A Film a Week - Sarajevo Safari

 previously published on Cineuropa

Thirty years after the beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 27 years after it officially ended, it might seem that there is no topic, no matter how “fringe” or niche, left uncovered from that period of time. However, as it turns out, some of them are under-explored, to put it mildly. One of these is certainly a very particular bloody “activity” practised by some people with considerable financial and other means – a “safari” of sorts, but with targets and “trophies” of a different kind. Unearthing and exploring it, both in the factual and in a psychological and even philosophical sense, is the mission of Miran Zupanič and his documentary Sarajevo Safari, which has world-premiered at the fifth AJB DOC Film Festival in Sarajevo.

Zupanič opens his 75-minute documentary with seemingly idyllic footage of a spot on the hills overlooking the city, but the solemn music featuring a piano and a choir sets the foreboding mood. Archive footage of life in the city under the 1992-1995 siege follows in order to confirm the sense of impending doom. Then the narrator, shot from behind and in the shadows, starts telling his story about the “safari” and his connection to it as a witness.

The secretive, anonymous narrator had some military education in 1980s Yugoslavia and made a living in the intelligence sector before the collapse of the country. Out of work, he was approached by an equally secretive US agency with a lucrative job offer to travel to different parts of the collapsing country on a press accreditation and to “listen to the pulse of its people and peoples”. Through his contacts in Belgrade, he was informed about a “safari”: the “hunters” indulging in this activity were shooting at people in the encircled city from the sniper positions of the Serbian forces, for a price. The “safari” was organised and facilitated by the armies of both Serbia and Republika Srpska, and the participants came from abroad to assuage their morbid cravings.

Other than his narrator, he relies heavily on the archival footage of “normalised” city life from 1993-94, obtained by Božo Zadravec and the film’s producer, Franci Zajc, who, at the time, were war reporters. Zupanič also includes three sets of interviewees: a couple who lost their one-year-old daughter to a sniper shot; a former military intelligence officer and analyst, who corroborates the narrator’s story with his own findings obtained from a captured enemy soldier who witnessed one of the hunters being transported; and another victim of sniper fire, Faruk Šabanović, from the iconic archival footage of a man being shot near the Land Museum and then loaded into a UN armoured ambulance. While the officer’s account serves to cement the truthfulness of the narrator’s story, the couple’s testimony is used to compound the emotional effect of the loss they suffered, and Šabanović’s propels the story towards its more psychological and philosophical aspects.

The clarity and the “no nonsense” attitude of Zupanič’s approach is to be admired, but there are certain problems on both the narrative and the construction levels. Firstly, the narrator is the type of character that might speak the truth, but never the whole truth and certainly not nothing but the truth. Secondly, the archive footage tends to get a tad repetitive and is not really illustrative in regard to the narration it accompanies. Finally, the interviewees’ testimonies tend to get too long and to break the editing rhythm that Zupanič had established previously. But nevertheless, Sarajevo Safari has no problem striking the intended emotional chord.

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