Croatian film director and actor Juraj Lerotic shows his award "Heart of Sarajevo" for best lead role in the movie "The Safe Place", on the final night of the 28th edition of Sarajevo Film Festival, on August 19, 2022. - This year's edition of Sarajevo Film Festival brought 235 motion pictures, from 62 countries worldwide. (Photo by ELVIS BARUKCIC / AFP)

Ukrainian flags can currently only be spotted sporadically in the cityscape of Sarajevo. The German Embassy is an exception with its two copies.

But even without this sign, the people here know – probably better than in any other European capital – what it means to be attacked by a neighboring state that is supposedly a brother nation. 30 years have passed since the beginning of the four-year siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs, and many residents still remember how grenades and sniper projectiles were fired at them every day.

The current images from Ukraine of bombed high-rise buildings and dead people on the streets seem like a horrifying reprise of the scenery in Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time. However, there is one crucial difference: due to an embargo, the Balkan country did not receive any international arms deliveries for a long time, and had to organize its defense on its own.

The Sarajevo Film Festival was founded in 1994 during the siege. Since then, it has been managed by Mirsad Purivatra, who handed over the post of director to Jovan Marjanović, who was born in 1980, in February. A few weeks later, the festival announced that it would open its programs, otherwise focused on Southeast Europe, to works from Ukraine.

A good decision, which among other things led to Maksym Nakonechnyi standing on the stage of the National Theater in Sarajevo on a hot August afternoon to talk about his feature film debut “Butterfly Vision”.

Right at the beginning, the director from Kyiv, who has a tattoo of the Ukrainian trident coat of arms on his forearm, emphasizes that it means a lot to him to show his film here, given the parallelism between Bosnian and Ukrainian history. “It’s a privilege that I can travel with him,” he says, referring to the travel ban for men of military age, referring to the members of his crew who are currently fighting in military units.

They have thus become real quasi-comrades of the main character of “Butterfly Vision”: Lilia (Rita Burkovska) served as a drone pilot in the Donbass and comes back home after months in Russian captivity. In addition to the large scars on her body, short memory sequences, dream images and drone shots also show that she has experienced terrible things. Nakonechnyi weaves the various media together in an extremely suggestive way and, thanks to Rita Burkovska’s intense acting, creates an impressive approach to the inner world of a woman who is overwhelmed by her war experiences and who, despite everything, manages to defend her individuality.

The same applies to the heavily pregnant Irka (Oksana Cherkashyna) from Maryna Er Gorbach’s Donbass drama Klondike, which was shown in the Berlinale Panorama in February and is now running in competition at the 28th Sarajevo Film Festival. In one of the first scenes, the house of Irka and her husband Tolik (Sergey Shadrin) is severely damaged by a separatist missile. The struggle that takes place around their village is then reflected in the lives of the couple. Maryna Er Gorbach stages the story in calm shots, even managing to credibly integrate the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over the area into the plot.

Presenting Klondike at the National Theater, the director and screenwriter says that that July day in 2014 – also her 33rd birthday – was one of the reasons why she made the film. “Actually, I thought that this event would shake up the international community,” she says. However, since that didn’t happen, she went to work herself – although she had the feeling that she was much too late with it.

In fact, Russia’s all-out war of aggression took place just a few months after her feature film was completed, which in no way diminishes its impact – on the contrary: “Klondike” helps to understand what people in eastern Ukraine have been going through for eight years. An emotional approach that news pictures do not allow.

Maryna Er Gorbach was awarded the Director’s Prize by the jury around the Austrian director Sebastian Meise (“Great Freedom”). Visibly moved, she accepted the trophy in the form of a forged heart at the closing gala, which she later put on her blue and yellow bracelet. “It’s the happiest prize because we’re presenting the film in a city that shows us that life goes on after the war,” she told BHT1 television. That gives her hope, just like the solidarity she experienced here.

Another gesture of solidarity with Ukraine was the awarding of the honorary heart to the director Sergei Loznitsa, to whom a tribute was also dedicated. He was in the Bosnian capital for several days, gave a so-called master class and revealed that he was working on a film about the war, the end of which he could not foresee. “Everything depends on the willingness of the US and NATO to give arms to Ukraine,” he said.

It was also a question of money and added: “After six months we see that the sanctions were stupid.” You can see it differently. Loznitsa himself was criticized at the beginning of the attack against all of Ukraine for speaking out against a boycott of Russian films at festivals.

There was no official boycott in Sarajevo, although there was only one Russian short film among the more than 220 works in the programme. On the other hand, the number of celebrities at the festival, which is traditionally popular with Hollywood stars, was high again at the first edition after two years of the pandemic. Mads Mikkelsen picked up his honorary heart from 2020, directors Ruben Östlund, Michael Winterbottom and Paul Schrader gave master classes.

So did actor Jesse Eisenberg, who was making his directorial debut. The star of films like “Social Network” or “Zombieland” deserves the title of the most enthusiastic Sarajevo guest this year. “It’s the most interesting and coolest city in the world,” he said at his master class, “and I’ve traveled quite a bit.” history of the country that he will definitely visit again.

In the varied competition, the successor states of the former Yugoslavia were well represented with three out of eight entries. Aida Begić from Sarajevo, however, came away empty-handed with her “Balada”, as did Slovenian Dominik Mencej with his coming-of-age film “Jahami”. The big winner comes from Croatia and is called Juraj Lerotić. His directorial debut “Sigurno Mjesto” received the heart of Sarajevo for best film, he himself was awarded best actor. An understandable choice, because this moving drama lives not least from its portrayal of the film hero Bruno, who saves the life of his younger brother Damir (Goran Marković) after a suicide attempt.

In the following 24 hours, which make up the approximately 100-minute film, Bruno and his mother take Damir from Zagreb to Split, at his request. They are increasingly overwhelmed by Damir, who is increasingly dominated by his mental illness.

Often filmed through panes of glass or with figures cut into or separated by cuts, the alienation of the family members becomes clear. Bruno can be seen running a few times, while it is his brother, who is shown almost exclusively sitting or lying down, who moves everything here. “Sigurno Mjesto” is based on Juraj Lerotić’s own experiences. Seeing him partying with his team at the award ceremony was a wonderful end to the festival.