The Additional Soul of Bosnian Cinema History: Interview by Tettyo Saito

Arman Fatić is a freelance journalist and film critic who works for several film magazines and festivals in the South-east Europe region. He is interested in experimental approaches to the film made by popular filmmakers as well as in the sociological role that film plays in the contemporary world.

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At first, why do you want to be a film critic? How did you become a film critic?

Oh my, this is a quite long and weird story. Like most of the things in my life, it happened by a pure chance. So the two „pure chance “events that lead to my film critic path was choosing to study philosophy as a secondary subject at my university because of my best friend (while literature was my primary studies) and joining „I <3 film“ club in cinema „Meeting Point“ that belongs to organizers of Sarajevo Film Festival, once again because I just wanted to hang around with my friends.

Anyways, in the second year of my Philosophy studies during the aesthetics classes my prof. Sulejman Bosto started talking about Kubrick’s „2001 A Space Odyssey “with such a great passion I felt a need to watch that film. I was already into Sci-fi genre but when I had seen that film, I just felt an urge to write about it through a philosophical lens. Some of my friends from a film club suggested me to send my essays to film critic workshop at Pula Film Festival and during the week there it all just fell into the right place.

I mean, I got the realization this is something I want to do on the 4th night of the festival, I was finishing my second review of the day while waiting in a line for my fifth film of the day. I caught myself in doing this, and my first question to myself was, why am I pushing myself so much when at this point I could just use the benefits of my festival accreditation and go to the concert of that one musician I like, where I would have some free drinks with my friends etc. Then it just hit me, I like travelling, I have been enjoying films as long as I remember and I like writing, so I should try and make a career out of this.

From that point on I just continued pushing myself in this direction with self-educating myself, working for cinemas, visiting festivals, writing for different magazines… nowadays I am the lucky one who has a chance to advice younger critics, as a chief editor of Duart.hr, and occasionally to teach in summer schools/ smaller workshops in Georgia and Slovenia.

When you started to be interested in movies, what movies did you watch?

Well, I can answer you in two ways on this question… Generally, I was interested in pop culture since my childhood, but as a young man (age 22) on a path to become a film critic I just rediscovered my love towards films.

So, as a kid, I grew up in a household with parents who were quite young. My mother gave birth to me at the age of 20 and my father was 24 at that time. My first memories come from post-war Bosnia, around 1995/1996 when there were no regulations for public broadcasting so the local tv networks just played whatever they got their hands on. So, I remember during the day my parents just had the tv turned on with MTV on it, while at night we watched whatever 80s/90s film local networks played, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park etc. I really cherish these memories and they somehow stuck on me, I always had that love and interest to watch films / visit cinema as much as possible.

When I started watching films „professionally “I decided that the basic thing I should see is IMDB top 250. When I finished with that, I had a quite good idea which directors should I explore further, what countries have distinct and different cinematography worth exploration etc. I mean when it comes to films/ directors, I guess I first watched everything by Kubrick and Scorsese. I was lucky to discover Gaspar Noe early on because for me that was a turning point. He just made films like nothing I have seen before. For me, his works, and especially the ones where his life partner Lucile Hadžihalilović worked on were the gateway to the wonders of global cinema.

What is the first Bosnian film you’ve ever watched? And how was that?

The first film I remember seeing on TV was „A Perfect Circle “by Ademir Kenović, but truth to be told I was too young to understand it and I don’t remember watching it carefully. But the first Bosnian film that I do remember seeing is Danis Tanović’s „No Man’s Land “. I was around 8 at the time when Danis won the Oscar and not long after that film had a premiere on TV. My parents thought it wasn’t a film for a kid to watch but luckily on the night it premiered, I stayed at my grandparent’s house. They didn’t care if I watch it with them or not, but just in case I pretended to sleep while the film was on, not to get myself in trouble. It was an interesting film; I had no clue what Oscars mean but I knew the film I was seeing had some meaning to the world.

What is the most outstanding characteristic of Bosnian cinema for you? For example, French cinema has a philosophy about love, Romanian cinema has a thorough realism and dark humour etc. Then, how is the Bosnian cinema?

