Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has existed as a hotbed of innovation, culture, and strife throughout its deep and turbulent past, stretching back centuries. From pioneering the world in public transit, being the site of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination (instigating World War I), to hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics; the eyes of the world have often drifted to this city. However, during the Bosnian War, Sarajevo earned the tragic distinction of enduring the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare, stretching just under four bloody years. Tarik Hodzic and Jasenko Pasic (natives to the city) explore how a pair of United Nations workers thinking to ask Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden to play a show for the city’s youth during that seige would become a defining moment in the city’s history. Scream for Me Sarajevo documents this criminally obscure story with stylish brio and sincerity, albeit an opening act that almost cost the whole film.
“…as if a great movie was swallowed by a lackluster short film.”
In 1994, while indiscriminate war raged throughout Sarajevo every day, a gaggle of musicians risked life and limb for the freedom to make and play music. Hodzic and Pasic utilize a mesh of traditional interviews, stock footage, and personal photographs and videos, to draw a frenzied picture of the wanton destruction and chaos of the time. However, by the wacky efforts of a UN fireman and military officer, Bruce Dickinson and company managed the treacherous journey into the war-torn city to play a single free concert where even attending was possibly fatal. This is all woven throughout a concurrent story of Dickinson returning to Bosnia over twenty years later and retracing the route he and the others took in the now peaceful countryside.
The core of this film lies in its very title, which is a phrase Dickinson belted to the crowd that night. It is less about the actual show, and more a focus on this specific emotionally devastating history that the spotlit individuals share. The probity of everyone’s testimonials holds the whole of the film together, while dynamic Ken Burns-esque photographic manipulation easily catches eyes, and Amel Djikoli’s cinematography swerves gracefully about the action with razor-sharp precision.
“…cinematography swerves gracefully about the action with razor-sharp precision.”
However, Hodzic’s editing is excessively disjointed and muddled (jumbling the several separate narrative threads), while the soundtrack exclusively arranged from Iron Maiden and Dickinson is poorly arranged and also mixed quite loud, harshly overcutting the interview and diegetic audio — though only for the first third. For the remaining hour of the film, the earlier issues with the pacing, narrative flow, and technical hiccups are all strikingly absent, resulting in a concise and utterly effective experience. It is as if a great movie was swallowed by a lackluster short film.
There is a uniquely fascinating story here, told through a significantly creative lens, unique to those who had lived and created during the Bosnian War. However, the filmmakers make it so that we have to almost unnecessarily earn the right to hear that story, sloshing through their haphazardly cluttered introduction (almost an antithesis to the rest). Scream for Me Sarajevo highlights a small moment in international history where humanity found the light in the darkness and fanned its flames into a raging inferno for a singular night.
Scream for Me Sarajevo (2017) Directed by Tarik Hodzic. Written by Tarik Hodzic, Jasenko Pasic. Starring Bruce Dickinson, Alen Ajanovic, Esad Bratovic.
★★★½ / ☆☆☆☆☆