BY PAOLO SIERRA
Miss Sarajevo is a short 30 minute film by Bill Carter that I was more or less forced to watch for the sake of a class. After its thirty minute screening, I was left upset that it was only a half-hour with its jaw-dropping scenes and in its illustrated beauty of humanity throughout the work. Rather than focusing on the statistics and news that resulted from the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990’s, Carter refocused the premise of the film on the artists of the town—the poets, filmmakers, actors and musicians.
Carter was very clever in his directing, in that he strategically moved away from the usual reports the media gives on war. It is almost expected to see politicians supporting, religious leaders opposing, endless statistics and the occasional activist that unknowingly shifts our bias to form an opinion just before we flip the channel. However, Bill Carter noted at the finale of the film, during a Q/A session, that he wanted to capture the voice of the people. To do this, he told the story of the everyday lives of the people who lived in Sarajevo at the time of the war. For the purpose of this piece, the names of the speakers or interviewees were anonymous.
A teenage girl with a thin and precise posture surprised me with her strong and stern voice when she stated that she once went to school downtown, but had to relocate because it was too dangerous. According to the girl, “we can only go to school one day per week instead of six, because of the snipers and grenades.” According to another local, “[the city is] like one body with cancer, dying slowly,” she said, poetically. The civilians were constantly forced to sprint from one side of the road to another as a displaced citizen said, “if we in a city and grenade fall, we must run to house (sic.). It’s very dangerous.” As Mr. Carter explained later in the Q/A session, citizens of Sarajevo lived like turtles with their necks, almost, hidden in the midst of their shoulders as people maintained a shrugged posture to “avoid getting their heads blown off.” As a creative alternative to continue to travel from point A to point B, people made tunnels that would easily transport them to and from different places of the towns. These tunnels were easily disguised for bomb holes and could run for great stretches beneath the city. The tunnels were in the heart of rubble—dark, dusty, narrow and would promise any claustrophobic have a panic attack. Others recognized that it was worth the risk to retrieve elemental things like water, “we must go get water if sniper come (sic.), we die but we need water.” Complimentary to this statement, a local man said, “I am not living to live, I am living to survive.” Many of the people are living day by day, moment by moment, to see how far their lives can take them to fulfill their daily responsibilities, making an effort to fight—to try.
Still, in every school, community and society there are always the optimistic and curiously humorous bunch that seems to be untouched by their surroundings. They seem immune to the darkness and negativity that encircles them. They bring a bubble of positivity to their lives that exercises the phrase, “carpe diem.” There is an entire population of underground artists that reside in Sarajevo. Carter does a phenomenal job at focusing on one man who is making a film about a vampires, human victims and cheese (which was creatively incorporated in his work), much of which revolves around dark humor, as many civilians distinguish. However, many say dark humor is acceptable because it still stands as humor—something that will cause people to laugh and at least experience a moment’s happiness. For example, Carter shoots one of the actors nonchalantly informing the viewer, “In half an hour, I have to go to front line (sic.) Because I’m a soldier, too. I have two days as a soldier and two days off.” He then explains that even though he shares his happy moments in the arts, the toughest times were when he had to face the death of his best friend. He emphasized that he had previously lived with his friend for ten months and he was the person who he shared everything with, from cigarettes to food. He then profoundly expresses his hope that nobody goes through this experience because it can make you “insane.”
In this not-so-liberal society, the role of the women was perhaps not expected to be influential. However, women took advantage of the little power they had—their beauty. The film explains that women actively participated in beauty pageants and elaborated on the idea that women fought by showing the enemies that they are killing the beauty contestants as well—a sassy threat, I think.
Sarajevo was an incredibly dangerous place, given the fact that 10,000 civilians died, 2,000 of which were children. However, Bill Carter notes after the film, that Sarajevo is his favorite place to be—a second home. He emphasizes that although it is a place holding dark memories, but it is also where cherished memories are made. The lack of electricity forced him to communicate with people in an old-fashioned way, without internet or phones. This, essentially, allowed him to create bonds with the people.
Many think nothing of simple conversations, yet he states that even the most unassuming conversations were of the best moments he has had his entire life. Mind you, this is coming from a man who has traveled to almost every county in the U.S. and 75 countries worldwide.
In all, this movie was a great, informing watch, and I certainly recommend it to the Bentley population.