A lot of people will probably tell you that the two main characteristics of Bosnian cinema are war stories and small social drama stories. I think that what makes it characteristic is the influence of the east and the west at the same time. Aida Begić’s film „Snow “has a dream-like state that you can notice in Turkish or Iranian cinema while still trying to ground itself to western drama narratives. With films of Jasmila Žbanić, it is a way more subtle, stories are quite western but the twists, conclusions and the melancholy within them come purely from middle eastern influences. I mean this isn’t just the case with films, this also shows in literature as well as in every other aspect of our lives here, we are shattered between the two extremes, we love our inner peace and suffering but we also want to grow and expand and push it away, contradicting ourselves on every step we take.

What is the most important Bosnian film in Bosnian cinema history in your opinion? And why?

It is quite hard to establish when the history of Bosnian cinema begins, some people don’t count Yugoslavian films produced and directed in Bosnia as part of Bosnian cinematography and some directors don’t call themselves Bosnian truth to be told. But, in my opinion, it is Emir Kusturica’s „When Father Was Away on Business “. He calls himself nowadays a Serbian director and I don’t mind that but as he is Bosnian born, as this film was made on the Bosnian territory during Yugoslavia and as scriptwriter Abdulah Sidran is Bosnian I find this film as a key point of Bosnian cinematography. This film influenced and shifted the way that Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo works up to this day, so almost every post-war Bosnian film director was thought filmmaking on the foundations of Kusturica.

If you choose just one favourite Bosnian film, what is this? And what is the reason? Is there a personal memory?

When people ask me would I ever like to make a film and what would that be like, I tell them that if I could make a film I would make something like „An Additional Soul “by Ademir Kenović. This film is the culmination of everything I previously said about the good sides of this cinematography and even more. It is a simple village slice-of-life drama but in its simplicity, it managed to capture the historical context, to present the nature of people while not being heavy themed. When I see that film, I can see influences from Otar Iosseliani, Dušan Makavejev, Mohsen Makhmalbaf…

From outside of Bosnia, one of the most famous auteurs for the world cinephiles is Ivica Matić. His film “Žena s krajolikom” is full of solemnity and innocence which make cinephiles awed. But he just made one feature and died sadly. So, how are he and his works evaluated in current Bosnia? And, interestingly, he wrote a screenplay for “Nevjeste dolaze” directed by Emir Kusturica. How was this interesting relationship born?

Ivica Matić is sadly known mostly in the small circles of true cinephiles and film industry workers, as far as I know. Film Center Sarajevo has started the restoration of BH film archive, and they plan to promote the forgotten gems and give them their well-deserved glory. I hope after that we’ll be able to see at least a bit more Matić in one way or another. Until then I am sorry that I can’t answer you how did his collaboration with Kusturica come to be.

One of my favourite Bosnian films is “Ram za sliku moje drage” directed by Mirza Idrizovic. I’m amazed that, in this film, the whimsicality of Nouvelle Vague and bleakness of Neorealism co-exist gracefully. But is this film famous in Bosnia? How are Idrizovic and his works accepted?

With older generations that remember Yugoslavia, he is well known. But interestingly people here mostly remember his later films „The smell of quince “and „Azra“. As I said Bosnia is lucky to be in between the west and east, so the splendid „coincidences “like Idrizović happen here. In a past few years, there has been a lot of talk about schooling reform, so I hope when that gets finished, film history will be a part of the school curriculum and new generations will be able to see these films that are worth time.

The 2010s ended several months ago. So I want to ask, what is the most essential Bosnian film in the 2010s in your opinion? For example, Aida Begić’s “Djeca”, Alen Drljević’s “Muškarci ne plaču”, Ena Sendijarević’s “Take Me Somewhere Nice” etc.

