Life during wartime

This year’s Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival includes a three-day focus on filmmaking in Sarajevo. Alan Morrison assesses the role of cinema in a war zone.

Another peace plan is rejected. Fighting intensifies in and around Sarajevo. On a single day. the UN counts 700 violations of the cease-fire agreement. But after three years of war in former Yugoslavia, UK news bulletins have begun to turn their eyes elsewhere: Rwanda, Haiti. inconvenienced commuters in London. This Balkans War is, however, a European war, and one that is as much a symptom of the post- Soviet world of the 90s as the bitter tribal disputes that go back centuries.

Since the outbreak of hostilities in June 1991, we have heard rumours ofgenocide, mass rape and concentration camps. Disturbing pictures filter through, watered down for the front pages of family newspapers and evening news broadcasts, but it‘s never enough to force the British to share the nightmares of races disrnissively considered to be geographically. politically and ethnically distanced from ourselves. After all, if we can push Belfast to the back of our minds, how much easier is it with Sannevo?

The cinema hall at Sarajevo‘s Obala Gallery was an early casualty of the war. but with the help of private clubs. foreign journalists and humanitarian workers, videos have been projected onto a small square screen, twice a week. from February l993 onwards. The programme may be repetitive, but the city‘s

cultural hunger is partially sated. in conjunction with the Obala Theatre Company, plans are now afoot to present a ten-day ‘Edinburgh Film Festival ln Sarajevo’, with highlights from this year’s programme filling the screens in video form in October.

As part of this cultural exchange, Edinburgh film- goers will have the opportunity to witness the Balkan carnage physical and psychological in a less censored form than we have seen to date. as the Festival shows work made by those caught directly in the fighting.

Oleg Novkovic‘s graduation feature Why Have You Left Me .7 reveals the emotional scars left on the younger generation, as a boy and girl, brought together in traumatic circumstances. find themselves isolated from the societies they grew up in. Tango Argentina gives us the more upbeat story of a child who finds newjoy in life helping the old and disabled. Decline ()f The Century is a long and complex documentary exploring the history of Croatia through the subjective eyes of filmmaker Lordan Zafranovic. The spectre of former Yugoslav leader Tito looms over Nikola Kai'aju: A Hunt For Tim, which centres on a Serbian nationalist jailed for attempted assassination. Two shorter works by

Planet Sarajevo Srdjan Vuletic Witnesses 0f Existence and I Burnt Legs focus, respectively, on a touring art exhibition and the student whose task it is to incinerate the amputated limbs in a Sarajevo hospital.

it is raw footage like that contained in the last film that will most shock British audiences unused to confronting these atrocities. To Europe With Love is a crudely shot tribute to the workers ofthe Gradacac war hospital. The film begins with unflinching close- ups of bodies left to decay by the roadside, their faces like melted waxworks from a chamber of horrors. ln Plane! Sarajevo, Sahin Sisic's camera smoothly skims the ground like Sam Raimi's in The Evil Dead, the artistic presentation at odds with pictures of real evil, real dead. French intellectual Bemard-Henri Levy’s documentary Bosna.’ attacks the West‘s non-intervention policies and praises Sarajevo citizens as true descendents of the Resistance. Again its images remind us of the depths of inhumanity that continue today: it is not the shot ofa body in the street. half its head missing, that has most effect on the viewer, it is the child in the hospital. staring silently at the camera, who has learned a painful wisdom beyond tears. Cinema And Sarajevo. Cumen/l’ilmhouse. Wed l7—Fri I 9.

:- Talking shop

New Jersey is not the kind of place that movies are made, nor are Iiuick- Stop convenience stores. In his first feature film, Clerks, writer-director Kevin Smith has managed to combine both with heaps of the humour and style that have won him a string ot awards at Cannes and Sundance and a reputation as one of the hippest indie filmmakers currently being courted by the Hollywood studios.

Clerks chronicles 24 hours in the life of Dante (Brian O’Ilailoran), reluctant hero and wizard of the cash register, set In the very convenience store where Smith himselt worked for tour years. The idea behind the tilm is largely autobiographical, as Smith ls keen to point out: ‘It’s a way to get it across to people that just because you’re iockeylng a register doesn't

mean you’re a complete buttoon or a total idiot. There are customers who are really condescending, like they

believe this is where your lite begins and ends - that you really don’t have any other abilities and that’s why

you’re sitting here.’

Dante’s day starts badly and gets progressively worse as we are treated to a series of wacky customers, including an egg Ietishlst and a sleaze-ball who wants to borrow a porn mag and use the rest room. Added to this Is a revelation from his glrltriend concerning her raunchy sex lite and the news that his ex Is getting married. Much hilarious commentary from behind the counter Is provided by Randal (Jeff Anderson), Dante’s quick- tongued pal who works In the neighbouring video store. Despite one too many dick jokes, they luggle Impressive banter that results In a kind at Slacker’s guide to the Universe, and Smith succeeds In proving his point - that there’s more to a convenience store than lust a generic pitstop tor milk and tags. (lIia Rawllngs)

Clerks, Flimhouse 1, Wed 17, 8.45pm and Sat 27, 8.30pm.

The List l2—i8 August I994 69