There are few experiences that will instil more pride in the Metal community than watching Tarik Hodžić’s awe-inspiring documentary, ‘Scream for me Sarajevo.’ The film focuses on a series of events in 1994, culminating in Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson bringing his solo act to the war-torn city of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for a single live show. This event occurred in the middle of the Bosnian War of Independence between 1992 and 1996, which resulted in large-scale destruction and loss of life across the city. It’s not hyperbole to say that Dickinson and his bandmates, Chris Dale and Alex Elena, risked their lives in order to bring one night of unity and hope to the besieged people.
The documentary begins by introducing the denizens of Sarajevo, as well as the UN officials, who helped make the Dickinson concert happen. At first Hodžić seems overly enthusiastic about tracking shots following Sarajevo War Theatre actor and filmmaker Jasenko Pasic into the homes and recording studios of the various sound and lighting engineers, and members of Sikter and Allmanah, involved in the show, making the film seem as though it may become repetitive and amateurish. These intro shots aside however, we quickly get to know the key figures, at the same time being introduced to harrowing footage shot on video during the war. This footage is considerably aged, but no less impactful for it. We see explosions and literal bloodshed, and the audience can be thankful that the images of anguish on the beleaguered civilians’ faces is not clearer to see.
The key figures speak openly about their experience of the first days of the war, including their retrospectively naïve – but largely collective – assumption that it would all be over in a few days. They variously describe it as a “mess,” “another foolish incident,” “some protests,” before the seriousness of the conflict became apparent. The content is very personal and emotive, but provides the viewer with little context as to the political / military context of the war. This may well be a very intentional choice on Hodžić’s part to reflect the innocence of those on the ground as to what was going on; nevertheless, it is somewhat disorienting for the viewer, and leaves them with questions.
Amongst images of the city and its population being ravaged by the vicissitudes of war, the cast discuss how eventually there was little choice but to carry on with their lives. While Mirza Coric (The Loudest Silence)’s mother lit a fire on the balcony of their apartment to cook, at the same time he would wait with bated breath for the next period in which electricity would be available so he could practice with his band. The cast enthusiastically describe how the population threw themselves into art with a reckless abandon and spirit of generosity unheard of since the war, prompting some to even reflect that they never lived so fully as they did during the war – “to me, the entire war period is the best period of my life.”
With underground venues and bands part of the scene, UN official Major Martin Morris, who was deployed to Sarajevo to assist with the “only effective paramedic service,” came up with an arguably insane plan to bring Bruce Dickinson and his band to Sarajevo to bring a sense of hope and unity to the people. Unsurprisingly, his plans were subject to major hiccups from the get-go. While a helicopter was originally scheduled to pick the band up from Split, the last-minute denial of its use resulted in the band riding with the Serious Road Trip, a humanitarian road convoy who distributed vital aid to Sarajevo. Gunfire, bombs, meeting with returning Bosnian soldiers and an encounter with the barrel of an AK-47 – held by a “reasonably friendly” guy – were all part and parcel of the journey.
Fans will be delighted to know that Dickinson himself is interviewed extensively, along with bandmates Dale and Elena. The members’ accounts are deeply moving, conveying the impact of the war-torn scenes on external observers after only a few days, rather than those who lived them for years. The sense of their lives having been changed is palpable, particularly in the deeply emotional reflections of Dale. Another aspect of the film to treasure is the footage of the show itself, despite having been recorded on video and lit with a chain-operated spotlight. More impactful however are the photos of the crowd revelling in those few short hours of peace and unity, and it’s no wonder photographer Milomir Kovacevic was inspired to use his entire supply of seven rolls of film on the show.
It’s a very different city the band return to when they visit in 2015, but the connection with its people is unbroken. They have not forgotten, and welcome Dickinson and co with tears and open arms. Indeed, one cannot view this film without weeping for Sarajevo, the trials of her people, and their fortitude in the face of them. To witness the film is an experience beyond words, as only the genuine footage and recollections from those who were there can tell the story. This is a must-see film who anyone who is part of the worldwide Metal community, and a timely reminder of the hope our art and artists can bring.
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