It is such a nice thing to see this shift. I mean it is also awkward because it is truly hard to say which of these films/ directors still want to declare themselves Bosnian. For example, the latest feature by Aida Begić „Never Leave Me “was produced in Turkey, with Turkish actors and topics. Ena Sendijarević has roots here in Bosnia, and here debut is influenced by her own experiences with this region but I am not sure would she declares herself Bosnian director, when her work and education are mostly related to Germany and Netherlands. I mean I don’t usually declare myself as Bosnian film critic because I mostly work for Croatian magazines and last 3 years I am living in Slovenia. Truth to be told these countries influenced me and gave me way more than Bosnia ever did.

But anyway, if I needed to choose essential Bosnian film of a past decade, I would like to say it is „Precious“ a short film by Irfan Avdić. The reason for this is because he is a young face on a film scene that works a lot and is not recognized a lot but once he gets his debut feature done I believe he will become someone truly influential in Bosnia.

How is the current situation of Bosnian cinema? From the outside, it seems good. After Jasmila Žbanić, new talents appear at famous festivals like, for example, Ena Sendijarević at Rotterdam and Aida Begic at Cannes. But as a Bosnian critic, how do you see this situation?

There is not a lot of films made in Bosnia, but what is made usually wins a great deal of awards. Money is the biggest issue, of course, the country doesn’t want to finance films despite great results filmmakers have been making, co-productions work great but then again if some country/ production company from some country invests more into a film than Bosnia it is hard to call film Bosnian.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that country makes is giving most of the film budget to average local directors that are on scene for several decades now, while young directors who know how to make films on a low budget and have fresh ideas and interesting worldview get nothing.

The best example of this is one sponsored event last year with Pjer Žalica and Irfan Avdić. On that event Pjer, who makes local films that mean nothing to global film industry, talks about how the future of Bosnian cinema is in the hands of young filmmakers while this whole sponsored event is made for him to announce that he got budget money for his latest work „Concentrate, Grandma“, the money Irfan and probably four more directors could have split and made way better films who would end up on Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary, Locarno etc.

And Sarajevo is one of the most important places for contemporary cinema because Tarr Béla created Film Factory here, and many talented directors (including Japanese director Kaori Oda) appear. So, how does this Film Factory function in the Bosnian film industry?

In his last interview before closing Film Factory for „Urban magazine, “Mr. Tarr said that he believes that 3 of his students will make great things in the world of cinema. All the rest of them will do good. What have we seen since the FF has closed is that, in a way. He is a genius and he managed to teach all of his students how to shoot the film in a relevant way, whatever that might be. But what most of his students are lacking is the talent, the creative drive. They might have learned how to technically make a splendid film; they were able to see some extravagant films and meet important names in the industry but if they can’t feel the film that is only on them. As Tarr didn’t want to reveal the names of these 3 students I think I am not the right person to do so, but trust me they do stand out here. Their works will speak for them soon enough.

And how is the current situation about film critique in Bosnia? From outside, there is no chance to touch its film critique. But how do you see the current situation?

Film criticism is in a way worse situation than the industry. If there weren’t the Sarajevo Film Festival and their Talents programme, there wouldn’t be new critics around and there wouldn’t be opportunities for them to develop. Film critic scene is constructed mostly from a few local magazines and a few pop culture websites. The biggest issue is that there is mostly no solidarity between the critics. I had several quite bad experiences with older colleagues where they took my jobs, talked bad about me or used my intellectual work in their advantage. Several younger critics who showed up in the last year or two are great, I am trying always to be there for them as much as I can while also not pushing my own opinions about other colleagues on them. These people are already growing out of the barriers of Bosnia which is great, the region has a bunch of great critics that are true colleagues and friends to us all and collaboration within a region is something that is, for now, the best I and these new people can do.

Do you think who is the youngest and talented Bosnian director which will become big in the 2020s? From outside, I want to name Maja Novaković for her profound humanity to capture divineness in nature.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen anything from Maja yet but from their previous work, I believe Zulfikar Filandra, Šejla Lajlani or Farah Hasanbegović might bring something great in 2020. Zulfikar will have a premiere of his experimental film „Minotaur “that we are all awaiting, while Šejla and Farah always surprise positively with their short films.