About five years ago I gave up going to movie theaters. I finally conceded that they, along with any other dark venues featuring flashing lights, were a trigger for my migraines and it was time for a change. But now we’re living in Sarajevo, which this August hosted the 23rd annual Sarajevo Film Festival.
Premiering in 1995 to a staggering 15,000 attendees (this was the middle of the Bosnian War and siege on Sarajevo, after all), Sarajevo hosts the largest film festival in Southeast Europe, and one of the largest in Europe as a whole. It is also one of a handful of festivals that can nominate films for other European film festival awards.
Every available space was utilized – all theaters were booked for the week, and parks and parking lots were converted into massive outdoor movie theaters. These I could actually attend, and all the better since they were hosting the top-billed films. I missed out on the Shorts and documentaries, and many of the lesser known films by default of their venues, but we were able to attend opening night’s Cold War and Asghar Farhadi’s latest, Everybody Knows. Sadly, my last film, Sink or Swim, was rained out and moved to an indoor theater, so Megan and I contented ourselves with an evening at a nearby wine bar instead.
Every year, thousands of people from all over the world descend on Sarajevo for the festival, and the city lights up (literally) with thousands of vintage light bulb strands, fireworks, high heels and red-carpet galas, pop-up bars and dance clubs, and impromptu concerts filling parks and common areas.
It’s as if the whole summer has been building towards this event, and Sarajevo shines.
With the exception of the festival’s last night, the weather was perfect. This summer was an unusual one – starting in April, it thunder-stormed and rained almost every day and temperatures rarely reached the 80s. Typical Sarajevo summers are hot and dry, a climate that didn’t manifest here until early September.
But that week, the week of the festival, it was amazing. Sunshine all day, clear nights and warm temperatures.
The city center is divided, almost in half, between the elaborate, tall, decorative buildings of the Austro-Hungarian Old Town and the low, tiled-roof structures of the old Ottoman Baščaršija. Sarajevo’s skyline and aesthetics reflect the cultural diversity and historical intrigue that has followed the city for centuries.
The streets of both neighborhoods pulsed with locals and tourists, all licking gelato cones, catching up with old friends over kafa, and cheering on street performers.
It proved the perfect time to re-explore our city.
And I can’t wait to do it all again next year!