Building bridges

Mark Cousins, the new Director of f

the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival, reports on a week of cinema in Sarajevo.

About 13,000 people go to the movies each week in Edinburgh. This is above average for a city of its size it seems that Edinburghers like films. It seems that the city likes to dream.

There is another city on our continent which also likes to dream. It is about the same size as Edinburgh. and its December days are frosty like ours. But most of its cinemas are closed and few tickets are bought. This other city is Sarajevo. and the reason is the war.

A few weeks ago. I was in Sarajevo. The purpose of my trip was to present a selection of the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival there. I had been assured by the people who run a little cinema in the city that the Edinburgh films would go down well. I hoped so. but wasn’t sure. As I sat in the military plane or the UN armoured personnel carrier with journalists and diplomats. l was embarrassed to say that the reason for my trip was movies. My business was trivial

compared to theirs. and I couldn‘t convince myself of

the city’s need at that time for cultural visitors.

Then when I got there. everything changed. Most of the cinemas may be damaged by Serb shells. but the people are as interested in movies as the most dedicated Filmhouse or GET groupie. In conversation after conversation. interview after interview. I was asked what Sarajevo had missed in the last three years in terms of new cinema and literature. The cultural isolation of the city is wearing its people down. They are desperate for new things.

The .‘Edinburski Filmski Festival U Sarajevu‘ was a welcome movie fix. lt played on video in the underground War Cinema Apollo. which has projected films to full houses. when it could. throughout the war. Each screening was packed. filled with smoke. a triumph for the organisers Almir Palata and Asja Hafner. Bosnian soldiers with machine guns stood at the door. Afterwards. in a downstairs cafe. over Turkish coffee or Bosnian beer.

people would ask about Edinburgh. the Film Festival and film-going. Many said they‘d love to visit and I invited them all to stay with me. lfthey all come. 1'“ need a block of flats.

I left the city it was awful getting out -- and the Festival played on. 'l‘hat night. there was a film from Khazakhstan. the next a Japanese documentary. l came back to l‘itlinburgh. which looked like l.as Vegas after Sarajevo's dark streets. l saw some of the city‘s film-goers queue at the MGM for litmus! (Jump. And. ofcourse. I couldn't get Sarajevo out of my head. The siege has not killed film culture. Into the downstairs cafe one evening before the l()pm curfew. Milan (‘vijanovic brings the latest edition of his film discussion magazine .S‘/r\'/:'.>\.S"l'. It has articles on .S'r'lu'ut/lcrk List. (ierman avant—gardist Walter Ruttman. and a scene analysis of [it‘ll Hm: The city which has been brought to its knees by criminal aggression is producing a film itiagazine. Edinburgh doesn‘t do that. Maybe we should start one and

The broken splendour of Sarajevo. Photo by Mark Cousins

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Before I had left Edinburgh. I talked to Filmhouse boss Jim Hamilton and he suggested twinning his cinema with the Apollo. Before I could suggest this to Almir l’alata. he said. through a translator. ‘maybe we can be brothers with an Edinburgh cinema.‘ And so it is. Filmhouse will send tapes of the new films whose suppliers give permission. and each cinema will publish news about the other and its films.

long before the war in former Yugoslavia. ()bala. the art centre which owns .-\pollo. sent great plays to Edinburgh. The cultural links through Richard l)cmarco. composer Nigel Osborne and others have been strong. I have also suggested to the Book Festival that next year they might look at Bosnian writers such as (.ioran Simic.

Before my trip. Bosnian filmmaker Srdan Vuletic asked me whether I thought the city would be full or empty. ‘a jungle or a desert'. ln film terms. at least. I know that it is a jungle. damaged but full of life.

_ 9 Festival, it’s Mark Cousins and Ginnie ! Atkinson, the new Director and

Producer respectively, who have their

hands firmly on the steering. ‘You can

expect lots of changes,’ says Cousins,

announcing a ‘new shape’ for the

g oldest continuously running film

1 festival in the world.

Prior to next year’s launch, the team

is sketchy on detail. ‘We’ll be putting

1 a major retrospective at the centre,

New blood at Film Festival

As every backbench Tory knows, those i at the helm had better have a keen sense of direction or else even the most durable of institutions will run out of steam. Inside the well-trodden corridors of the Edinburgh Film

22 The List 2—15 December l994

precedent, since both Cousins and

Atkinson have worked for the Festival } in the past. As Head of Programming at the 1994 Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival, Cousins reintroduced the retrospective event and included an extensive programme of films by one of his heroes, Japanese filmmaker

Shohei lmamura. Cousins is an experienced documentary filmmaker

himself, and maintains a particular

and taking the Festival further into the i interest in Eastern Europe.

l international scene,’ Cousins hints. In

1 fact, we may learn something from

. Atkinson’s association with the a Festival goes back to the mid-70$

when the Filmhouse buzzed with Martin Scorsese’s presence. A

{ successful producer for television and 1 film, she also co-ordinated the ‘Just

Do It’ event at the 1994 Festival. She is targetting the 1995 event at an

2 eclectic young audience to whom

i ‘arthouse’ and ‘commercial’ labels are ; irrelevant. Cousins, unfettered, is

i enthusiastic: ‘We are free to

programme a big Hollywood film next l to something obscure from ' Khazakstan. Our criterion is i inventiveness.’ (Hannah Fries)