunch': "We all dream of being a child again." Even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all.
Culture is the most important distinctive feature of every country, but it is also the thread that connects. What are the cultural similarities between Spain and Bosnia&Herzegovina?
- Cultural similarities depend on the eye of the observer. You can see many differences and many traits in common. Bosnia is very different from Spain, when it comes to many pecularities, but I'll take as an example that which unites us: young people. It is not comparable, but I see youth as a prisoner of the past, living in the present, mortgaging a better future.
Young people ... When you get to Bosnia first thing that strikes you is the number of young people out there. Then Bosnia and Herzegovina have many peculiarities, localism that basically are universal and with a little open-minded are understood and have their correspondence in Spain or anywhere else, is the music, the past, the way of understanding life, etc ...
There is a story that can be looked at with the same eyes, there is a rich cultural past and both are full of people of different religions and cultures and they are all intermingled. Interestingly many of the Spanish Jews (Sephardim) ended up living in Bosnia and I am trying to find out more about them. I know I have not actually answered the question, but as I've already said I'm mostly living in the bubble of the Sarajevo Film Festival.
If I were in Spain right now, I should not, under any circumstances, miss out on ... What?
- If you're traveling a few days you can just immerse yourself in the Spanish culture, which is very diverse, but full of clichés and platitudes. It depends on whether you are in Catalunya or in the south, in Andalusia. If you go to south, the old cities will remind you of Sarajevo, with a full historical center of Islamic splendor and remains of all the cultures that have passed through the place. Street life is a big part of our culture and it makes it quite interesting, especially with the weather in the far south. There is plenty of nightlife. And I think that, same as in Sarajevo, people are quite open to tourists. In Seville you can be in the middle of an Islamic city, or in the middle of the Spanish Catholic Empire. If you are in Spain during this time of the year, do not miss the opportunity to meet people, to go out and talk to strangers. Whether you come alone. And walking a lot. And take tapas. Don't take photos, just walk through the old town. We have lots of problems, but it's a perfect place to walk or ride a bike. Don't drive.
We mustn't lose the sense of love and humanity because ...
- I do not think you can build anything without any of those things. Not as a filmmaker, but as a person. Sure, it is not easy. Especially since very often there is no reward. I strongly believe in the fraternity, rather than charity. I'm working on several cultural projects where we are partnering with a lot of different people. We've come together and continued the struggle on our own, without the help of the institutions. It might be the only highlight of the economic crisis. It's funny because I'm a bit cynical about everything, but although cynism won't get you anywhere in life, it still protects you from failure.
"To live your own movie" means ...?
- We all like to think we're the star of a movie. We are very influenced by film and in fact, sometimes we try projecting fiction on reality. We want to be the protagonist of something, not a simple spectator. How my life would be if I had my own vocie narrating my life? Who would be a typical secondary funny character? But the reality is much more fluid than the script and everything ends up being different from what we'd imagined. We can not control our own life. In a script, there are structures. It is safer, but it is an illusion. I write screenplays, I write about movies and when I get together with my friends we still talk about cinema. I risk making my life all about cinema. I need to do others things. But also, I am kind of thinking in movies, if I go to visit my mother, if I have relationship problems ... everything can be a movie. It would be nice to put everything in a script. But at least, I get to live a few lives.
Staying in Sarajevo means you get to taste our local cousine. What would you want us to prepare for your next arrival?
- If I return to Sarajevo next year I'd like to eat more than cevapis and bureks while running from one film screening to another. The only time of day that is somewhat quiet is the morning with my Bosnian coffee. But if you really want to eat in some place, you have two options: you either follow the tourist handbooks or you meet new people.
I hope I'll spend more time in Sarajevo next year, and not only nine days of the festival. That I'll go on more walks and meet more people. The city is beautiful, but the people are even more amazing.