Saturday, May 03, 2014

BHFF ’14: Documentary Shorts

They are the things that unify a country. Music, culture, humor, and you had better believe sports all very much define a nation’s character. Four short documentaries addressing such aspects of Bosnian cultural identity (to varying degrees) screened last night at the 2014 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival now underway in New York.

Dragi Šestić efforts to assemble and record a sevdah supergroup are not unlike the Buena Vista Social Club record and film, except the producer was working in his own country, documenting a musical form that was very vital in his beloved Mostar not so long ago. Arguably, Sevdalinka song and the sevdah sensibility are roughly akin to American blues song and the larger feeling for the blues, but the former is more refined compared to the latter’s earthiness.

Amir Grabus focuses on Šestić’s Mostar Sevdah Reunion, keeping an emphasis on performance throughout the program opening Tales from a Forgotten City (trailer here). While the playing is virtuosic, the mood is rather wistful, befitting Šestić and Grabus’s elegy to the romantic Mostar that no longer exists. Although Grabus had directed straight-up music videos for the MSR, Tales is a proper documentary that deserves further play at musically-focused festivals.

Once again, BHFF regular Nedžad Begović returned with Beško, another short documentary profile. While musician-filmmaker Beško is more prominent than the working class protagonist of Zizi, they both project everyman personas and share ruckus senses of humor. Clearly, Beško was a hit with festival patrons, but it might be best enjoyed by those who can fully appreciate the idioms and cadences of his jokes, sans subtitles.

Unfortunately, Mirna Dizdarević’s Vita Mulier is sort of the ringer of the short doc program, documenting the hard times that have befallen classical ballet in Sarajevo. It is earnest, rather pessimistic, but relatively brief.

In contrast, Sixten Björkstrand’s Bosnia in Our Hearts is heartfelt and optimistic. 2014 is the first year Bosnia-Herzegovina qualified for the FIFA World Cup as an independent nation—and don’t you forget it. The Finnish filmmaker followed several expatriate fans as they traveled to Lithuania for what might be the game to clinch their World Cup berth. For the fans that came to Finland as wartime refugees, a Bosnian victory will be especially sweet.

Although forced to serve as a crew of one, Björkstrand always managed to be in the right place to get the right shot. It is the sort of film that captures the extent to which a sports team can carry its nation’s hopes and aspirations. Frankly, ESPN should take a good look at it, because it is considerably more engaging and satisfying than Maradona ’86 and The Opposition, their two very so-so short football/soccer docs that premiered at Tribeca.

It is hard to go wrong with sevdalinka and soccer. Tales from a Forgotten City and Bosnia in Our Hearts were definitely standouts when they screened last night during Program #3. As satisfying, self-contained films with broad popular appeal, they deserve a serious look from other festival programmers. This year’s Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival continues tomorrow (5/3) with a full day of films at the Tribeca Cinemas.